E-Mail For Everyone

Companies are experimenting with low-cost, stripped-down E-mail that all employees--from bank tellers to factory workers--can access

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 21, 2003

3 Min Read

KeyBank, a subsidiary of KeyCorp, which standardized on Notes last year, also is considering going with its existing E-mail vendor. It's looking at Lotus' commodity E-mail tool, called Workplace Messaging, scheduled to be available this spring, to deliver E-mail to 1,000 deskless workers whose jobs include check processing, mail handling, and machine operation. The bank now communicates with these employees through their managers.

The price is attractive, with a licensing fee expected to be as low as $5 per user. Plus, KeyBank already has the computer kiosks needed to access E-mail at the data centers where deskless employees work, where they're used to access the company intranet.

The bank also sees Lotus' Workplace Messaging as a possible alternative for the tellers in its 900 branches when it dumps its decades-old machines for modern PCs sometime next year. KeyBank's tellers still use IBM's DOS-based OfficeVision E-mail system. Brett Young, VP and division manager for workplace automation technology, says the bank is considering moving other branch personnel, such as managers and loan officers, to the Lotus software because it won't require the bandwidth needed to replicate mail between Notes clients and the Domino servers that support them. Today, KeyBank's Notes users are subject to tight restrictions on the size of messages they can send and receive.

For many companies, offerings such as Outlook Web Access and Workplace Messaging make sense, says Aberdeen Group analyst Dana Gardner. Otherwise, he says, "you're throwing a Cadillac at something a Chevy can do quite well."

But in the current business environment, even a Chevy is out of reach for some companies. Jeff Duncan, CIO of Louisiana-Pacific Corp., a $1.9 billion-a-year maker of building materials, would love to extend the company's MailSite E-mail software, made by Rockliffe Inc., to factory workers, but it's an item that has moved down the priority list as business conditions have worsened. "Everything is low on the list of priorities right now," Duncan says.

Louisiana-Pacific began deploying MailSite in 1997, and it's become the company's predominant E-mail system, with 2,500 users, compared with a small core of 250 Microsoft Exchange users among senior executives and marketing staff. Storeroom employees and maintenance workers access MailSite via shared PCs to receive corporate communications and to maintain inventory, order parts, and stock office supplies.

The question of whether to extend MailSite to hourly line workers comes up regularly in management discussions, but Duncan has a tough time showing hard-dollar return to the company's senior management. The clearest potential benefit--sending paycheck information via E-mail--is undercut by the fact that line workers have been reluctant to sign up for direct deposit of their paychecks, so the company still needs to hand out paper checks.

Until business conditions improve, Duncan doesn't expect a wider E-mail deployment. "The balance sheet is going to have to be healthy before we open the spigot on anything like this," he says.

That means a great majority of America's workers--and their employers--will have to wait a little longer to realize the full value of business technology.

Photo of shirts by Thomas Haynes
Photo of Mitchell and Leonowich by Bill Cramer
Photo of Palano by Jeff Sciortino

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