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<p>HOUSTON – Staffers at First Community Credit Union here were a little more addicted to instant messaging each other than they realized. The $250 million CU had been using instant messaging on its internal network for years on a Novell system. When it converted to a Windows NT system that capability was gone and the CU wasn’t happy about it. “Everyone just got into the habit of popping messages to each other, rather than picking up a phone. It’s an easy way to get an immediate answer, and it’s a little more professional if a member is there waiting,” said First Community CU’s Director of Network Operations, Rito Garza. Garza said CUs shouldn’t underestimate the productivity benefits of an internal instant messaging (IM) system. It’s especially convenient for First Community, because although they have nine branches, all the loans are processed out of one branch. Garza said member service reps from different branches will often send an instant message to the lending branch when a member comes in inquiring about loan status. “You can use it just to let them know a member is there waiting, quickly find out the status and make the member more comfortable,” said Garza. The CU is using an IM solution from WiredRed (www.wiredred.com), San Diego, known as ePop. It works similar to the popular IM capability of America Online. The difference, said Garza, is that it is solely for internal use. “It’s basically like a secure, local Internet instant messaging service. It stays within our network. It doesn’t go out to the Net. It uses the internal bandwidth,” he said. It also lets employees know who is at work that day by showing who is logged on to the system. The CU created a short-cut in the start-up menu so when employees log on to their PC ePop will run automatically, with a small icon present on the task bar. Different departments can create user groups, so a single message goes out to multiple end-users at once. Permission levels can also be set. Garza said ePop is even used on the teller line. The IM can be silent or have a noise attached to it. ePop overrides whatever else is on a user’s screen (only taking part of the screen of course), so it won’t be hidden behind an application in use. According to Tom Toperczer, vice president of sales and marketing for WiredRed, ePop is popular particularly in the financial, educational, and government sectors. “Much like e-mail it’s a horizontal application. The benefit users want is a boost in office productivity,” said Toperczer. Price shouldn’t be a factor for most CUs. It costs about $39 per user. “It works on any 32-bit operating system, Windows 95 and up. It doesn’t need to be on a dedicated machine. It can be based on of your user’s machines.” [email protected]</p>

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