Welcome to the first silicon.com CIO Jury – a new series where we take the pulse of the IT user community by asking our 12-person panel of leading UK-based CIOs and IT executives to deliver their verdict on the hot topic of the week. We start the series by asking: Instant messaging – a valuable business tool or just another time-wasting distraction for staff looking to while away their working day? While traders in the City are increasingly using IM for exchanging real-time market data, other staff are damaging productivity and exposing their organisations to legal action and viruses with their use of IM. We put the question to the silicon.com CIO Jury, with eight coming out in favour of IM as a valuable business tool – although most added caveats about the ability to control and limit its usage – and four saying the risks outweigh the current business benefits. Martin Armitage, head of global information organisation at Unilever, said IM has proved an ‘instant big win’ at Unilever as part of an open source set of web-based collaboration tools that include virtual conferencing and SMS. “IM has been by far the most popular of the set and it has transformed the interactions between team members for some of our global teams,” he said. Dot-com upstart Betfair.com, which has shaken up the traditional bookmakers with its online betting model, uses a secure, enterprise version of IM to support email and the telephone. David Yu, CTO at Betfair.com, said: “It’s extremely useful and enables us to have real time discussions within the office and remote locations 24×7. For time sensitive coordination, it’s proven far more effective than other means.” The ability for staff working in disparate locations in different time zones to work together makes IM an “ideal cost-effective tool to communicate”, according to Mark Lichtenhein, director of IT and New Media at the PGA European Tour. BA’s CIO Paul Coby also said IM is used for communicating between UK headquarters and overseas offices. Kevin Lloyd, CTO at Barclays, said there is potential for IM in ‘multi-channel servicing’ where an agent may need to do a quick query with qualified support staff, and in multi-site team collaboration. But he added a note of caution. “The down-side, as with any other tool, is cultural behaviour and bandwidth consumption,” he said. And controlling the use of IM among staff was a key theme among the CIO Jury. Graham Yellowley, director of technology at Tokyo-Mitsubishi bank in London, said there needs to be means of auditing and monitoring IM content and he warned that any ‘contract’ entered into over IM is “fraught with pitfalls”. It is a view supported by Safeway CIO Ric Francis. “It isn’t [a valuable business tool] and will remain that way until there is real corporate control and accountability that can be placed around it,” he said. Frank Coyle, IT director at John Menzies Distribution, was rather more frank about IM in the workplace. “I would have to be convinced that it genuinely added business value as opposed to being the latest fad which a number of individuals would waste their time on,” he said. Today’s CIO Jury was… Martin Armitage, Head of Global Information Organisation, Unilever
Ian Auger, Head of IT and Communications, ITN
Dr Stuart Brough, Director of IT Services, University of Strathclyde
Paul Coby, CIO, British Airways
Frank Coyle, IT Director, John Menzies Distribution
Ric Francis, CIO Safeway
John Keeling, Director of Computer Services, John Lewis Partnership
Mark Lichtenhein, Director of IT and New Media, PGA European Tour
Kevin Lloyd, CTO, Barclays
Nick Masterson-Jones, IT Programmes Director, BACS
Graham Yellowley, Director of Technology, Tokyo-Mitsubishi
David Yu, CTO at Betfair.com
If you are a CIO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company and want to be part of silicon.com’s exclusive CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop as a line at editorial@silicon.com. CIO Jury will be back soon.