Bank spins off in-house IM software

A Swiss financial firm that developed its own chat service five years ago is now making the application available to other companies and spinning off the business into a separate venture.

Swiss finance firm UBS Warburg LLC, a business group of Zurich-based UBS AG, had internal proprietary chat running on NeXT machines back in 1995, says Andy Konchan, director of UBSW E-commerce Business Technology Group.

Konchan was one of the small group of programmers that developed the SBC chat program, and helped advance it into what has become the MindAlign software, now sold by Parlano Inc. in Chicago.

The bottom line, Konchan says, is the software is secure and cost effective.

"It really benefits UBS more than 150,000,000 Swiss francs per year [about $87 million]," he said.

Parlano, translated from Italian, means "they talk," or, "they're talking."

Parlano the company was formed this spring through a cooperative agreement between UBSW and divine interVentures, a Chicago-based technology holding company and business- to-business Internet incubator.

About 12,000 internal users are on MindAlign at UBSW, Konchan said, and 2,000 customers have downloaded the software via the UBSW Web site to connect with the firm through 600 external channels at UBSW. A rollout of MindAlign in New York-based PaineWebber Inc.'s offices began last week. Shareholders approved a merger between UBSW and PaineWebber Oct. 24.

UBSW is able to send updates financial market information to corporate customers over what Konchan says is a secure system.

The channels are also intended to serve as collaborative, real-time portals, where users can check in on the latest information as well as work with colleagues.

"The initial driver was the foreign exchange market," Konchan said. "We were the first bank to chat with a customer in January in 1998." That customer was Jyske Bank in Denmark.

He needed to keep client banks up-to-the-minute on changes, and instant chat or instant messaging was the best way to go, he said. That, combined with demand for a real-time collaborative tool, pushed Konchan and a few others to develop the chat software, which became so popular, he said, that UBSW put money into developing the software for broader use.

"I don't know of anybody else that has done that," Robert Mahowald, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said of UBSW's system. "They know where they came from and they know the need of the end user. That's important. I think they've got some real smart approaches to group collaboration. They had the time and the money to be incubated in-house until the time it was tested and ready for market."

An IDC study conducted earlier this year predicts that about 70% of large corporations will install IM software during the next 12 months, up from an estimated 6.9% using it now.

If successful, this could become an essential tool for financial services, Mahowald said, but it isn't clear whether users will make MindAlign their first check point every morning and use the portal as the primary communications and collaboration software throughout the day.

Mahowald says he believes the chat lines are secure, partly because UBSSW would be liable for massive lawsuits, not to mention loss of customer loyalty, if the system were compromised.

Meanwhile, Konchan, though still at UBSW, keeps tabs on the development of Parlano software. One future development would be to install artificial intelligence in the software for smart searches of previous chats.

Now the chat is saved by date and access level.

This story, "Bank spins off in-house IM software" was originally published by Computerworld.

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