Movin' On Up

Coping With Reality

It's not a question of whether your employees will use instant messaging (IM)--only whether they'll choose IM systems that leave your company open to fraud and mischief. There are no guarantees, but Lotus SameTime from IBM can reduce your exposure.

Consumer IM systems like AOL AIM and Microsoft MSN Messenger have overrun the workplace well in advance of security and acceptable use policies. You can try to ban them. But market research firm Osterman Research predicts that, by year-end, IM messages will be flitting back and forth across more than 90 percent of all corporate firewalls. Your best strategy, says Michael Osterman, president and CEO, is to give your workers a business-class alternative.

While Lotus SameTime won't eliminate your employees' use of public IM services, its user authentication, message--logging and auditing features breed accountability even when employees connect to their AIM buddies. Messages sent over the SameTime system, even to remote employees, are completely secured by 128-bit encryption. You can add an important customer or supplier to your in-house system just by mailing the client software and paying a $36 license fee.

Cheaper than long distance and offering more immediacy than phone or e-mail, messaging now occupies two hours of the typical knowledge worker's day and houses about 60 percent of all critical business information, says Osterman. The typical worker makes 10 phone calls and four trips down the hall to see co-workers every time the messaging system goes down for an hour.

IBM's own employees, who log about 10 messages per day, reduce telephone usage by more than 4 percent and save Big Blue about $13 per month per employee in travel expenses, says Kevin McClellan, IBM marketing manager.

What the numbers don't show, says McClellan, is the increased pace of collaboration that saves employees time, accelerates supply chain and customer service cycles and, ultimately, offers additional revenue opportunities.

IM is not without risks. But if you don't let your workers use it, fast-moving competitors could use it against you.

5 More Tech Investments That Pay Off
Akonix Enforcer
P2P music downloads and unauthorized instant messaging steal your bandwidth and open you up to security and legal risks. This $1,200 server checks the ID of every file crossing your firewall, blocking any on a constantly updated outlaw list.

InSciTek Microsystems' Allworx 10x
All-in-one voice, data, messaging, Web and collaboration server for small offices. Recoup its $8,000 price tag within a year, and continue to save half the operational costs of discrete solutions.

Vonage's Broadband VoIP
For $50 per month, you can get unlimited phone calls in North America over your broadband Internet connection using your current Bell phone number. Additional "local" numbers in other area codes that ring your main number cost another $5 each.

CorePROTECT's CoreRESTORE
Bad things happen to nice computers--viruses, software corruption, user errors, hacks. This $150 add-in board lets you bounce back from any change to a mission-critical system. A reboot returns your configuration files and applications the way you like them.

Lindows OS Computer
Can Linux do as much for your desktops as it does for your Web server? Find out for as little as $199--the base price for a PC with the Windows-like Lindows OS and a connection to Lindows.com, where thousands of Linux software titles can be downloaded for similarly low prices.

Sample Total Cost of Operation (TCO) for Hypothetical Network
  Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
Employee Count 17 34 51
Windows Desktops with Microsoft Office $25,618 $25,618 $25,618
Windows Servers $33,707 $9,057 $28,832
Network Attached Storage + Tape Backup $17,338 $500 $500
Network Switches, Routers, Firewalls $11,638 $626 $3,750
SQL Server Licenses $18,500 $0 $18,500
Exchange Server License $1,754 $1,105 $1,105
Financial Applications Licenses $10,000 $10,000 $10,000
Deployment Costs $4,000 $2,000 $3,000
IT & Non-IT Employee Training $10,000 $5,100 $8,100
Total Cost of Operation $132,555 $54,006 $99,405

Sample ROI for Hypothetical Network
  Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
Employee Count 17 34 51
Total Cost of Operation (TCO) -$132,555 -$54,006 -$99,405
IT Savings from Network Consolidation 10,750 21,500 32,250
Revenues Not Lost to Downtime 101,268* 156,391* 245,419*
Revenue Run Rate Improvement 1% more 2% more 3% more
Revenue Added by Network Efficiencies $121,238 $242,477 $363,715
TCO + Benefits = ROI $100,701 $366,362 $541,979

*20 percent of downtime hours saved annually multiplied by hourly cost of downtime

Source: Dell Inc. For a custom analysis, call 800-917-DELL.


Mike Hogan is Entrepreneur's " Digital Edge " columnist.

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This article was originally published in the September 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Movin' On Up.

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