WcW006: Quiet before the storm

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Web Conferencing Week

Late summer doldrums here at the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, not my employer’s real name).

One might hope that the lull in formal activities would provide some time for reflection, and so in fact it has.

As I’ve explained before (here and here and here, for example), as do most people in corporate surroundings, I wear a multitude of hats:

  • member of the IT technical team supporting collaborative tools (email, instant messaging, web conferencing);
  • teacher of our instant messaging and web conferencing tools to our internal business clients (more than 3,500 served in five years, thank you very much!);
  • “manager of the end-user experience” as defined by our vendor’s on-site support manager — while not in the direct flow of help desk activities (at least not yet), the canniest of my 3,500 students, and their underlings and bosses, know me well enough to contact me if they have issues, and since no one on the team, or in the support arena in general has anywhere the amount of experience with our tools as have I (over six hundred classes, all conducted using web conferences, plus countless mission-critical meetings facilitated throughout the enterprise), the answer to my correspondents’ questions is probably at the ready.

As teacher, I’m always running 8-10 classes per month, although during the summer average attendance is way down.

As end-user experience manager (an honorific provided by a suck-up vendor: remember, grunt that MUDGE is, he’s manager of no one) the phone just isn’t ringing very often, as people wrap up their summers before Labor Day provides the symbolic halt to all things sunscreen.

As member of the technical team, decisions are pending and work is progressing.

HCA uses for its instant messaging and web conferencing requirements IBM Lotus Sametime.

HCA has long been a Lotus shop: Its Lotus Notes product has long been handling enterprise email and its rapid application environment supports thousands of database applications and has done so here for more than 15 years. So the choice of Sametime was not a surprise in that light.

And, indeed, Sametime is a common choice for collaboration among large corporations, seeking the rock-solid enterprise grade solution similar and related to the rock-solid technology that so well supports the earlier applications: email and databases.

The best web conferencing and instant messaging choice today?

An excellent question that is not yet on the table.

Like many issues in corporate technology, the problems faced are multi-dimensional: hardware, software, the quantity of personnel applied to the task (fortunately, personnel quality is not an issue, among the talented administrators and architects that I am fortunate to work among).

Instant messaging and web conferencing at HCA exists not as the result of an organized deployment campaign, but rather more like viral marketing. It grew out of a pilot (when I joined the company, about 5½ years ago in a related but not directly connected IT position, there were nominally 800 accounts).

And the pilot became an “extended pilot” which gradually became a production system, without ever really becoming a true, bullet proof enterprise-grade product, at least as implemented here at HCA.

Insufficient servers (both in capability and in numbers), and insufficient personnel (as above, just the numbers are insufficient — the people are champions [and they won’t read this, so trust me, I’m not sucking up!]) to keep order in an operation that has grown to more than 26,000 accounts.

This number represents less than half of the available client base, because no one knows how to handle the establishment of the necessary 30,000 new accounts efficiently, much less want to confront the reality of insufficient hardware and personnel to handle the existing organically grown client base.

And, finally, the software. HCA upgraded (quite tardily) to Sametime version 6.5 about 21 months ago, and our team has been working on upgrading to the current standard version 7.5 for nearly that long (remember the tardy part).

HCA never never never never wants to be the early adopter of anyone’s hardware or software. The 100th adopter, maybe, so we delay, by time-honored policy, both IT and fiscal, until (hopefully most of) the bugs are out.

But we really need to move on this upgrade (the 2005 upgrade from long-used version 3.1 to version 6.5 was a marketing nomenclature upgrade — to the end users it looks and acts as if it’s version 3.2!), and the delay has not been HCA’s sole doing. And version 7.5 has many new and attractive and desirable features; it would be a true upgrade.

But we’re not there yet.

And therein lies an interesting story.

But this long story will need to be continued next time, because…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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