sbrgThe Challenge: Find a way to roll out customer service, do-it-yourself technology that actually works. Usually the systems are so touchy, users are put off. Some are actually scared away.

The Remedies: Make sure you’re solving a real business problem. Talk to customers, not just your corporate users, who are much more technically savvy. Partner closely with the business units involved. And remember, there is no help desk in this world.

The Payoff: If it works, do-it-yourself technology can save millions on labor costs, speed sales and delivery times, and improve customer satisfaction.

They don’t bite. They don’t snarl. And they don’t even frighten small children. Still, they can be so intimidating that the only option is to pull the plug.

Who’d have thought that something as benign as do-it-yourself kiosks could be so formidable that no one would use them? Certainly not executives at Hallmark Cards Inc., who sat back and watched while archrival and No. 2 player American Greetings Corp. rolled out its own machines in 1992 and saw sales boom. Not to be outdone, Hallmark rushed to market with its own version, eventually putting almost 2,700 of them in grocery stores and malls across the country.

But almost as if the machines had sprouted fangs, customers avoided them. Some curious consumers did check them out and liked them, but they were in the minority. So earlier this summer, Hallmark pulled about half the machines out of stores. The company’s plan? Start over.

Hallmark is far from the only company that needs to tame a technology beast. From department stores to fast-food chains, movie theaters to airlines, more and more companies are starting to put technology into their customers’ hands. The goals are worthy–cut labor costs, speed up service, and improve customer satisfaction–but it doesn’t come without risks.

Sure, consumers like the idea of helping themselves. But with no help desk to support them, they can get scared away or annoyed by even small glitches and seemingly simple interfaces.

Turn customers off too many times and you might lose them–and that can easily turn into a CIO’s nightmare, particularly if the IS department is called in to retool a mechanical monster. After all, once the technology heads out the door, so does your control.

Not a ‘Hall of Fame’ Success

Just ask Hallmark. For the Kansas City, Mo., company, a number of things went wrong. First, the industry was pumping out too many card kiosks into the market at one time for them to succeed, says Mary McClure, vice president of consumer product technology. But she also admits there were things the group hurried through that, if it had taken more time, could have given them a better chance for survival.

Hallmark was in a hurry because it was late. By 1993, when Hallmark was just rolling out its first set of machines, American had close to 10,000 of them in the marketplace. Undoubtedly, American’s aggressive push into the kiosk market made Hallmark nervous. “We would have had a very difficult time if this situation had been reversed,” says John Klipsell, American’s senior vice president of electronic marketing, in Cleveland. American was able to nail down the kiosk market largely because it had acquired a small company that invented the machines and had already done substantial research on customer acceptance of them. That left Hallmark in the lurch.

“We needed to speed up on our development time line, and our testing time was limited,” says McClure. While ideally she would have liked to test them as they were being prototyped and developed, the luxury of time was one the consumer technology group simply could not afford.

Combine the rush with the fact that McClure’s division didn’t have a close partnership with Hallmark’s internal IT group, and the subsequent problems become even clearer. McClure says a stronger relationship with IT would have helped the consumer technology division better manage the learning curve associated with the kiosk technology. “[That] certainly would have helped, as well as [more partnering with] outside groups. That would be the one thing I’d do differently,” she says. IT, she points out, already

has a strong matrix relationship with her division. But its main task has been to support the “back-office” functions associated with consumer technologies, such as billing.

Monster Bride

But even if you have the IT department involved, there can still be problems. At Bloomingdale’s, a bridal registry kiosk is being rolled out to all 15 of the company’s stores–and any new stores that open–despite minor bugs in the touch-screen interface and complaints from users. “If you’re there to pick up [the registry list] quickly, it’s a total pain,” says customer Cathy Messing, who uses the bridal registry kiosk in Bloomingdale’s, in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Some 12,000 couples register annually in the eight stores that have the bridal registry kiosks, and registry sales account for 10 percent of total revenues for the Home Division at the $1 billion New York-based company. The kiosks exist because “if you cannot service the customer within 5 minutes of their walking into the store, you will generally lose them,” says MaryBeth Shea, corporate director of Bloomingdale’s Bridal Registry. Fixes for the older machines, which Shea admits need upgrading, will come a s the company extends and improves its registry service.

Ginny Svorza, operating vice president of MIS and technology support for Bloomingdale’s, says she is unaware of sensitivity problems with the touch-screen. But recently, there have been hardware problems with the system, which is now maintained by Bloomingdale’s parent company, Federated Department Stores Inc., in Atlanta, Svorza says. When Federated changes the format of the screen, either to add information or give it a new look, the kiosk isn’t prepared and the system shuts down. Svorza, who acts as a l iaison to the corporate systems group, now has to get new software to the eight stores to correct the problem.

She is also involved in producing an enhanced registry system with more flexibility and information, which will be rolled out in early 1996. It will give sales clerks the capability to follow up on new products with brides who registered, as well as incorporate baby and anniversary registries.

Self-Serve

Not everyone is completely convinced, however, that consumer technology is tame enough to be released into public arms–yet. Arby’s Inc., which manages and installs IT independently from its franchisees, is observing the self-serve trend closely but is being cautious about jumping on the bandwagon. This May, it rolled out 150 point-of-sale touch-screen terminals to company-owned stores and will have 150 more out by October. The systems can be used by either store clerks or customers, but for now, the fast- food company has chosen to keep the terminals facing their employees, not their patrons.

“It is possible that you could take this technology too far. You are supposed to be able to reduce labor [with it], but I don’t know if the technology is there yet,” says Matt Hale, director of restaurant systems at Arby’s headquarters, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

A larger issue is that fast-food restaurants are designed around the concept of walking up to a clerk behind a counter, who is there to take an order. Introducing customer order entry into that environment could affect line flow, service, and sales. But ultimately, Hale needs to see proof of stronger customer acceptance of technologies in other companies before he’ll turn those terminals around.

No matter. The momentum of do-it-yourself technology is here to stay. Federated is planning to roll out a system that uses a handheld scanning device both to register brides’ item preferences and then to deduct gift purchases from lists in its 46 Burdines department stores in Florida. The Bailey Co., an Arby’s franchiser based in Golden, Colo., has installed a touch-screen customer order entry system developed by Tradeware Technologies Inc. in 26 of its 62 stores.

And, according to Paul Seigert, president and CEO of Tradeware, also in Golden, the system is also being used by Whataburger Inc., a Southern fast-food restaurant, and is being tested by Boston Market Inc., McDonald’s Corp., Burger King Corp., and Carl’s Jr. in California. United Artists Entertainment Co., Seigert says, is planning to use the system in theaters. And now, Tradeware is working on plans to install the system at gas pumps in rest areas so travelers can order their food while they pump. And tha t’s just to name a few.

So if your company is headed down this track, is there any way to stave off disaster? There certainly are some lessons to be learned from Hallmark’s experience. First, it looks like McClure’s and CIO Jim Miller’s organizations are working toward a much closer relationship, which should make the next version of the kiosk design go a little easier.

And even though McClure was forced to be in a hurry, she did a lot of the right things, such as diversifying her risk. McClure’s strategy of experimenting with several consumer technologies at one time–interactive television and the Internet are next–helped blunt the sting of removing the kiosks. That, plus the fact that premade greeting cards and gifts account for the bulk of its $3.8 billion annual revenue, meant the impact of the recall was “like a flea on an elephant,” according to a company represen tative.

Companies can ease their customers through the transition by understanding–and respecting–the fact that not everyone will take boos and hisses from unwieldy technology very kindly. The more partnering, planning, and testing IT and consumer technology groups do behind the scenes before pushing technology out the door, the less likely they are to unleash Godzilla.

But until they get it right, companies should appreciate customers like Messing. Technology has snarled at her a few times, but she’s not so intimidated that she won’t give it a second chance. She even registered in the Bloomingdale’s system for her own wedding. “I’m all for anything that makes life faster and easier,” she says.

gpckcEIGHTEEN MONTHS AGO, Michael Morris finally got the job offer he’d been dreaming of: a shot at the top IS executive position at Leslie Fay Companies Inc., a $650 million New York apparel manufacturer that was poised to invest in a major systems renovation. There was just one problem: Leslie Fay was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Morris took the job, but with one condition–a three-year contract that guaranteed his salary even if he were fired or Leslie Fay folded.

Not so long ago, such golden parachutes were usually offered only to the CEO and one or two other top officers of a company. A few CIO elites, such as former Merrill, Lynch & Co. CIO DuWayne Peterson or BankAmerica Corp. CIO Marty Stein, might also expect to get contracts. But now that’s changing. Milton Wood, senior partner in the M. Wood Co. placement firm, in Chicago, says 15 percent to 20 percent of his CIO placements include employment contracts.

“A couple of years ago it was very rare to see IT executives get contracts,” Wood says. “That more are getting them now shows that the CIO position is one of the most difficult and complex in corporate America.”

In other words, being an organization’s top technology chief is one tough job. “We’re being asked to do things like help turn around an organization, which can involve changing platforms that people have gotten used to, or even shrink the size of an organization or department,” says Morris, whose immediate tasks at Leslie Fay include replacing mainframes with AS/400 and Unix systems and rolling out a new order-processing system. “Those things can be very difficult politically. A contract helps you as the C

IO decrease your concern about being risk-averse. You can do what you have to do.”

Short Life Span

Most CIOs know all about job risk. Studies show the average life span of an IT chief to be anywhere from 18 months to two years. “I tell people when they take a new [CIO] job that one of two things will happen. You’re either going to be fired or you’ll quit,” says Victor Janulaitis, president of Positive Support Review, a Santa Monica, Calif., IT consultancy. “So you want to be fired or quit on your terms.”

Janulaitis, whose services include advising CIO job seekers, has helped 24 clients craft employment contracts in the past year. Most CIO placements he’s been involved with in that period–many in the entertainment industry–have included employment contracts. One client, he says, negotiated a contract that protected his $400,000 salary for three years and included a guarantee that the company would not move his job from California. When the company tried to move it anyway, says Janulaitis, the CIO cashed o ut and went to work for a competitor at the same salary and using the same contract.

CIO candidates are most likely to insist on employment contracts when, like Morris, they’re facing an obvious turn-around task or when they’re considering moving to a company with a reputation for disposing of CIOs every 18 months or 30,000 miles, whichever comes first.

“There’s some companies that I’d insist on a five-year contract from before I’d consider joining,” says Jim Spitze, CIO at Tri-Valley Growers Inc., a San Francisco-based agricultural marketing company.

At the heart of most contracts are provisions spelling out length of employment and what happens if the CIO is fired or if his job goes away. Many contracts provide for a continuation of salary and other benefits, such as health care and additional life insurance, for as long as three years after separation for almost any reason other than moral turpitude. Many contracts include even more generous payoffs after a change of company control, such as a merger. Stock options–valued at up to $300,000–and even

cash signing bonuses are also increasingly common, says Janulaitis.

Many contracts also spell out CIO performance expectations. And, to the extent that the CIO is given the same base employment contract as other top officers in the company, says Wood, performance measures are likely to include overall corporate metrics, such as profits or market share.

Attracting the Best Candidate

Why are more companies willing to cover IT execs with employment contracts? For one thing, contracts can make the difference in attracting and keeping the best CIO candidate. Earlier this year, for example, Frank Piluso decided to leave his post as IT chief at Capitol/EMI Music Inc., in Hollywood, Calif., and was poised to accept a job as CIO of another Southern California company. At the last minute, however, executives from New World Communications Group, in Los Angeles, swooped in and made him an offer to become the company’s first CIO. The offer included an employment contract. “The other company was unwilling to do a contract, so I went with the one that was willing to put it in writing,” says Piluso.

CIOs such as Piluso and Morris are asking for contracts not just as a way to protect their income and benefits, but also as a test of a new employer’s commitment to the new CIO position and to the overall role of IT in corporate strategy. “If you’re telling me how committed you are to IT and how much you believe in me, why not put it in writing?” says Piluso. “Why not show it’s more than just lip service?”

Not Into the Boardroom Yet

So do employment contracts mean that IT execs have crossed the boardroom threshold and are finally considered part of a company’s top-management inner circle? Not necessarily. Contracts have more to do with a company’s recognition that competition for the best and brightest of emerging CIOs is intense. Although Leslie Fay agreed to the employment contract to attract Morris, he, like his predecessor, reported to the chief financial officer rather than the CEO or president. That’s likely to change, however, when Leslie Faye emerges from Chapter 11 reorganization in October. At that time, it’s likely that Morris will begin reporting to the chief operating officer.

Whether or not that happens, says Morris, the employment contract gave him the freedom to take the risk of moving to Leslie Fay in the first place.

mfcgnDavid Walters had fire breathing down his neck. Literally. In 1988, as a summer recruit for the U.S. Forestry Service, he helped conquer a conflagration in Yellowstone National Park. Today, Walters is preparing to take the heat once again. Only this time he’s a tech-support manager at Microsoft, and he’s facing what could be the biggest potential blaze in the industry’s history–the launch of Windows 95. Says Walters: “We’re prepared for the driest season we’ve ever had.”

Walters isn’t the only one who stands to get singed. Battalions of tech-support staffers throughout the industry are coming up against an incendiary mixture–more novice users, increasingly complex software, and a growing number of compatibility issues. The toll: The average software developer now fields 1.8 million help calls per year and spends about 10 percent of revenue on support, says Bob Johnson, Dataquest’s director of software services. This isn’t a fire you can outrun. It’s get smart or get burne d. So leading companies such as Microsoft are outsourcing to third parties, putting more self-help information on-line and making their products “smarter.”

Microsoft is keenly aware of how much it has to gain–or lose– in supporting Win 95. So it’s launched a full-scale effort to beef up support, spending an additional $50 million on top of its annual $500 million in support expenditures, an industry source says. One of its biggest-ticket items was a multimillion-dollar upgrade to its telcom system to route calls among its own help-desk staffers and its five third-party support providers. Analysts agree that Microsoft has done about everything it can to brace itself for an expected increase of 10,000 support calls a day. But even with all its preparations, “if they release a product that is in any way buggy, there’s no way the infrastructure will matter,” says support analyst Carter Lusher of Gartner Group Inc.

One of the foremost ways Microsoft is girding itself is by relying more and more on electronic delivery of technical data–from CD ROMs to the World-Wide Web. The average support staffer can talk to 20 users a day but can respond to 250 electronic messages daily, says Bill Rose, executive director of the 500-member Software Support Professionals Association, in San Diego. And that means huge savings. It costs about $53 to handle a telephone support call, but just $2 to $3 to respond to an electronic messag e, Rose claims. Electronic support also addresses a perennial support pain: The majority of calls could be resolved if the customer, as support engineers often grouse, would just RTFM–“Read the [expletive deleted] manual.”

Talk about a manual–just this month Microsoft released a special 2,600-page issue of its TechNet CD ROM, all about Win 95. But the product, which sells for $34.95, represents just one facet of its Technical Information Network. Also, as part of the program, users get two CDs per month, one with technical information and the other with drivers and bug fixes. Users can also share information via a TechNet Web page, as well as commercial on-line forums. The 2- year-old program has attracted 60,000 users so fa r. Microsoft has found that, after the users began using TechNet, the average number of support calls fell from 4.2 times per month to 1.4 times, says Teresa Fagan, TechNet product manager.

Other developers are also showing promising results from electronic delivery. Some 65 percent of Lotus’ corporate users get information on-line or on CD ROM from its 6-month-old Lotus Knowledge Base, says Michael Hayes, Lotus’ director of service product marketing. That has resulted in a “significant” reduction of wait times for phone support, he says. And Dun & Bradstreet Software has seen support calls drop 40 percent since it introduced its Smart Stream Assistant, says Elizabeth Farrell, DBS’ director o f global customer service. That has allowed Farrell to reduce her staffing by a hefty 30 percent.

Even bigger savings may lie ahead, though, with the spread of new support technologies. Microsoft, for one, hopes to reap substantial benefits from VoiceView, which it has licensed from Radish Communications Systems Inc. and embedded in Windows 95. VoiceView allows users to send electronic snapshots of their configuration, their screen, you name it. A user can converse with a support engineer, transfer data, then switch back to voice. Microsoft is also working on a series of VoiceView agents that it will i ssue in “tune-up kits,” says Keith Sturdivant, manager of advanced support technology for Microsoft. One of the initial agents will allow VoiceView to extract a detailed description of a system’s configuration.

Expect to see more products similar to VoiceView. Software Support Inc. is pitching Support Profiler. The software solution is bundled on a major manufacturer’s new PCs and is now hitting retail shelves for $39.95. Users save money by avoiding $25 “incident” calls and $2.95-per-minute 900-numbers. It allows users to inventory their systems, take screen snapshots, and make notes on documents, then send the information electronically to Software Support. The company guarantees a response within 4 hours. The electronic back-and-forth also allows Software Support help technicians to soak up any downtime between live calls.

What other cool tools are in the works? At Microsoft, developers are working on a technology, code-named Aladdin, that uses natural- language queries and artificial intelligence to pinpoint problems and deliver solutions. Sure, there are lots of knowledge databases out there, but users get confused and discouraged when they have to sort through 100 “hits” for a topic, says advanced support guru Sturdivant. Look for Aladdin technology to be embedded in future products. Microsoft is also exploring videoconfer encing. As part of a pilot program started a few months ago among some major customers, Microsoft is using ISDN links so support engineers can jointly work on a whiteboard with customers and run remote diagnostics. That promises to reduce site visits by Microsoft engineers, says Sam Jadallah, general manager of corporate and developer support.

But technology has its limits. So Gateway, which has been hammered for poor support, has also re-engineered its business processes. “We spent three to six months redesigning our business processes before we even touched any of our new information systems,” says Jim Collas, Gateway’s vice president of customer support. Those new systems include a self-help voice-response system from IntelliSystems Inc., a call-tracking system from The Vantive Corp., and a case- based reasoning tool from Inference Corp. The y ear-long effort is already producing results. Support productivity has increased 20 percent in the past six months, Collas says. And customers are reaping the rewards: Gateway is one of only a handful of PC vendors offering free lifetime support for Win 95. (Yes, you read correctly–lifetime.) Gateway expects to recoup its multimillion- dollar investment through cost reductions over the next 12 to 18 months.

Saving money is only one part of the support crisis. Vendors must also make continuous improvements or risk seeing their customers raise hell, or worse, defect. Microsoft has pushed hard to improve every aspect of its support. Its mega-beta program not only paid dividends in the OS but in support. Responding to feedback from its 400,000 beta sites, its PSS (Product Support Services) division developed some tools included in Win 95. One troubleshooter takes users through a series of questions and diagnostic activities to help them figure out why a document isn’t printing.

Like emergency services everywhere, PSS prepared for the worst. It called in fake disasters to its tech-support managers. Walters says he responded to a half-dozen emergency E-mails, including a call from a fictitious stock exchange with $3 million in assets tied up. PSS also established a “war room” for top managers from support, service, products, training, and outsourcing. The members have gathered weekly since October. They’ll meet daily when the OS launches. One offshoot of their planning: Microsoft n ow has a robust database to address worst-case scenarios. If, say, the company learns that support is weak for a particular area, it can arrange for “quick-hit training” of engineers, says Deborah Willingham, Microsoft’s vice president of product service and support.

One potential miscue may already be in the making. The company plans to manage the influx of Win 95 calls by giving customers a busy signal once the system reaches a certain level. The goal is to prevent customers from hanging on hold longer than 15 minutes, Willingham says. But analysts say it’s a bad idea. “That would be an absolute public-relations disaster,” snorts Gartner Group analyst Lusher. “It’s one thing to be slow, it’s another to busy people out.” He expects Microsoft to change its tune once cu stomers begin to complain.

Microsoft could indeed suffer some burns with the rollout of Win 95. It may come down to simply underestimating the volume of demand for support. But whatever happens, the company won’t sit still. It can’t. After all, on a five-point scale ranking their top concerns, software users put support at 4.3, right alongside product quality, Dataquest’s Johnson says. And that translates into dollars: Excellent support produces 35 percent more purchases of a company’s products, a 40 percent increase in upgrades, an d a 43 percent increase in support-contract renewals, Johnson notes. It only stands to reason that second-rate support moves those numbers in the other direction–with the potential to leave your earnings statement looking like a charred grove of cottonwoods in Yellowstone.

mdcpnATDT (Attention modem, dial tone). On Sept. 21, the man who pioneered the modem business–then drove one of the most successful technology brands straight into Chapter 11–gets a chance to ring up redemption. That’s when Dennis Hayes could see his Hayes Microcomputer Products Inc. emerge from the shadow of bankruptcy and into a powerful merger with Boca Research Inc. So far, the applause has been loud and long. “This is going to be an excellent merger,” predicts analyst Hank Powell, of Southeast Research P artners Inc.

But then again, several things could disconnect this modem marriage. It must find approval in the bankruptcy court. After that, the task of combining small Boca with large Hayes will be a major management challenge. Then Anthony Zalenski, the Boca CEO who will occupy the same role after the merger, must convince Hayes’ suppliers and customers that happy days are here again. That’s unlikely to be a problem for Zalenski, a 27-year industry veteran who was chief operating officer of Motorola’s Universal Data Systems modem subsidiary before landing at Boca in November. Not so straightforward, however, is the role that Dennis Hayes will play. The question: Is unpredictable Hayes compatible with straight- laced Boca?

But there’s no question about this: The newly combined companies will create a powerhouse. Taking Dataquest’s 1994 numbers, the merger gives Hayes-Boca a 17.6 percent share of total North American unit sales–enough to make it the segment’s No. 2 company behind GVC Technologies Inc., with 27.2 percent, but ahead of U.S. Robotics Corp., with 17.4 percent. More compelling is the melding of Hayes’ brand strength, high-end line, and international presence with Boca’s low-cost manufacturing, its strength with V

ARs and OEMs, and its fiscally conservative management. “We run a tight ship,” says Zalenski. The advantage for Hayes, of course, is obvious. The Norcross, Ga., company must pay creditors and get its business back in gear. But Boca needed this deal, too, to stay competitive in the consolidating modem industry.

Smooth sailing to all these pluses isn’t likely, however. First, the companies have never worked together before. Second, Dennis Hayes, 45, ruled his privately held company with a strong hand, associates say. He won’t have that kind of control with his new employer. The friction could start when Zalenski starts eliminating overlap between the two companies, most likely cutting from among Hayes’ 1,100 employees. Notes Dataquest analyst Lisa Pilgrem: “Dennis started Hayes at 28. His only job has been to be i ts CEO. He’ll have to learn to let go.” For his part, Hayes is saying the right things. “It’s a good idea to share the responsibility and workload,” he says. “I’m looking forward to working with a strong operating manager.”

Under the merger agreement, Hayes’ 15 percent stake makes him the company’s largest shareholder. As vice chairman he’ll oversee strategy and public relations. He’ll also take charge of protecting the company’s intellectual property. What’s more, the new company will carry the Hayes name, not Boca’s. But the strong-willed Hayes won’t walk over anyone at Boca. Zalenski is tough, too–tough enough to have flown helicopters in Vietnam. And within seven months of arriving at Boca last September, he’d installed

new heads of sales, international operations, engineering, and business planning.

Boca’s move to acquire Hayes–the merger moved from concept to done deal within 17 days in June–wasn’t the action of a shrinking violet. Boca is taking on a company with three times its own 1994 revenues–Hayes’ $246 million vs. Boca’s $83.5 million. And the Chapter 11 filing left a bad taste among suppliers and customers. “Our job is to reassure suppliers and customers that this is a financially viable company,” says Zalenski. To do so, Boca will help Hayes pay off its creditors at 100 percent on the do llar, with interest.

In fact, it appears Hayes is more than financially viable. Even in Chapter 11, it has turned an operating profit in three consecutive quarters, and still can’t meet demand for some products. “Their backlog suggests they haven’t been hurt imagewise,” says analyst Powell.

Hayes’ troubles have been well chronicled. Hayes and his company were reluctant to respond to price initiatives by U.S. Robotics and other players. That cost Hayes market-share leadership. And when the demand was there, severe manufacturing and inventory problems caused a cash shortage, plunging the company into bankruptcy.

To his credit, Dennis Hayes saw the problems coming. Even before the Chapter 11 filing, he began reorganizing with the help of Arthur Andersen & Co. Objective No. 1 was reducing the complexity of the business, and with it the costs that weren’t generating much incremental profit. The company consolidated the number of “technology platforms” implemented in its products–items like modem bit pumps and controllers– from 25 to 10. Then it junked its older 1,200-bps and 2,400-bps product lines, even though they

were still profitable. All told, it cut 1,000 SKUs to 200. To reduce global support costs, Hayes cut the number of countries on which it focuses from 18 to 10. And the company created business units around four markets–consumer, business, advanced network, and software. Finally, it consolidated the operations of subsidiary Practical Peripherals, which it bought in 1989 but left largely on its own. “We expect to be a very successful story when we reorganize the company and emerge from Chapter 11,” Hayes sa ys.

As for 10-year-old Boca, it needs to swell up in a hurry to remain competitive. Throughout the industry unit shipments are increasing, but prices are declining. The result: A major consolidation is under way. In addition to the $100 million Boca deal for Hayes, Megahertz Corp. was acquired earlier this year by U.S. Robotics for $215 million. And two weeks ago, Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc. acquired small modem maker Supra Corp. in a $54 million package. The prospects for commoditization were so threateni ng that Intel pulled out of the modem market a year ago. Dataquest predicts that shipments of stand-alone modems will decline starting in 1997 as communications alternatives such as ISDN connections, digital modems, and modems on motherboards come to fruition.

The situation clearly favors larger companies that still can act quickly, leverage manufacturing efficiencies, and command mind share with retailers, OEMs, and VARs. “This is not a business for the faint of heart,” says Jay Berryhill, general manager for Motorola’s retail modem business. And as the Hayes saga shows, even the strong and bold can stumble into a dreadful disconnect.

spss1A psychologist once challenged children to cross a room without directly touching the floor, using only a pair of boards and a piece of rope. Most of the kids cut the rope in half, tied a board to each foot, and walked across.

When he gave them only one board, many of them figured out how to tie the rope to one end and slide across the room in a gallop. These kids would cross the room faster, on average, than they did when they were given two boards and used them in a more obvious but less efficient manner.

As developers build next-generation applications using OLE 2.0, they, too, run the risk of seeing it as a parts kit, and assuming that a correct solution is one that uses all of those parts–instead of using them selectively.

For example, I recently spoke with developers at SPSS Inc., of Chicago, who gave me a preview of their forthcoming OLE 2.0 rewrite of their statistical analysis product. SPSS 7.0 will take a huge leap beyond the product’s old approach to output, which captured a session transcript in a scrolling buffer that resembled the output of a teletype. The new output model is a tree of objects, presenting analyses, notes, and conclusions in logical groupings that lend themselves to effective presentation.

If every node of the resulting tree were realized as a fully formed OLE 2.0 object, the developers felt users would notice the overheads of object creation and find the product annoyingly slow. For that matter, there are architectural limits, including those of the current version of the Microsoft Foundation Classes library, that would make this strategy somewhat fragile: Many users, for example, would soon reach the limit of 32K serialized objects and would have to begin a new session.

Cooking with ‘unbaked objects’

The SPSS development team, directed by Steve Henkels, came up with an innovative notion of “unbaked objects.” Objectlike entities don’t get the full OLE 2.0 treatment unless there is idle time to do it, or unless the user takes an action that signals a particular object’s need for full-strength bells and whistles.

“We introduced a dual interface,” said Andrew Walaszek, principal software engineer and lead developer for the new Output Navigator. “We moved rendering and pagination into a controller object, exposing their native interface as well as the OLE interface.” The native functions are handled by a dynamic link library of SPSS‘ own design.

Ralph Brencier, lead engineer of SPSS 7.0’s new pivot table editor, observed that this intensifies several development concerns. “We want to keep the surface area of the API as small as possible,” he cautioned. This becomes more difficult as the additional interfaces blur the boundaries between container and server.

But there are project management benefits, noted Louise Rehling, senior vice president for product development. Team meetings have focused on individual components, with teams who depend, for example, on the container class using an off-the-shelf container until the custom version is ready to plug in and add its additional functions.

SPSS 7.0 will show the way toward using new platform features without letting those features blind developers to their continuing responsibility for discriminating design.

hddrThere are discounts that come with various companies that offer emergency data recovery. Most of the discounts are directed towards select groups in the market. There are some of the companies that offer discounts for emergency data recovery to students. Others offer the discounts to teachers whereas others to military personnel. Mostly they direct their discounts on emergency recovery to a certain group of people who are many within that place. It works magic and very many people seek their services so as to benefit from the discounts when need be.

With emergency data recovery, you rest assured that you can continue with your work in the shortest time possible because very many service providers do it in twenty four to forty eight hours. It is worth mentioning that it is very important to ascertain the credentials of the service provider you want to employ for the emergency data recovery. Get the best company because very many service provider claim that they can offer very many services whereas it is not a reality. They also advertise unimaginable offers for emergency data recovery and for sure, they cannot offer the services. Go through the reviews left behind by clients who have been previously served.

How Data Recovery Works

Keeping an emergency data recovery plan in place is very important for many reasons. The emergency data recovery plan helps you retrieve inaccessible or deleted data from your hard drive. Is it possible to completely recover the lost data? Yes, it is possible to recover all the important files if you follow a set procedure from the beginning. Therefore, you do not need to panic when your data becomes inaccessible. All you need to is to proceed with the recovery procedure and retrieve the lost data.

There are several reasons why data is lost. These reasons include regular wear and tear, physical failures, software errors, computer viruses, malicious software and visiting affected sites. Some other reasons may be fire and electrical short circuits.

Let us talk about how hard disks work. When a file is deleted, the system only deletes the address of the file from memory but the actual file remains intact on the disk. Here, you should understand one
important thing. If you delete a file, it still remains intact on the disk till you run shortage of space. In case of shortage of space, the disk replaces the old deleted files with the new deleted files. However, if there is enough space on the disk, all deleted files remain intact.

Loss of data is a state that no computer user ever wants to face. When you report to your office or business premises ready to begin to work, you always go with the knowledge that your data is still intact. Only for you to find that your computer cannot boot and even the power button has become useless since as much the lights are blinking, you cannot be able to see anything on your screen. This brings a lot of panic to the computer user and for one who has no knowledge concerning causes of loss of data stands there confused not knowing what to do next. For this reason, there are some few factors which one may want to consider before choosing the person who will help you. A user should not just settle for anyone who comes their way claiming that they can recover your data.

For you to consider any emergency data recovery service provider, look out for one who handles his job with a high level of professionalism. This is a person who has a good knowledge on what he is doing. He should also be a certified service provider and have at least something to show that he is fully armed to helping you out with this kind of problem. An emergency data recovery service provider must also be available whenever he is needed. He should be ready to offer you the services and have some good reception for you as a customer.

Looking at the importance of files and data saved on office and home computer, it is a wise thing on individuals and organizations’ part to have backup in the form of emergency data recovery plan. This plan is an effective way to for data management and recovery. With a data recovery plan in place, you can easily prevent data loss and protect the integrity of data and any other information.

Since we are living in a fast paced and computerized world, we need to get a backup recovery data in the case of a computer emergency. We all save important data such as cherished family photos, important legal documents or just general information. Therefore, we should understand how important it is to keep our data secure. How can we do it? Well, there are several ways to do it.

One of the most effective ways is to save the data on a floppy disk, external USB flash drive or CD. If you have lots of data, you should first make a list of all of the files that you consider irreplaceable and then save it. Hence, it is very important to have a good backup recovery data process is important in case you ever suffer computer issues that result in lost data.

Hard drive clicking is a possible complication which may be encountered by any computer user. In simple terms, Hard drive clicking is the hard drive making unusual noises which it ought not to make, in a condition of normal functioning. This situation would arise due to software or hardware related malfunctions. Sometimes, the errors or failures of hard drive itself can cause hard drive clicking. It is worth making ourselves aware of certain causes which may lead to hard drive clicking. When hard drive head is hitting the internal head stop, it may generate a clicking noise. This is often called as the click of death. This is an internal hard drive clicking. If the clicking is external, it may happen due to a loose connection, faulty cable or a faulty power adapter. If the hard drive is on a non-level surface that too may cause clicking. Power supply related problems and power saving setting as well can be reasons for a clicking, once they encounter problematic situations. Hard drive sharing the same power lead as graphics card is yet another reason for the complications. If the circuit board on the hard drive is faulty, it will be indicated through a clicking sound. Highly fragmented hard drives have a high percentage of facing with the error conditions. Apart from that, it should be checked to see whether the problem is with hard drive platter. It is extremely important that the reason for the clicking is identified correctly, in order to address the issue successfully.

Solving disk crashes can be difficult, to say the least.

Solving disk crashes can be difficult, to say the least.

The procedure that follows after a clicking hard drive starts to show signs of dying are to back up the data. There are some other steps that you can take to make sure that all works well is to try to retrieve data from the hard drive. The simple procedure includes trying to do a head swap. With another hard drive from the same batch. It is not an easy thing for if you make a simple mistake it can ruin all that is in the hard drive. If you change on the factory set pressure things can go wrong on the screws. The worst mistake can be to try to do it on your own at all costs, if you are not an expert.

A data recovery company is imperative in making sure that you get all your data back. It is not a very costly affair and it does not take long. The clicking drive and the other parts are dissembled carefully with a lot of care being taken on the heads to make sure that they do not touch one another. The experts work on your clicking hard drive and retrieved information is given to you to facilitate the running of your affairs.

Among the most common hard drive problems that computer users around the world experience are clicking hard drive and other such noises. There are different hard drive noises and there are also different things causing them. Clicking hard drive sounds may be due to software or driver issues but most of the time; these are caused by mechanical failure. But, this should not send you into panic. You first need to diagnose the problem and confirm that your hard drive is indeed dying on you. Check whether the hard drive is indeed the one that is creating the clicking sound.

Once it is confirmed that you have indeed a clicking hard drive, it is time to backup all your data and have data recovery software at the ready. If you have been doing backups regularly, then this should not be very strenuous to you. You only have the most recent important files that you need to backup. Among the items that you want to backup are documents, presentations, spreadsheets, email and email contact information, videos, photos, music, software licenses, application data, game profiles, passwords, and internet bookmarks. Now, it is time to confirm the cause of the clicking noise that your hard drive is creating. This will make it easier to find the correct solutions for your problem.

Signs Of A Bad Drive

When things inside the computer are working well, you do not even notice. The drives run smoothly, the screen has no problems, the resolution’s great- everything is just perfect. However, this serene picture may sometimes be a foreboding of bad things to come, more like the calm before the storm. As such, it is always good to keep the system safe and secure at all times, both in terms of hardware and software, so as to prevent the signs I’m about to give next.

A clicking hard drive is by far the most common sign of trouble. The clicking hard drive will give off strange, clicking noises when being used. It is usually the first sign of trouble, and probably the most overlooked. The blue screen is the next sign, and this is mostly brought about by bad boot sectors in the hard drive. It is always a sign of a failing system, and should never be ignored. If the first two are ignored, the system will start freezing and rebooting unexpectedly. At this point, complete failure is imminent. Shutting down the system and taking it to the professional is the best move.

Do not ignore a clicking hard drive, your system, files and documents, and finances depend on it! See more details.

Bolero 2, Everyware Development Inc.’s new Web server analysis tool, gives site administrators good reporting capabilities in real time, as long as their Web server is one of the few supported by Bolero.

logfileboleroNevertheless, in recent tests, we were impressed with the reporting capabilities in Bolero 2, which shipped last month for $13,500. In addition, once we got past a few setup glitches, we found the management interface simple and intuitive.

Bolero’s price is comparable to that of Andromedia Corp.’s competing product, Aria, and other high-end log analysis tools.

The Bolero 2 package includes the Bolero Server, the reporting system, a SQL database and one Server Agent. (Additional Agents must be purchased separately.) Also included is a limited-license version of Everyware’s popular Tango Web development application for report customization. Many of Bolero’s reporting features are based on Tango.

However, many companies will be unable to take advantage of these features, even organizations that use the freeware Apache, which is the most commonly used Web server, because Bolero works only with servers from Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp. It doesn’t even work with the latest server release from either company.

Alternatives include WindDance Networks Corp.’s WebChallenger and other products that use packet-sniffing technology, which is less detailed than other technologies but works with any Web server.

Plug in, turn on

Bolero 2 uses a Web server plug-in as an agent to provide activity reports in real time. This approach can free administrators from having to manage the extremely large access logs used by most analysis tools.

Bolero’s approach is not unique: Aria 2.0 also uses a server agent to provide real-time analysis. Bolero 2 has the same main flaw found in the original Aria 1.0: very limited Web server support.

Setting up Bolero was a little touchy in tests. We found that the agent wouldn’t work properly if we didn’t stop the Web server before installing the package, and we ran into some problems setting up security access. However, these were relatively minor problems, and everything went smoothly once we solved them.

Before we could begin analyzing site activity, we first had to configure the server and the agent. All of this is managed centrally via a browser, and a wizard program takes site administrators through the process step-by-step.

Just the (relevant) facts

Bolero provides site administrators with plenty of options for filtering out unimportant data, so only relevant information is stored in the database. We were impressed by the wide variety of filtering options, and we could also choose to filter content at the agent or at the Bolero server.

We were able to import current log data into the Bolero database using a command-line program. Although this program was simple and straightforward, we would like to see this functionality built into the main management interface. After this, we were able to schedule regular log imports, which allows companies to use both real-time analysis and standard log analysis.

Once archived data was imported, we started to capture live user activity. Busy sites will appreciate Bolero’s ability to provide detailed real-time reports that can be easily accessed via a Web browser. However, Bolero can output reports only as HTML. Although this is fine for most uses, many companies would no doubt like to be able to output reports to word processors as well.

The bundled reports cover most of the information that a site administrator needs, such as visitor and referrer identification and cost analysis. Those who are unfamiliar with Tango might be a little intimidated at first, but the bundled Tango editor allows businesses to create very thorough reports.

Bolero 2 filters out data and can block search agents’ activities.

For businesses that want detailed analysis of activity on their Web sites and want it in real time, Everyware’s Bolero is a good choice, providing strong report customization capabilities. However, the product supports only a small number of Web servers, meaning many companies will have to look to other tools for real-time analysis.

Your server can generate two or more log files with information about the transactions it completes. The most important information from a management standpoint is contained in the access log and the error log. If you want to know what’s happening on your site, look at your access log, which contains information about every completed HTTP transaction.

An access log file shows the visitor’s IP address, the date and time a page is requested, the name and location of the file requested, a status code, and the number of bytes transferred. Unfortunately, unless your site includes only a handful of simple pages and gets few visitors, simply browsing through the information in your access logs rapidly becomes impossible. A site with even a moderate volume of visitors and a few dozen pages will likely feature access logs with thousands of entries per week, rendering direct viewing of the entries impractical.

You can harness the power of your access logs by using software to analyze the data they contain. Most commercial Web servers, such as Microsoft’s Site Server and Netscape Communications’ Enterprise Server, include log file analysis tools.

There are also dozens of commercial log file analysis tools available at a relatively low price, such as WebTrends’ (Portland, OR) WebTrends ($299) and WebManage Technologies’ (Nashua, NH) NetIntellect ($199). There are also numerous freeware options that provide equally detailed reporting, albeit without the extensive documentation and support of the commercial products. One freeware example is wwwstat by Roy Fielding of the University of California, Irvine. A Perl script written for Unix-based systems, it generates detailed, table-based traffic reports in HTML format and integrates with gwstat another freeware program to graphically display site traffic.

Log file analyzers operate on the same principle: They parse each line in the access log, populate a database with the parsed data, and build reports based on a variety of queries. The most basic packages provide information such as total number of hits, impressions (pages viewed), least frequently and most frequently visited pages, number of kilobytes transferred, and number of client or server errors.

Most analyzers further report these measurements in daily, hourly, or even shorter time increments. Such finite detail provides valuable information about overall traffic patterns, peak traffic periods, data transfer rates, and problem files on your site. Table 1 (page 38), generated by WebTrends, shows average daily traffic, peak traffic periods, and low traffic periods.

Because of the stateless nature of Web transactions, log file analyzers necessarily make some assumptions about the data pulled from the access logs. For example, there might be a fixed (or possibly configurable) time span that is used to determine a session time-out. The log file analyzer identifies sequential page requests from one IP address as a single user session, and assumes a session time-out when it encounters a time gap greater than the fixed time span. In this way, the software can deliver relatively accurate information about the total number of user sessions (visits to the site), average session lengths, common paths through the site, and more.

CRITICAL QUESTIONS

Beyond the basic reporting options described previously, log file analyzers offer a variety of advanced features, many of which are not only desirable but possibly crucial to keeping your environment running smoothly. You need to take your site’s configuration into account, as well as any advanced reporting you and your users will require if you’re planning to add a log file analyzer to your site, or upgrade your existing software.

Ask yourself the following questions about your log file analyzer:

Can it read and synthesize extended log file formats? Most commercial servers let you capture extended information in your access logs, such as browser type and version. Make sure you know what options your server offers for capturing access statistics, and verify that the analysis software supports those formats as well.

Can it merge logs from multiple servers? If you are load balancing multiple servers, or need to merge traffic information from multiple sites, this option lets you measure traffic across all servers on the site.

What methods does it support for accessing access log files? For example, does it support direct file access, HTTP, FTP, or some combination of the three? Also, can it support name and password authentication for proxy or remote file access?

Does it include a scheduler function for prearranging future reports? If you need to generate periodic reports for one or more sites, report scheduling helps reduce your workload.

Does it support real-time reporting of log file data? If it’s important for you to have up-to-the-minute information about your site’s traffic, this feature is a must.

How customizable are the reports it generates? You won’t find a one- size-fits-all solution in any of the log file analysis packages on the market. The more flexibility you have to configure reports and filter report data by factors such as time, file type, and directory, the better. If you need heavy-duty reporting capabilities, look for a tool that can export the compiled data to an external database, allowing you to create customized reports and queries.

A typical server log file.

A typical server log file.

Other possible options to look for include automatic conversion of IP addresses to domain names, report delivery via e-mail, and the capability to output reports in non-HTML text formats, such as spreadsheet or word-processor formats.

In addition to the access log, your server also generates an error log file, which is a record of failed HTTP transactions such as unauthorized access or missing file errors.

It’s good practice to browse your error log on a periodic basis to find problems and security breaches on your site. Consecutive failed attempts to access secure areas of your site may indicate someone trying to exploit a security hole on the site. You can also quickly identify broken links, missing pages, and misplaced image files.

While there aren’t tools available to analyze error logs, the error logs are generally not as large as the access logs, and thus are easier to browse with a text editor.

CORRALLING YOUR CONTENT

Anyone involved with creating or maintaining content on a Web site understands how difficult it is to control the integrity of the site’s resources. Problems such as broken links, missing files, or poorly coded HTML crop up all too often in environments featuring multiple authors and internal and external resources that are in a constant state of flux.

Even with tight controls on authoring and administration practices, it’s inevitable that there will be structural problems scattered throughout a site. If this scenario describes your Web environment, it’s likely your production and development personnel devote a significant amount of time to locating and correcting such problems.

Help is available in Web content management tools, which help root out and correct problem files. Like log file analysis tools, most products are competitively priced, such as Tetranet Software’s (Kanata, Ontario) Linkbot ($249) and Site Technologies’ (Scotts Valley, CA) SiteSweeper Workstation ($295).

These tools, also known as link checkers or site mappers, provide quality control by sifting through a site in search of broken links, missing images, poorly constructed HTML code, and other problems. Most can display a visual roadmap of a site, making it easier to understand the site’s structure and find files or sections quickly. Figure 1 shows an example of a site map as implemented by Mercury Interactive‘s (Sunnyvale, CA) Astra SiteManager.

After directing the link checker to a site’s home URL, it retrieves the index page and searches for hypertext links, image tags, and other media links embedded within the code. It tests all the resources, verifying that they exist and load properly. The link checker follows the same procedure for each page linked to the index page, collecting information about the page’s resources and following any hypertext links it encounters. In this manner, it continues to sift through a site, building a catalog of information about all the files it processes.

Content management tools may offer a wide variety of functions, including testing for broken links, building a visual map of the site, locating orphans (unused files no longer linked to any pages in the Web site), identifying slow-loading pages, and possibly locating and repairing incorrectly coded HTML.

The available tools fall into two basic categories: products offering better mapping and navigational abilities, and products better suited to reporting and correcting errors.

THE RIGHT TOOL

As with log file analysis tools, you should know what features are needed for your environment and select the tool accordingly. If you’re thinking about adding content management software to your site, consider the following questions:

How does it help find and repair broken links? All these tools should help root out and repair broken links, but how they go about it differs. If broken links are the biggest problem on your site, look for tools that offer advanced error-reporting capabilities rather than intuitive visual mapping. Also, if you need to correct numerous errors on a regular basis, check to see that the tool can integrate with your third-party editing software, or that it includes built-in editing software.

Can it locate outdated files? If your site’s resources change or rotate frequently, look for a tool that can test and report the last time files were saved.

Can it test for slow-loading pages? If you’re concerned about alienating bandwidth-challenged visitors, this helps identify excessively large files that might result in aborted transactions. Some tools can help locate problem files based on your minimum bandwidth standard say, for a 28.8Kbit/sec or faster modem.

What errors can it detect in HTML code? This feature could help isolate and correct inconsistencies resulting from poor coding techniques. If this is a common problem on your site, you should find out to what extent the tool analyzes HTML files at the code level. Some common problems are duplicated title tags, incomplete or missing head information, and images with missing alt, height, or width tags.

Does it support selective scanning? Filtering by directory, file type, or number of link levels allows you to focus on a subset of your site, which might help reduce the time the tool needs to read and analyze the site.

How does it display a site’s structure? If your greatest need is for a tool that helps you visualize your site’s overall structure and organization, look for one with more extensive and intuitive mapping features.

How will the product scale as your Web site grows? If your site is already large or growing rapidly, you need a product that won’t get bogged down by thousands of documents. While vendors might claim that their products are scalable, you should test several such products on your site before making a purchase.

Can it support form-generated CGI content? Some tools let you preset variables to be entered on your site’s CGI forms, enabling you to test and map dynamically generated pages.

Overall, content management software products are still relatively immature but are evolving quickly; look for rapid upgrades and expanding feature sets in the coming year.

Although none of the currently available tools provides excellent support for all the requirements and functions we’ve discussed in this article, Webmasters trying to maintain large or frequently changing sites can benefit from the visualization and error-detection capabilities these tools provide. Most vendors offer downloadable evaluation versions of their products on the Web, so you’d be wise to try out several to find the one that best matches your site’s content management needs.

NOW IS THE TIME

The number of Web management tools on the market has mushroomed within a relatively short time span. Competition is rampant, with vendors scrambling to expand their product lines to cover a wider range of management functions. This is good news for the consumer, who can expect more innovations and tools that integrate a growing number of solutions.

Although this trend should continue for a least another year or two, that doesn’t mean you should wait to get help managing your Web site. Most of the products available provide a wealth of information and utility at very affordable prices.

As long as you understand what these tools really offer, their limitations, and how well they integrate into your environment, you can reap substantial benefits from them today.

Phil Keppeler, Network Magazine’s Webmaster, can be reached at pkeppele@@mfi.com.

There’s a diverse range of products whose makers claim are Web management tools. If you’re planning to expand your site’s Web management capabilities, you need to understand what each type of tool manages, and whether it applies to the needs of your environment.

The phrase Web site management tools describes anything from basic authoring tools to large, enterprise-level Web development and deployment systems. A breakdown follows of how the market is currently categorized.

Integrated Web authoring tools. Examples are Haht Software’s (Raleigh, NC) Haht Site and NetObjects’ (Redwood City, CA) Fusion. In addition to providing a wide range of design and development functions, they help Webmasters manage site structure through site mapping and visualizing features.

Traffic analysis tools. These include products such as WebTrends’ WebTrends (Portland, OR) and net.Genesis’ (Cambridge, MA) net.Analysis Pro, which slice and dice a server’s log files for comprehensive site traffic and usage reporting.

Link checkers and site mappers. This category includes Mercury Interactive’s (Sunnyvale, CA) Astra SiteManager and Site Technologies’ (Scotts Valley, CA) Site Sweeper. These tools sift through a server’s content to create a map of a site’s structure and report on structural problems, such as broken links, within files.

Performance monitors. Examples are Avesta’s (Nepean, Ontario) Webwatcher and Network Associates’ (Santa Clara, CA) WebSniffer fall into this category. These utilities monitor the availability and performance of network resources. In addition to providing feedback about your network’s performance, they automatically alert you when network services fall outside of an acceptable range.

Bandwidth managers. Examples include RND Network’s (Mahwah, NJ) hardware-based Web Server Director and Resonate’s (Mountain View, CA) software-based Dispatch. These products can help those responsible for the network infrastructure to manage bandwidth and load over network resources. There are many hardware, software, and hardware/software combination solutions that distribute Web traffic among multiple servers in a local or distributed environment. Some help manage servers in such environments, and some help manage the content resources throughout the Web environment.

Workgroup management and version control tools. Two offerings in this category are MKS’ (Waterloo, Ontario) Web Integrity and Wallop Software’s (Foster City, CA) BuildIT. They provide file check-in and check-out, as well as version control for complex sites with a workgroup development environment.

Comprehensive enterprise development systems. Example offerings are Vignette’s (Austin, TX) StoryServer and Inso’s (Boston) DynaBase. Products in this category provide a complete framework for producing complex, data-driven sites that may include connections to back-end data sources, workgroup development environments, e-commerce, and more.

Version 2.0 of Netmind Services Inc.’s Enterprise Minder, an e-mail-based system that monitors Web sites for changes, includes notably improved monitoring options and management features.

PC Week Labs found the new features in Version 2.0, released earlier this month, to be welcome additions, providing users with several ways to track specific changes in Web sites, including a number-monitoring feature that proved useful for tasks such as tracking changes in prices at online stores.

eminderHowever, some of the problems we found in the previous release, Version 1.04, are still there, including a propensity to fill users’ mailboxes with messages. But Enterprise Minder is still a unique, worthwhile application for businesses that need to gather up-to-date information from a variety of Web-based resources.

Enterprise Minder 2.0 is priced ranging from $45 per user for a 100-user license to $10 per user for a 10,000-user license. The server portion of the product runs under Windows NT and Solaris, and all administration and client access are done with a standard Web browser.

The Enterprise Minder application is essentially a central server that users access through a browser, selecting the sites they want to keep tabs on and the kind of changes they are looking for. Options include being notified of any changes in a Web page, changes in specific text areas of a page, changes in images and links, or the appearance of specific keywords. Version 2.0 also can watch for specific changes in numbers on a page: For example, notification can be sent when a product’s price drops below a certain amount.

Enterprise Minder informs users of the changes through an e-mail message. Notification can include an attachment of the Web page and, for intranet pages, can show the actual text changes in the page. Notifications can be sent upon detection of a change, once a day, once every two days or once a week.

We could enter groups of Web pages to monitor, or we could enter each page individually.

Monitoring changes

If a user chooses to monitor for any changes, the process is unchanged from the previous version. However, the options for advanced change monitoring are much improved in this version. For example, the advanced features previously required some understanding of HTML. Users can now choose these options simply by cutting and pasting from a Web page.

We especially liked the way the number-monitoring feature scanned all numbers from a page and made it simple to select which numbers to monitor. Other new features allowed us to monitor password-protected sites and dynamically generated Web pages. Version 2.0 does this by recording entries in a Web-based form.

However, Enterprise Minder still tends to quickly fill mailboxes with notification messages. This was especially true when we wanted to be immediately notified of changes. We would like to have the option of receiving a single e-mail message that lists all sites that have changed.

New administration features include a handy browser-based database query tool. Enterprise Minder 2.0 also includes new user template options that allow businesses to define basic settings for groups of users and enable easy implementation of changes across the organization.

Unfortunately, these templates can define only suggested settings. Users still have final control over their own options. Administrators should have the option to lock all Enterprise Minder settings for groups of users.

Enterprise Minder makes it easier to monitor Web page changes.

Summary

Although it boasts no major changes, NetMind’s updated Enterprise Minder has enough new features and improved capabilities to make it a worthwhile upgrade. Businesses will find it a good way to watch for changes in Web sites, but users must learn to define notification settings to limit the potential wave of e-mail messages the product can generate.

Pros: Improved options for monitoring Web pages for specific changes; can monitor protected Web sites and dynamically generated Web pages.

Cons: Not enough options for controlling user settings; needs more notification options to reduce load on user mailboxes.