Amerex Energy, a 27-year-old energy-brokerage company with about 250 employees worldwide, brokers an average of 120 billion cubic feet of natural gas, 8 million megawatt hours of electrical power, and 20 million barrels of crude oil a day. Amerex's brokers rely heavily on telecommunications on a daily basis to facilitate deals between suppliers and buyers, so it's important that they stay connected, CIO Brian Trudeau says.
To communicate with their customers, brokers use instant-messaging software from America Online, Microsoft MSN, and Yahoo with IMlogic Inc.'s IM Manager, which adds security and management features and helps capture chat conversations. Often, they run 10 to 20 instant-messaging sessions simultaneously.
About 100 brokers also communicate with customers via direct lines using trading turrets, devices supplied by IPC Information Systems LLC. The devices are capable of integrating information from all sources, including data, voice, and video, onto a single platform, but Amerex is currently using the turrets purely for their voice capabilities. Although voice travels over an Ethernet connection, data is still accessed by brokers via PCs. "The technology we're using now might be a bit archaic, but it works, it's solid, and proven," Trudeau says.
Amerex isn't ready to migrate solely to a voice-over-IP service. The company is worried that VoIP is still unreliable, and one lost connection could mean lost sales, Trudeau says. "VoIP could save small and midsize companies a lot of money and simplify things, but once you've placed all your eggs in one basket, if that feed goes down, you lose everything," he says.
VoIP services from Internet companies such as AOL, MSN, and Yahoo are attractive to Amerex because they integrate VoIP into their IM software. But Amerex is concerned that voice-enabled instant messaging can cause delays, Trudeau says. "We want it to be as easy as typing in 'hello' and hitting enter, and the 'hello' transmitting instantaneously on a microphone hooked into a sound card," Trudeau says. Amerex has to move as fast as the stock market, and delays in communications would hold the company back.
In the meantime, Amerex is taking a wait-and-see approach and plans to stick with its current system until VoIP gains more traction. Says Trudeau, "We might start looking into migrating from direct lines to VoIP, probably within five years."
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