To be sure, the concept of pushing data or applications to desktops has caught the eye of users and analysts alike. Startups such as PointCast Inc., BackWeb Technologies Inc. and Marimba Inc. are still enjoying excellent mind share and cash flow from venture capitalists.
But so far, many large companies don’t have push at the top of their to-do lists. For these sites, there are many more immediate concerns: year 2000 compliance, enterprise application deployment and even rolling out intranets.
“Right now, we are using our intranet [to distribute information], and it works just fine,” said Dana Abrams, director of global initiatives at Rockwell International Corp., in Costa Mesa, Calif.
“We have more pressing issues to deal with than getting a push system in place,” Abrams added. “It’s great for getting information off the Web, but internally the need is not there.”
Moreover, IT managers are finding that push is becoming a hard sell to those who could benefit the most: end users.
In the case of Eli Lilly and Co., which has evaluated most push systems, IS managers have not yet found enough interest on the part of internal content providers to warrant serious push deployment, according to David Baker, associate information consultant at the Indianapolis-based company.
“The content owners need to step up to the plate,” Baker said. “We need to have corporate information creating content that will support a Lilly channel. I think this is a case where users are lagging behind the technology. We are having to educate the user community about what they can do with the technology.”
Ironically, that wasn’t a problem when push arrived in February 1996 in the form of PointCast. That client provided a means to corral the chaos of data lying in wait on the Web. (For PC Week Labs’ analysis of the changing role of push technology, go to www.pcweek.com/news/1103/03tech.html.)
PointCast, like other push vendors, sought to turn its early success on the Web inward to intranets. But they’ve met far less success.
Push vendors have been unable to produce the new poster children of push: major corporate customers that have used push to realize a great return on investment. Why not? The fear factor is one main reason.
“PointCast got out there really early and filled a need for providing easier access to information for users,” said Melissa Bane, an analyst at The Yankee Group Inc., in Boston. “But at the same time, there was a lot of backlash. It looked really sexy, but it was difficult for IS managers to control.”
In addition, confusion still reigns over a dominant push model. Content aggregators such as PointCast are trickling into corporations through free Web site downloads. But enterprisewide installations are rare. Companies such as NetDelivery Inc., which wants to act as a push outsourcer, are hard to find. And other providers, such as Marimba, are waiting for corporations to recognize their importance.
Add to the mix the increasingly large shadows of Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp., which are just now rolling out customizable browser channels. The result: Push vendors are still waiting for their day in the enterprise sun.
IT managers are wary of using push systems for any mission-critical information.
“If I am going to roll out an application to thousands of users, I’m going to use something like [Microsoft Systems Management Server] or Tivoli [Systems Inc.’s network management software], where I have incredible control over [which applications are deployed] and how the larger applications are going to be deployed,” said Edward Glassman, director of IT strategies at Pfizer Inc., in New York.
There are some success stories. McAfee Associates Inc. is using a BackWeb channel to provide automatic updates to its virus scanning software.
That service has won over a number of longtime McAfee customers, including American Family Insurance, in Madison, Wis., and the Tulane Medical Center, located in New Orleans.
Conference Plus Inc. worked with another push vendor, Wayfarer Communications Inc., to deploy a push-based information service integrated with its ACD (Automated Call Dispatch) systems.
Faced with problems in handling calls quickly, Conference Plus used Wayfarer’s Incisa server software to receive information directly from its ACD and deliver it to service representatives on their desktops, according to John Bogaerts, senior manager of integration and implementation at the Schaumburg, Ill., company.
By providing real-time information, such as how long a caller has been on hold, hang-ups from customers went from 10 percent of Conference Plus’ volume to 0.5 percent.
At the Aerospace Company of AlliedSignal Corp., in Peterboro, N.J., administrators are using a BackWeb channel to push engineering data to 3,000 engineers around the world, said Thomas Henderson, manager of IT.
“It occurred to us that there is a need to share engineering information quickly and efficiently,” said Henderson.
“But E-mail is inefficient, list servers are cryptic and Web pages are difficult to update,” Henderson added. “I think there are a lot of possibilities [for push] if you can get your hands around the technology and don’t get caught up in the glamour of it.”