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Date Posted: 2/11/2004

Software and Systems Instant Messaging: Why communication needs new tools

 
 
By Anne Stanton, The Norwich Group

Communication is a requirement for every business. In today’s workplace we have numerous technical tools available for communications, but the art can always be improved and is rarely mastered. We have long since incorporated e-mail, voice mail and fax machines into the firm practices, but many corporations have not come to realize the power of using and adding the secure corporate instant messaging tools. The trick to efficiency around any task is to use the right tool and the right process. Most messaging tools such as e-mail, voice mail and the telephone all have refined features, but Instant Messaging (IM) has come of age in the corporate world. IM is a software tool that allows users to instantly communicate with other users in their pre-defined list of contacts. When someone uses the software to send a message to someone in their contact list, the message is instantly displayed on the receiving parties screen. An interruption occurs. IM is also a software package which can “instantly” indicate if someone in this pre-defined contact list is logged onto their computer and online. IM supports real time conversations and helps to reduce the need to leave multiple voice mails.

If we think about the process of using accounting software, the accounting department’s tasks and the accounting firm culture, how can corporate instant messaging ease the burden of these positions?

In the bill cycle when generating bills, what do you wait for? Is the bill generation process delayed as partners review WIP? What about when we must wait for time sheets to be submitted? Can instant messaging be used to send an interrupting, yet gentle reminder to key players? No egg on the face, just a quiet behind the scenes interruption. If staff are working at their desks and on their computers, then an instant message cuts through any phone call and project they are involved with. For some this tool is preferred, as opposed to someone standing in their office. It can quickly cut through procrastination and nudge people into sending in that dreaded paperwork.

What about the accounting department’s tasks which include billing, collecting payments, preparing financial statements, generating payroll and doing corporate taxes? How can IM help with these requirements? Would it be possible to setup a gold club for just a few of the best customers? This gold club would give instant access to an assigned representative who can instantly answer any billing question. By instantly eliminating the customer’s question, a check cutting process at the customer site is not delayed. When a check cutting process is delayed, the billing company’s cash flow is delayed. Certainly when processing bills there are often questions that need a quick answer and getting into the maze of voice mail is the last thing anyone wants to do. An immediate answer can help create an immediate solution perhaps a new bill would be faxed. Always look at improving existing systems. Does this not redefine extreme customer service? Perhaps this is only for the small business customers. The key is to open your mind to what a tool such as IM can do to existing processes. Hold a brain storming session with staff; create a firm wide game, think outside the box, you might be surprised.

If we look at the dynamics of a reseller and consulting company who sells and supports accounting software. Does IM work for answering technical support questions? Is it helpful for supporting their clients? In general feedback from the field has indicated that for really good technical service the telephone is still the best tool for the job. The background sounds that technical people pick up on when discussing technical issues with their customers, such as typing before they are suppose to, is important information for problem resolution. The nuances of tone and hearing frustration are also important.

My field research also looked at the inner workings of Federal Express. Federal Express is a company that depends on cutting edge technology. How else can a company deliver a package from Alaska to Washington D.C. in 24 hours? Federal Express developed a custom internal IM application a number of years ago and they still use this system today. The system supports internal IM communication between departments. One of the biggest benefits to staff members at Federal Express is the ability to always know when someone within the company is at their desk and working at their computer. In a large business with multiple offices and multiple locations this indicator feature has cut down on the number calls required to track someone down.

Another key benefit to Corporate IM is Global communication. Global communication is a cultural and technological challenge. International telephone transmissions can be full of static and time zones can be extremely difficult to track. Accents can garble clarity and frustration can easily occur. IM between multi-national offices really solves some major headaches. A company I know, with three offices, one in the UK, one in Australia and one in the United States, faced extreme communication challenges. In addition to the time difference; technical people liked to burn the midnight oil. Coordinating conversations was almost impossible and at best difficult. This company installed IM between key people and immediately communication improved and their international problems were solved.

Perhaps you do not have global offices, but you are concerned with the resolution of a problem between two different people or two different offices. There are additional benefits to using IM to resolve issues. By using IM as a tool for discussions, conversations can be saved to a file. The ability to save a conversation allows you to capture suggested links, references and referral sources mentioned. If for instance you have a unique tax questions and you are interested in a quick answer, wouldn’t it be nice to instantly get an answer from an associate? You might prepare for situations that need immediate answers by setting up small IM contact list of experts. IM an associate or expert, capture the answer and then either print it out for your bulletin board or put it into a personal knowledge base. IM can redefine business networking and support.

Worried about security? Secure corporate instant messaging is here. There are numerous corporate secure IM applications available, so whether you decide to use one of the free applications from AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo or ICQ or whether you invest in secure instant messaging the tool is a good one to consider in 2004.

The important point with any in-depth consideration of messaging technology is: Can newer technology help your firm meet current business goals with more clarity and efficiency? Messaging tools need continued consideration for incorporation as they mature and master the problems in this ever changing, extreme global world.

Additional resources on IM can be found at

Sun ONE Instant Messaging 6.1: Real-time Collaboration for the Extended Enterprise
http://ct.com.com/click?q=eb-HlLoQkDlIhoV_leLeaUBYFNptsRR

IM Guardian: Real-Time Security for the Real-Time Enterprise
http://ct.com.com/click?q=9e-tWXoQtMXJKFAWzjyatqPZznRBsRR

Security: The Business Value of Blocking Unwanted Content http://ct.com.com/click?q=e4-AB7FQVkUajKbv8GLQ8sPWh_R99RR

Winters, B (2003) Collaboration Tools Improve Productivity, Quality and Responsiveness AICPA InfoTech Update September/October 2003 edition




About the Author
As president of The Norwich Group (www.thenorwichgroup.com), Anne Stanton has worked with technology and software development companies; accounting firms and organizations, and consultants nationwide for more than 18 years, analyzing and helping businesses of all sizes use their available resources more effectively. She most recently was executive vice president of Commercial Logic, Inc., and is a member of the AICPA’s Top Technologies Committee. Anne Stanton can be reached at astanton@thenorwichgroup.com.

 
 


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