November 10, 2009

Although Microsoft Exchange 2010 only began shipping yesterday, Memphis-based investment banking and brokerage firm Morgan Keegan & Company ($142 billion in assets) has been beta testing the email software for three months and expects it to improve IT admins' productivity by about 30 percent, reduce recovery time 20 percent and cut long-term storage costs by 15 percent, on top of a $400,000 savings in hardware costs through the use of direct-attached storage.

"The biggest challenge we've had to our organization is to lower cost, which is probably true of every technology organization on the Street," says Morgan Keegan CIO John Threadgill. "How do we do more with less or the same was a theme in 2009 and that will continue in 2010." He notes that the industry has changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years in that financial advisors used to communicate primarily with their clients by phone, where today, most capital markets clients want to be communicated with via electronic mechanisms such as email and instant messages. (Exchange Server 2010 does have the ability to archive voice messages, but Threadgill does not plan to turn on this option until he receives clearer regulatory guidance around voice messages. As for other types of electronic messages, the firm does not allow employees to use Facebook or Twitter to communicate with clients.)

The cost savings of upgrading from Exchange Server 2007 to 2010 comes through cheaper storage. Morgan Keegan has been using a storage area network with Exchange 2007. Less expensive direct attached storage will help the firm increase users' mailbox size from 500 megabytes to 2 gigabytes. "The larger mailbox will probably have the biggest effect on the user base," says Dan C. Evans, first vice president of messaging and collaboration. The firm has a lot of users hitting their storage limits. "This will free them up to work and spend less time cleaning out their inboxes."

Exchange 2010 allows the use of multiple types of storage, such as SAN, DAS and iScsi units. "To me, that's more efficient and allows you to grow and scale out," says Evans. The software has also been architected such that if a database goes down, only 80 to 100 people are affected, versus the 600 or 700 that would have been affected by an Exchange Server 2007 outage that would take clusters of servers down.

The firm sees other benefits from the move to 2010 as well, such as easier support, thus fewer help desk calls. "We track our support calls, and each week email has been in the top five categories of calls to the support desk," Threadgill says. Less time spent on such calls should free up engineering staff's time to do things like development, monitoring and improving the system.

One reason support calls should diminish is that administrators can now plug in "mail tips" to help email users avoid errors such as hitting "Reply All" on an email with a distribution list of 20,000 people. (A message would pop up on the user's desktop that says something like, "This user group contains 20,000 users. Are you sure you want to copy all these people on your email?")

The beta testing has gone smoothly, Evans reports. "Where we saw issues, as I think everybody else did, was dealing with the configurations, having to deal with all the pieces involved with putting Exchange in place," for instance, integrating the software with existing technology, such as the CRM software the financial advisors use, Microsoft Dynamics.

Morgan Keegan plans to adopt Windows 7 "at some point in time," Evans says. "We want to make sure it's stable," Threadgill says. "We didn't roll out Vista, we stayed with XP." The firm is also interested in deploying SharePoint Server 2010 and Office Communications Server 2010.

The firm is in the midst of completing a buildout of two new data centers. In 2010, Threadgill expects business intelligence and data warehousing will be a big focus, along with upgrading networks among data centers and branches (potentially using a wide area network). Business intelligence will be used to "mine the data we have better," he says. "We mine it today, but we want to be able to mine it better so managers can help their FAs be more productive, and executives and product line managers can look at ways to improve their business. We're looking for trends on what makes one office, FA or team more productive than another."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR