Profiting From E-Meetings - Page 2

Drowning in Documents

Wilmingtons interest in web meeting software actually began to build well before the recent terror attacks. The company, which provides merger and acquisition, capital markets, and other financial services to corporate clients as well as private trust services, first tried online meetings in 1996 using an early software product that officials declined to name. The experiment failed when the softwares document-versioning and access control capabilities came up woefully short. For example, Wilmington couldnt control on a user-by-user basis who should be allowed access to what information, Closs said.

Still, Closs said, the idea was sound: Streamline complex corporate transactions by replacing some document faxing, mailings and face-to-face meetings with online meetings and document collaboration. Even a relatively straightforward M&A can take a year to complete and involve armies of lawyers, accountants, business and IT executives, and thousands of pages of documents. So in 1999, Closs group decided to take another stab at using online meeting software.

This time, the effort proved more successful. The eRoom Digital Workplace software on which Wilmingtons so-called Cyberservices are built allows the company to create a separate, virtual workplace for each deal or transaction. Participants can log in, view documents, make changes, view changes made by others and track the history of changes. All the documents related to the deal are stored in a repository. Access to some or all documents can be restricted for each user. Content in the workrooms is also protected with 128-bit encryption available on the eRoom platform through a partnership with Authentica Inc., of Waltham, Mass. Wilmington hosts the eRoom software on its own servers to ensure security and availability, Closs said. The company was able to brand the service as a Wilmington Cyberservice by modifying the eRoom look and feel with the APIs and Cascading Style Sheets around which eRoom is built.

So far, Wilmingtons corporate financial services group has rolled out four Cyberservices. Each service is preconfigured to deal with the specific types of documents and interactions generated by a given corporate banking process. One, CyberClosing, helps companies manage capital-market transactions such as bond offerings from origination to termination online. The others are CyberNexus, an online service that lets companies set up offshore entities for tax and other purposes; CommitteeRoom, which facilitates communication among members of a creditors bankruptcy committee; and CyberProposal, where companies can find and contract for other services. Wilmington also uses the eRoom software to host Web-based seminars for clients.

For the various Cyberservices, corporate clients pay annual participation fees plus monthly charges for each workroom hosted on Wilmingtons eRoom servers. For the CyberClosing service, for example, enterprises pay a $10,000 annual fee plus $833 per month per workroom.

Early corporate users have included International Finance Corp., an arm of the World Bank Group, in Washington, which used the Wilmington e-meeting services to help sell bonds to finance a power plant project in Argentina, Closs said.

But not all types of business processes are good candidates for fee-based e-meeting services. For one thing, secure, robust e-meeting software isnt cheap, so enterprise processes that use it will need to deliver high value or carry high costs, experts say. eRoom, for example, charges a minimum of $200,000 for a license and support for a departmental deployment of its software. Charges go up to $1 million for large, enterprise rollouts, including deployment services.

In addition, Closs said, not all customers will be ready to replace the face-to-face meetings to which theyre accustomed with cyber-meetings. Although Wilmington could do final M&A closings using the eRoom software and digital signatures, she said, the company has decided to continue to do that part of the process the old-fashioned way: face to face and with a handshake.