Not so for Chase Manhattan Corp. 's purchase of Notes software from Lotus Development Corp. of Cambridge, Mass.

"We really have not been able to measure" the return on investment, said Michael Mandelbaum, the Chase vice president in Brooklyn who oversees Notes deployment at Chase.

This is despite the fact that Chase has been more aggressive in deploying the so-called groupware than another bank, giving Notes to a fifth of its 34,000 employees in the past four years.

Mr. Mandelbaum declined to say how much Chase has spent on Notes, but outsiders estimated the investment at around $9 million, including expenditures on software licenses, computers, application development, and training.

The problem with calculating the return is that Notes is the first widely used groupware on the market. The firm has prompted other software companies, including Microsoft Corp., to start working on rival programs.

Notes is aimed at helping groups of people share information on personal computers. The value of the information exchange is hard to quantify, but that hasn't dissuaded customers.

Lotus says that 750,000 people in 3,000 companies are using Notes, and that 8% of those companies are banks.

Chase is a pioneer among these users. The banking company helped Lotus develop the product by becoming a beta tester in 1989 and bought the first commercial version in 1990.

Chase's has given Notes to more employees than any bank, although at least one other institution, J.P. Morgan & Co., is set to rival its usage.

Morgan has given Notes to 6,000 employees and in May announced plans to give the software to a total of 13,000 by early 1995.

Other large banking companies said to be using Notes include BankAmerica Corp., Bankers Trust New York Corp., Citicorp, NationsBankCorp., Society Corp., and Royal Bank of Canada. Other users include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and a $437 million-asset community bank, First National Corp. of Grand Forks, N.D.

Theresa Garrett, a Notes marketing manager, said Chase and Morgan are rare examples of bankwide Notes deployment. Most institutions are using the software more selectively.

Ms. Garrett added that the software initially was most popular among large institutions, though its popularity among smaller banks is growing.

The most unusual features of Notes are the electronic "folders" and "documents" it sets up, which employees throughout an organization can read and work on.

This type of information exchange is similar to the electronic bullet'm boards on the Intemet and other computer networks, except that Notes is easier to use, is more clearly organized, can be confined to a private organization or department, and has more extensive security buik in.

Mr. Mandelbaum said nearly every business unit in Chase uses Notes, including the private bank, corporate finance, the Infoserv wholesale services unit, commercial real estate, and offices in Asia and Europe.

One of the biggest applications is client tracking, whereby records of client contacts and completed and pending deals are kept in documents for reference by all the employees in a unit.

But discussion documents have been created on a range of topics, even technical ones, such as how to use electronic spreadsheets. Requests to attend meetings are also distributed through Notes, along with company announcements and telephone numbers.

The commercial lending unit uses Notes in a "workflow" application, in which the distribution of paperwork to make or collect loan payments is automated for a group of 200 people.

Users of Notes include the secretaries of Chase president Arthur Ryan and chief executive officer Thomas Labrecque, a smattering of executive and senior vice presidents, and scores of lower-level clerks and administrative staff.

Mr. Mandelbaum said the software has been well received.

Indeed, executive vice president Michael Urkowitz, head of the Infoserv unit and a Notes user for four years, says, "It would be impossible to mn the kind of global business that I'm responsible for without tools such as Notes."

He added that the software has become as important to his productivity as voice mail and videoconferencing.

He said he uses the software at least twice a day, to check up on collaborative projects and to communicate with fellow employees.

Jacqueline Lynch, a secretary in the North American trade finance unit, and a Notes user for three months, said she "loved" the software, which she uses to invite officials to meetings and to distribute electronic copies of documents.

Mr. Mandlbaum said that while Chase is expanding its Notes user base, the bank is unlikely to give the package to every employee, because many employees, especially lower-level clerks and administrative staff, have little need for the collaborative features.

And while Chase has not developed a detailed return on investment analysis for Notes, at least one consulting finn has analyzed the remms for other Notes users. The study, by market researcher International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., was based on interviews with 65 user companies. The study found that the remms on Notes investments can be sizable, ranging for the survey sample from 16% to 1,666% on amedian Notes investment of just over $100,000, which works out to about $1,200 per user, of which about $300 is for software licenses.

The average return was said to be 179% in three years, and the median payback period two years.

The savings were said to come from productivity improvements by automating paper shuffling and collaboration.

Some compames were also using Notes to communicate with customers, and to improve customer service.

Ann Palermo, an Intemational Data analyst who helped prepare the study, said the software has developed a zealous following.

"There's a love affair with Notes," she said. "People using it are blind to its shortcomings and willing to give it attributes it doesn't have."

She added that the enthusiasm was remarkable in an era of technology-jaded computerjocks.

"I' ve been in offme automation since the late 1970s," she said. "I' ve never seen the reception to a product like there has been to Notes."

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