Construction firm builds on IM

With 140 employees, Homes by Avi may not be classified as a large enterprise but the Calgary-based firm is thinking big when it comes to enterprise instant messaging (IM). The company recently underwent an enterprise IM implementation that organizations of all sizes (and seeking to improve collaboration) could learn from.

Homes by Avi is a privately owned home construction company with offices in both Calgary and Edmonton. Darren Soltes, vice-president of business development, said building a business case for enterprise IM was all about finding a way to manage the remote computers in its sales centres without having to incur the cost of a VPN.

After looking at similar enterprise IM solutions, the firm decided on a system from Microsoft Corp. More specifically, the company is using an offering from communications service provider MTS-Allstream Inc. — Allstream Collaboration Suite — which includes Microsoft Office Live Meeting, Office Communicator and Microsoft Office Live Communicator Server (LCS) in a hosted format. Using IM enables the company to engage in face-to-face meetings with remote staff members via videoconferencing, Soltes said.

Typically, enterprises have regarded IM as a frivolous technology. IT departments may have legitimate concerns surrounding security and many enterprises have been trying to justify the value of IM and gauge the ROI. But not too long ago e-mail was thought of in much the same manner, according to Aisha Umar, director of unified communications for Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co.

Like it or not, instances of “rogue IM” likely exist within the average enterprise. Indeed, the risks and potential productivity benefits of formally adopting the technology should be considered. At the very least, organizations should develop a sound IM policy, Umar said. Organizations, both large and small, without enterprise-grade IM in place should be aware of how much public IM is now running on their network.

The Homes by Avi project took place this past February. The actual implementation was approximately 10 minutes per user, Soltes said, which consisted of installing a camera and the IM client. “There were no pain points for us as the implementation was just so easy,” Soltes said. “We decided on the Microsoft solution because it addressed so many of our business needs such as a secure communication tool, an alternative to a VPN, video conferencing and a document collaboration tool.”

The service includes hosted Microsoft Exchange, Hosted Microsoft Sharepoint Services, journaling and archiving, antivirus, anti-spam, information rights management and enterprise BlackBerry services. “We found that we were able to control the desktop and do our IT troubleshooting with Live Communication Server. The value we found was the face to face communication and how it really seemed to bring the remote users into the fold.”

Microsoft recently announced that users of its Live Communications Server (LCS) technology will be able to access the enterprise IM platform from mobile devices. The development of the mobile client enables remote users access to LCS while they are away from their desks, Umar said.

The IT architecture for Homes by Avi consists of 16 Compaq servers, Storage Tech Tape Library, Hitachi SAN infrastructure, and Checkpoint Firewalls. Currently, the IT department consists of two employees who support the 140 users. “So far there has been no added burden on the IT department or the network while using IM,” Soltes said. The firm is also very mindful of the security considerations surrounding IM.

“For now we will only let users communicate with other users in our company,” Soltes said. “Allstream is backing up all of the IM traffic so that if Homes by Avi needed to audit the records we could.” Overall, using the collaboration technology has already been a short-term ROI boon and also gives the company a competitive advantage, Soltes said.

“I believe that bringing the human touch back into corporate communication really helps strengthen a company,” Soltes said. “Collaboration technology helps eliminate travel time and lets people remain in the environments where they can best help the success of the business.”

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Related links:

Does IM use at work enhance productivity?

New IM service for business users launched

Paradigm shift with new MS IM Server

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