Susan Fraser used to personally hunt down some of her co-workers every afternoon at 4:30. The hunted were the employees of Asheville, NC-based MB Haynes who hadn't logged out of the company's accounting program. Their failure to sign off stopped Fraser from completing the day's backup procedure.
While Fraser generally called the forgetful workers, sometimes she had to walk to individual desks to remind people to sign off. Often, it took over a half hour to track down everyone who hadn't logged off the Timberline accounting program. "I was lucky if I started backing up at 5:00pm," she said.
Fraser hadn't always been saddled with these tracking duties. For years, the MIS manager used Novell's built-in server messaging system to handle communicating with the 500 employees of the construction company. When MB Haynes switched from Novell to Windows NT servers, there was no similar capability available, she said.
Fraser's search for a better way to communicate led her to NetLert Communications's NetLert, an instant messaging application geared toward large companies. NetLert sends out text messages, or alerts, that visually pop up on users' screens above current programs without affecting those programs, according to NetLert CEO Gary Blair. It also pings them audibly saying, "Alert!"
This business-focused instant messaging program has another useful application, said Blair. Java-based, and thus platform independent, NetLert operates solely from within a company's firewall, making it more secure than the publicly used AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). As the business equivalent of AIM or Yahoo! Messenger, NetLert offers a communications tool tailored for large companies with geographically dispersed employees. In consumer-focused instant messaging systems, it's often hard to determine exactly who is sending you a message, said Blair. "Somebody talking to Joe123 (doesn't know if) it's really Joe, the cousin, or Joe from one of your competitors," he explained. NetLert also boosts security by enabling management to legislate which employees have access and what kind of access they have.
The presence awareness feature in NetLert is a valuable tool for business users, because it offers a view of who's available to respond to messages immediately, according to Ray Mahowald, an analyst with Framingham, MA-based International Data Corp. This capability is critical as "businesses move from e-mail time to real-time," he said. NetLert can make a non-collaborative effort collaborative immediately. For example, he noted that NetLert can be a cost-efficient way for businesses with international offices to conduct real-time conferences.
NetLert was originally created for use in call centers where workers are on the phone the majority of the time. By enabling help desk representatives to send messages to each other instantly, NetLert helped them get quick answers to the user questions they couldn't answer themselves. The software also documented these messages, which could be retrieved from directory servers. This is still a useful tool in the current version of NetLert.
The implementation of NetLert was a snap, said Fraser. She simply inserts a CD into new desktops to get them up and running before she hands them off to her users. MB Haynes now uses NetLert on about 75 in-house desktops. NetLert is priced at $25-45 per seat.
Fraser's slacker hunting days are over. She now alerts all the employees working on in-house desktops at 4:40pm that she will begin backup promptly at 4:45pm. The result is a time-savings of 20 to 30 minutes a day. The only downside is that she gets less exercise.