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Novell's big push to push

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Push technology is pulling for high-tech marketer Novell. Since early May, 15,000 customers of the Provo, Utah-based network management software company have subscribed to a free push service that lets them know when there is a Novell product announcement, enhancement or fix they might be interested in.

The Novell Support Connections Channel, delivered using Intermind's Communicator client software, pushes the information onto a user's computer hard drive.

Communicator flashes an alert when new information, such as an announcement enhancement to Novell's IntranetWare software, has been transmitted by Novell to Intermind and is ready for distribution to customers who have indicated they wish to receive it.

Novell customers can select up to 17 product information channels from a pull-down sign-up menu on the Novell Web site's main Support Connection page.

"The reason we got into push technologies was that our customers kept saying, `Why do we have to hunt for [product] information,' " says Dar Peterson, senior manager of electronic support for Novell. "They told us it would be nice if you could tell us when there's new technological information, such as documentation or a product patch [small pieces of software code that fix a bug] available. We looked at push as a way to accomplish that."

Push and b-to-b marketing

"For certain applications in the business-to-business environment, content is extremely viable and time-sensitive. Some of that stuff is going to migrate to push," says John McCarthy, group director for new media and information technology research at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.

"The key to delivering this information is value. It has to be delivered on time to the person who needs to see it," adds Mark Marquiss, Portland, Ore.-based VP-sales and marketing for Intermind.

For Mr. Peterson, the push approach represents a more practical solution than electronic mailing lists, which are the usual way companies communicate directly to their customers. Lists require server space and can be expensive to maintain.

Plus, b-to-b e-mail sometimes doesn't get read. A common occurrence: Incoming product list mail gets bundled in with intracorporate memos, personal notes and spam, or gets downgraded to ignorable junk status by increasingly sophisticated corporate e-mail programs.

"We do use e-mail for some of our customer bases, but what quickly happens is that people's mailboxes fill up and the notifications then start to lose their value," Mr. Peterson explains.

More dynamic visuals

Forrester's Mr. McCarthy notes an additional advantage of push over e-mail: It's heftier. In high-tech, updates may consist of diagrams and other graphically rich data that some e-mail systems can't handle as attached files as easy as a browser with a push technology plug-in such as Intermind Communicator.

During the planning stages earlier this year, Novell decided to construct the service around a separate channel for each of its main products or solutions packages. Thus, if a customer only wants to receive information about Novell's NetWare LANalyzer Agent or Dial In/Dial Out Connectivity products, only that data is pushed down to them.

Mr. Peterson adds that because Novell was already in the data-over-network distribution business, its back-end implementation for the Intermind service went extra smoothly.

Future enhancements for the Support Connections programs may include additional channels, as well as the ability for users to specify content for delivery by keyword.

No news is good news

So far, feedback from customers has been non-existent, but rather than an indication of apathy, this fact is a classic no-news-is-good-news situation to Dave Nielen, Novell's business development manager for electronic support. "So far, so good, because if there were problems, we'd hear about them," says Mr. Nielen.

Officially, Novell's Intermind service is a pilot program with an Oct. 1 assessment date.

"We are continually monitoring this, but the pilot is for a singular product, not for [judging] push technology," says Mr. Peterson. "We are sold on push, and we're not going to back away from it."

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