CHICAGO -- It's the biggest room at Brinson Partners and still expanding.
Daily more than 1,000 employees enter and leave the room from places such as Chicago, New York, Tokyo, London and Singapore.
Appropriately named eRoom, it's the most powerful companywide intranet technology the money management firm has ever had. It is fast becoming as indispensable as the telephone and fax machine.
The technology, by eRoom Technology Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., is a web-based program with specialized linking and organization features.
Brinson executives said they liked that it was easily deployable and didn't have any specialized startup costs. The best part was that it didn't require anything other than a browser that could handle Java scripting.
"Not many applications in any industry work across so many different platforms," said Paul Gerth, director of Internet services at Brinson.
The software, now in version 4.2, costs $199 per user and another $9,995 for the purchase of a server to support eRoom. Brinson has bought a total of 1,500 user licenses.
Approximately 30 financial services firms use eRoom, a spokeswoman for eRoom Technology said. She wouldn't identify any other users.
The eRoom program was the only intranet technology of its kind available when Brinson bought it two years ago. But consultants are noticing the rising popularity of similar types of software, with other vendors including Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp.
Steve Miyao, senior vice president at Kasina LLC, an Internet consulting firm in New York, has seen many companies outside the money management industry embrace the intranet technology being offered by other computer companies.
"It's pretty cool technology . . . but it's not something that is very proprietary to the money management industry," Mr. Miyao said.
He said the technology is catching on among money managers because of its instant messaging and project tracking capabilities.
Using the technology, portfolio managers, analysts and marketers at Brinson have said goodbye to the days of being deluged with faxes, e-mails, phone calls and hard copies and have opted to chat, communicate and collaborate online.
"It has helped them (analysts and portfolio managers) cut down on e-mails," said Greg T. Fedorinchik, a director at Brinson Partners in Chicago.
The firm began actively promoting use of the eRoom technology internally six months ago. Since then, 40 eRooms have emerged on the Brinson intranet site, some of which are dedicated to decimalization, client relationship management, business development, and fixed-income and equity management.
"It's like a bookshelf and having every book right where you want it," said Blair A. Swedeen, associate director and junior quantitative analyst at Brinson in Chicago.
More than 100 analysts and strategists use the equity eRoom globally, Mr. Swedeen said.
The way the program works is so simple, a single employee can start up and maintain an eRoom without the assistance of an information technology professional.
That was definitely a relief for Mr. Gerth. He appreciated the simplicity of eRoom and the ease with which it is compatible with all Windows operating system programs such as Word and Excel.
A department head can start an eRoom and populate it with a series of folders containing documents that are of particular interest to those authorized to enter that particular eRoom.
Files can be customized to organize documents by origination date, the most recent date it's been updated, author and file size. The best part for many Brinson employees is that every eRoom entrant can view the same document at the same time, without rifling through hard copies or e-mails to obtain up-to-the-minute information.
"This became a great love, from the standpoint of when analysts need to update their reports," Mr. Gerth said.
Employees in an eRoom also may poll others in that same room. For example, if someone has a question about the look of a presentation in the client relationship room, they can poll others in the room live and watch as each person's vote comes in. Individuals also may post comments about their votes.
Users of eRoom are notified by a red arrow that appears on a short-cut link at the bottom of their computer screens that something has been updated in their particular eRoom or eRooms. The notification also can be customized to notify a person on specific topics.
Each eRoom is customized by group/department at the firm, and access is determined by an employee's affiliation. Files that are available only to certain members display a padlock icon in the file menu.
Also, if someone wants to talk to a specific person who is on the phone or working offline, he or she can page the person through the eRoom site, and a notifier will show up on that person's desktop computer.
"It's another way you can get to somebody," said B. Craig Hutson, executive director and global fixed-income analyst.
No midnight calls
Since Brinson's parent, UBS Asset Management, Zurich, Switzerland, is a global company, the eRoom has proven invaluable, Mr. Hutson said. "It's 10 a.m. in Zurich, they don't have to call me in the middle of the night," he noted, because everything in the eRoom is updated automatically.
Mr. Hutson said 600 people have access to the global fixed-income eRoom, about 100 of whom are active users.
Research analysts and portfolio managers have access to up-to-the-minute credit research, global strategy documents and research analyst coverage.
The eRoom has saved Mr. Hutson's group from the burden of passing out big meeting books and has allowed them to create research document templates that streamline the presentation of data to portfolio managers.
While the global fixed-income group at Brinson has used the discussion area only to discuss inflation-indexed bonds, it is a feature Mr. Hutson expects will be used more in the future.
Alec Wiggin, president of aabalone[red], a web consulting firm in Darien, Conn., studied the eRoom application when his firm was looking to offer similar services to money management clients looking to begin a web-building project.
"We thought it was quite flexible," Mr. Wiggin said of eRoom.
But after studying 10 or 12 applications, Mr. Wiggin's company decided to build its own "redroom," where money manager clients can communicate about, track and manage content for a website-building project.
Mr. Wiggin has seen an eagerness among managers to use the technology in orchestrating large website projects. "It saves money because it's a hugely and richly iterative process," he said.
Mr. Wiggin now is experimenting with threaded conversations, which allow multiple users to issue commentary on a specific redroom topic.