Ease of Use
Other potential fertile ground for peer-to-peer services such as instant messaging may include technology-driven companies. "We're actually just starting to get into peer-to-peer for some internal applications with Microsoft XP, using it as another tool to have people interact with our help desk so people can log on with instant messages and other features," says Michael Vaughan, vice president of engineering for Norwood, Mass.-based Corporate Software, whose applications allow users to track software licenses. "A lot of folks have been either personally exposed to it through home use, or more than likely their kids are using it."
But like Warner Bros., Corporate Software didn't compute ahead of time any potential return because IM services were included in software they were already rolling out. "Unless it's innocuous, or just part of the infrastructure," says Vaughan, "there's an ROI done with most of the major projects." Instant messaging fell into the former categories. "It's just in a pilot state, seeing if the business uses it, or will they still pick the phone up?" says Vaughan. However, Vaughan believes that IM will catch on. "We're early adopters," he proclaims. "There's a group [of users] here that really tries to push" new technology.
Other industries are not quite so accepting. "We're not using any instant messaging per se," says Dat Bui, first vice president and technology architecture manager in the home loan and insurance services division of the 40,000-employee Washington Mutual Inc., the nation's largest savings institution. "We don't even have teleconferencing," he admits. "The banking industry is fairly behind in that kind of workgroup automation process."
The same is true for AnnTaylor Stores Corp., the New York City-based clothing manufacturer. "I don't know of any widespread use of [instant messaging] inside the company," says Ron Gayda, vice president of Internet technology for AnnTaylor.com. "We would have to identify an application that would require that kind of technology to chase it down."
Says Grey's Cannon: "I can tell you, we do have some concerns about IM for network overhead and viruses, and we're taking a hard look at how we're going to bring this into the whole organization and institutionalize it."
"I think one of the concerns," says Warner Bros.' Lloyd, "is that it's not considered to be as reliable, because you don't have the traceability" of e-mail services. Once an instant message recipient shuts the receiving PC down, the message is typically lost forever.
St. Agnes' Lawson is concerned about privacy issues. "We have to be extra wary in healthcare," he says, "because you have patient records, which are probably the most critical parts of the patient-care chain." Washington Mutual's Bui agrees. "In our business, we have to protect the information not just from the consumer standpoint, but also from the financial standpoint."
And there are ramifications for IT departments as well. "Should IT organizations be embracing peer-to-peer systems? I think so, because they scale much more organically," says Dr. David P. Reed, former vice president and chief scientist of Lotus Development Corp. and now an independent researcher and adviser. "But one problem is that managing peer-to-peer systems can be more complex, because IT loses control." Like other grassroots technologies, peer-to-peer allows users to implement their own applications without having to go to IT for approval, because users believe they can perform their work better.
One example of this is Warner Bros.' use of peer file-sharing software from Xerox Corp. that allows users to access directly their catalogs of scripts and call sheets, which organize movie and television production work each day. Previously, the company had to print copies of call sheets for dozens of people, mailing or messengering them to recipients. Movie and television scripts had to be distributed manually as well, often with substantial delivery costs. With its new file-sharing system in place, however, Warner's Lloyd reports first-year savings of $250,000 in printing costs for call sheets, and more than $300,000 for reduced script distribution costs.