When they think of instant messaging, most people envision teenagers holding conversations with friends via the Internet. However, financial services firms, as well as other organizations, are beginning to view instant messaging as a serious business tool.
Some 29 percent of companies currently use instant messaging and another 42 percent say they expect to start using it in the future, according to a survey from Osterman Research. Survey participants cited improved communication, reduced telephone expenses and the ability to provide better customer support as the primary benefits to using IM software.
First Community Credit Union has been using e/pop instant messaging software from WiredRed, San Diego, for almost two years. Employees at the Houston-based credit union have come to rely on it for internal communications over its wide-area network.
"At first, I really didn't see the need for it because we were using Microsoft Outlook," said Rito Garza, director of network operations at $300 million FCCU. "We look at it as a requirement now. It's something you almost have to have in this day and age to communicate."
Instant messaging often becomes the primary communication vehicle in companies that deploy the software, according to Allen Drennan, CEO of WiredRed. "Most banks have high-speed, high-performance broadband WANs and LANs implemented in their organizations already," Drennan said. "They spent the money to do this, but they don't have any software that really leverages that real-time capability."
First Community deployed the client/server software throughout its eight branches. Its 200 plus employees use the software much like AOL's instant messaging. They can ask quick questions, schedule meetings or get a status on a loan application without having to leave the customer.
Unlike AOL Instant Messenger however, WiredRed's messaging product addresses the security needs required in workplace communications.
"The main reason we chose this is that it's within our network," said Garza. "It's very secure behind our firewalls."
For easy implementation, WiredRed provides wizards for both the client and server portions of the system. The product automatically detects and interoperates with most of the common network environments. "Ninety percent of businesses out there already have an organizational structure and departmental structure defined in that network," said Drennan. "We leverage that in our system so organizations don't have to manage another communications system. They can implement it and use it quite quickly without having a lot of administrative overhead to configure it."
That translates into fewer headaches for network managers like Garza. "It's got a great facility where you can customize your wants and needs and then deploy it over to the clients. Once they're set, that's it. It runs exactly the way you want it."
One of the most valuable features is the ability to check the availability of every employee in the company, department or group. The system can automatically track whether a person is at their desk or not. The main directory gives a visual representation, showing green if available, red if they're not online. Users can also input a status message letting others know if they're out to lunch, in a meeting, at another location, or just away from their desk for a few minutes.
That saves time, particularly when trying to track down someone in another bank branch. "You can create all these status checks, and you can go in and pull a master list of all our users and groups and right off the bat know whether someone is here or not," said Garza.
The product offers a range of additional functionality, including chat conferencing, voice conferencing and document sharing. The credit union is holding off on these features for now.
"At this point, we've restricted it mainly for instant messaging," said Garza, adding that initial concerns that the product might harm employee productivity have proven to be unfounded.
The credit union paid about $3,500 for the server and client network setup, said Garza. "It's a one-time cost and we're done. It's a great application."
Companies' Use of IM For Business Applications
Using it now... 29%
Plan to use it... 11%
Don't plan to use it...29%
Might use it... 31%
Source: Osterman Research survey (164 respondents)
INSTITUTION: First Community Credit Union
ASSETS: $300 million
BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Implement a secure, instant messaging environment to improve communication, reduce phone expenses and provide better customer support.
KEY QUOTE: "The main reason we chose this is that it's within our network. It's very secure behind our firewalls."-Rito Garza, director of network operations