The Check is On the Mail
Like a growing number of companies, Edward D. Jones & Co. takes its E-mail policy seriously. In May, the St. Louisbased brokerage firm fired 19 employees and disciplined another 41 for inappropriate Internet and E-mail use. Those who were fired ignored a memo instructing offenders to turn themselves in, while employees who came forward received a warning. An employee complained of receiving an offensive E-mail, which prompted the company to investigate employee use of E- mail.
According to a survey of more than 1,000 companies by the American Management Association, the number of companies that routinely check employee E-mail rose to 27 percent this year, from 20 percent in 1998. That's because E-mail, when used inappropriately, can be a huge liability (see "The Phantom Menace," June).
Many companies monitor messages at random--a labor-intensive practice that doesn't protect against spam or viruses. Now, a number of software filters are available that ferret out not just spam and viruses but offensive content from all messages, and prevent such E- mail from being sent or received.
Among the most popular are WorldSecure, from Worldtalk Corp. (www.worldtalk.com), and Assentor, from SRA International Inc. (www.assentor.com). While Assentor is commonly used in financial services because it screens against stock hyping and insider trading, Jim Browning, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc., says there is no clear winner in the E-mail filtering game: "We have yet to see any major differentiators."
The products work by screening messages and matching text with designated keywords that identify offensive content. Most of them use a weighting system, so that, for example, an E- mail using the word "sex" to denote gender in a survey wouldn't get stopped. Then, a predetermined course of action is taken. For example, a message can be "quarantined" to be checked later by a network administrator, or it can simply be returned to sender with a notice for the receiver to be removed from the mailing list.
WorldSecure incorporates virus scanning technology that will clean infected attachments and send notices to the senders. It also checks outbound E-mails for viruses. "The last thing you want to do is infect your clients," says Shannon Hakesley, a product manager at Worldtalk.
WorldSecure costs $3,995 for a basic license for up to 50 users, while Assentor starts at $125 per seat for 100 users. Two other E-mail filters are Message Inspector, from Elron Software (www.elronsoftware.com; $1,195 for a 25-user license), and ScanMail with eManager, from Trend Micro Inc. (www.antivirus.com; $1,400 for 50 users).
Filtering software has the potential to bog busy E-mail servers down, creating queues that turn into bottlenecks. An alternative to software is service providers. Outsourcers and messaging services such as The Electric Mail Co. (www.electricmail.net), DotOne Corp. Corp. (www.dotone.com), and Infonet (www. infonet.net) all provide E-mail filtering services.
Of course, no software or service can protect companies completely. "None of these products are going to catch 100 percent of the offensive E-mails. They can only minimize the liability," says Browning.
Nor do they get the job done on their own. "Technical products are not a replacement for a good written E-mail policy, but they can help enforce it," says Browning. He advises companies to make sure that employees know their E-mail is being monitored.
Not all of the software-filter users are looking to monitor their employees. Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, a law firm based in San Francisco, uses WorldSecure to protect it from time-wasting mail. "We wanted to be prepared for the onslaught of spam and bad jokes," says chief technology officer Martin Metz, who says employees were "inundated with all of the garbage that is out there."
However, the law firm is also using the software to encrypt E-mails, without having to install encryption software on every desktop. "It's a way to encrypt E-mails with a server-based solution," explains Metz, "and attorneys don't have to remember to do it."
----------------------------------------------- --------------------------------- Telecommunications Maintenance
The Service Snatchers
In early 1998, it came time for TeleService Resources Inc. (TSR), a Fort Worthbased call center/customer service company, to renew its $500,000 annual maintenance contract with Lucent Technologies Inc. The contract covered TSR's Lucent phone switches, with their more than 4,000 ports. But before TSR signed on the dotted line, a new company, United Asset Coverage (UAC; www.unitedasset.com), walked in the door and offered exactly the same coverage, for less than half the price: $240,000.
And when UAC promised "exactly the same coverage," it meant just that. Whenever TSR had a maintenance problem, it would receive the same four-hour response time--with the same Lucent maintenance technicians who had previously serviced the account.
"UAC's proposal was that we would sign our maintenance contract with them, and they would sign a contract with Lucent," says TeleService Resources CFO Paul Keller. "We've had very few problems--a couple of minor issues involving service order numbers--but we didn't see any differences in service level or response time."
Patrick Martucci, CEO of Naperville, Ill.- based UAC, says the company guarantees at least a 15 percent savings to its clients on their telecommunications maintenance agreements. The company provides similar maintenance for any kind of office equipment, and is able to consolidate contracts from several vendors.
"We have five copiers from Lanier and Xerox," says Randy Wissinger, CFO of hearing-aid manufacturer Beltone Electronics Corp., in Chicago. "We were paying about $2,400 per month for maintenance, but UAC gave us a quote for about $2,000. It's like an insurance contract. We pay a fixed amount to UAC, and UAC pays time and materials [to Lanier and Xerox]. If the equipment breaks every day, then it's UAC's problem, not Beltone's."
For now, UAC seems to be unique in providing this service, according to Warren Williams, vice president at Eastern Management Group, of Bedminster, N.J., though he predicts that vendors will increasingly seek to lock in their customers to multiyear service contracts. "For now, UAC is telling vendors like Lucent, Nortel, and NEC that this is what we're willing to pay, and take it or leave it or we'll go to someone else," says Williams. "The vendors are going along because they want to keep the account, even if it means sometimes losing money on maintenance. If Lucent stubbed its toe on an account, Nortel would be beating on the door." -- John J. Xenakis
----------------------------------------------- --------------------------------- Rent This Expense System
If you want to automate your company's expense reporting but find that enterprise T&E software is too expensive, consider an Internet alternative. On the Go Software Inc., which publishes Quicken ExpensAble 98, a best- selling expense-management program, has launched a Web-based service for managing T&E expense reporting.
The service, called ExpensAble.com (www.ExpensAble.com), enables a business to outsource T&E expense management for a subscription fee of $5 to $10 a month per traveler. Travelers use Quicken ExpensAble as the front end of the system, to create expense reports and submit them to ExpensAble. com. At the receiving end, On the Go provides the back- office functions.
According to On the Go president and CEO Ken Grunzweig, ExpensAble. com will do many of the things more expensive enterprise systems will do, such as prepopulate expense reports with credit-card information and collect travel data that can be parsed into management reports. "There's just no barrier to entry," he adds. "You could do a pilot with 25 users in a heartbeat and be up and running tomorrow."
One of the first companies to use the service is LeadersOnline, of Irvine, Calif., a division of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. President Mike Arrigo, who had used ExpensAble before coming to LeadersOnline, says he was "shocked" by the complexity of the company's custom-designed system for T&E expense reporting. "It was pretty daunting," he recalls. "I had to send my administrative assistant to Chicago for two days of training." When On the Go's service went online, Arrigo jumped at the chance to return to ExpensAble. Not only is ExpensAble.com easier to use, he says, but he estimates it saves his company $5,000 a year per traveler (On the Go has 10 travelers) by reducing the time it takes them to do expense reports. -- John P. Mello Jr.