Fighting Spam, Fueling Growth - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
04:39 PM
Rick Whiting
Rick Whiting

Fighting Spam, Fueling Growth

More productivity and increased sales will remain high priorities when choosing software in the coming year

Impressive productivity gains by companies have been a hallmark of this slow economic recovery. Having wrung out those victories, business leaders this year face the perennial question: What's next?

Here are three problem areas--spam, inefficient data searching, and fractured customer data--where execs are likely to look to software to help improve employee productivity, and where they'll also likely find an increasingly rich variety of applications and tools.

Spam became everyone's problem in 2003. As the volume overwhelmed all efforts to stop it, spam went from stupid annoyance to identifiable business-productivity drain. The frustration is reflected in a surge of effort planned this year to squash it: 70% of 400 business-technology executives in InformationWeek Research's Outlook 2004 survey say reducing spam to protect productivity is a top business priority this year. And 65% say they plan to invest in content-filtering or anti-spam software, a major jump from last year's 51%. Only three technologies--Windows XP, storage area networks, and Linux servers--produced larger increases on the priorities list in this year's survey.

Lowell Mattox -- Photo by Bob Steefko

Since MasterCard started filtering E-mail, workers get more upset than ever when spam gets through, VP Mattox says.

Photo of Lowell Mattox by Bob Steefko
Despite the hullabaloo surrounding President Bush's signing of federal anti-spam legislation last month, the law isn't expected to do much to slow the deluge of spam. So business-technology managers such as Lowell Mattox, VP of internal technologies at MasterCard International Inc., are looking for ever-tougher tools to battle the beast.

Anti-spam tools work in a variety of ways, including blocking messages from known spammers (blacklisting), letting in messages from only approved senders (whitelisting), or using a challenge-response approach that forces the sender to answer a question or enter a code to verify that the message was sent by a person.

But as Mattox learned, anti-spam tools can have an unexpected downside: Employees expect that all their junk E-mail will disappear. MasterCard's spam-filtering software in October alone blocked a million spam messages that otherwise would have hit one of the company's 5,000 E-mail in-boxes. But since the company started filtering, workers get more upset than ever because they don't understand why any spam gets through.

Mattox plans to replace his anti-spam tool because it requires too much day-to-day maintenance: A full-time staffer works with the software and deals with spam.

He'll have plenty of software from which to choose. Well-known anti-spam software and service vendors include BorderWare, Brightmail, FrontBridge, Ipswitch, MessageLabs, Postini, Proofpoint, and Sendmail. Suppliers of antivirus products such as Symantec Corp. and Trend Micro Inc. have jumped into the anti-spam arena, and Microsoft and Lotus build anti-spam capabilities into their E-mail software.

Mattox knows spam isn't going away, but every message he keeps out of an employee in-box makes spam that much less effective for the senders--and his employees that much happier. "What we want is for no one to complain about spam," Mattox says. "Freedom from complaints is as good as it gets."

Spam can squander minutes as employees delete junk, but searching for the right information in the vast data silos most companies have can swallow hours--and still produce no value.

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