Lotus Sametime saves law firm much time

David Beckman was sick of having unwilling and unwanted office eavesdroppers. So he went on the prowl for a tool to make communication more instant, efficient ... and quiet!

David Beckman was dismayed that his "private" phone conversations could be heard by almost everyone in his law office. So, he went on the prowl for a tool to make communication more instant, efficient ... and quiet!

Beckman is a lawyer at the Burlington, Iowa-based law firm Beckman & Hirsch. As in every law office, privacy is a key concern. When Beckman realized anyone in the waiting room, for example, could hear calls over the office intercom system involving him, his secretary and clients, he began researching a replacement for the intercom.

Through Internet research and by asking around, Beckman found three potential intercom replacements: NetMeeting, WebEx and Sametime. Beckman had trouble getting Microsoft's NetMeeting, a collaboration and conferencing client, to work. "Plus, I had been on a NetMeeting call before, and it didn't go well," he said. On San Jose-based WebEx's Web conferencing service, Beckman said: "It was easy to set up, but not easy to use."

Finally, Beckman evaluated the enterprise instant messaging product, Sametime, from Cambridge, Mass.-based IBM Lotus Software. Sametime's stability, easily learned features and high level of security impressed Beckman. Beckman & Hirsch has been using Lotus Notes as its e-mail client since 1994 so Beckman was familiar with Lotus Software. Beckman & Hirsch runs a total of two Windows servers and four Linux servers.

Sametime's implementation was easy and instant, Beckman said. It runs on a Windows server and services the law office's 10 office workers and one remote secretary. It also serves as a conferencing tool for client meetings. No training was needed to teach employees and clients how to use it either. "We instantly loved it," Beckman said.

Beckman & Hirsch benefited from Sametime immediately. The noise level in the office went down significantly, Beckman said. He hasn't unplugged the intercom altogether, but it now doesn't get used as much because Sametime has all but replaced its necessity. If he has a phone call, his secretary simply uses Sametime to IM him, rather than the intercom. Also, client conference calls have turned into e-meetings where applications are shared and polls regarding the call are instantly taken and viewed.

Beckman was pleasantly surprised when Sametime was implemented. He was able to keep his long-time secretary on staff even though she moved 100 miles away. Sametime allows her to do her job, whether she's in the office or not, Beckman said.

"Sametime is the key element" that makes Beckman's secretary's telecommuting work so well, he said. He can instantly communicate with her and sometimes doesn't know if she's even in the office. When Beckman sees that she is online, he knows she's working. She can access file systems and print documents from home via the company Intranet, he said.

Application sharing is another benefit Beckman & Hirsch gets from Sametime. Before Sametime was implemented, Beckman's partner would often stand behind his secretary and dictate letters. As she transcribed his thoughts into a Word document, he changed or moved sentences around. Using Sametime, however, Beckman's partner and his secretary can "share" the Word application on both their computers. He can see his secretary's screen and suggest changes without needing to stand behind her.

Beckman & Hirsch also uses Sametime for group meetings, or e-meetings. Whether clients are located in Chicago or Florida or both, they can connect using Sametime, Beckman said. Group meetings are also where application sharing comes in handy because PowerPoint presentations are shared.

Beckman especially likes that Sametime allows 100% privacy, even during application sharing, for example. Sametime prompts a user when an application is to be shared. So no accidents occur, such as one client viewing another client's private documents. "Sametime makes you aware of what you're sharing," he said.

Sametime also allows Beckman to keep an eye on the front door of the office. When his secretary is working from home, no one sits near the office's front door to greet visitors. Via a Sametime Web cam, Beckman and his employees can view the front door and waiting area whenever they want.

Sametime interoperates with other instant messaging platforms as well, said Beckman. If, for example, a client uses AOL Instant Messenger, Beckman can still communicate with them, he said.

Beckman chose to go with an enterprise IM product rather than a consumer-based one, such as AOL Instant Messenger, because of security and privacy issues. Confidentiality is a big concern, he said, and with AOL "you really are wide open" to anyone reading messages. Because Sametime runs on Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology, Beckman knows his messages are secure.

Beckman's next adventure is to make Beckman & Hirsch a paperless office. A daunting task, "especially for a law office," said Beckman. "It's a hard thing to do." But, he's ready.

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