March's Email Madness

NCAA tournament pools raise level of email traffic - and managers' blood pressure

1:15 PM -- Let me just start by saying that Florida is a basketball juggernaut. No matter who they play, they beat the tar out of them. They have three huge guys up front who can't be stopped and two guys in the backcourt who never miss from anywhere. They are not human.

It took me less than five minutes to write that paragraph. OK, it didn't have anything to do with my job, but it was only five minutes, right? It's not like it's going to hurt the company.

Unless, of course, everybody in the company is doing it. And according to a survey that will be published later today by email management vendor Orchestria, they pretty much are.

Orchestria found that among employees who conducted an NCAA pool -- which is just about everybody -- more than 70 percent of them used email as their primary mode of communication. True, most of them used their own personal email addresses, but much of the discussion took place during work hours. About half of the respondents even ran a chat room so that the pool participants could talk live about their picks.

Now, I'm not a prig. Heck, I ran the NCAA tournament pool for almost 10 years in workplaces past, and I had a ball (so to speak). But Orchestria isn't wrong when it says employees spend way too much time using email and IM for things that have nothing to do with their jobs.

Orchestria, which sells software that monitors email and IM for dangerous or inappropriate content, starts every sale with a "proof of concept" that shows the potential buyer how much non-business-related messaging goes on in its enterprise. "The usual reaction we get is shock," says Jon Rabinowitz, senior manager of marketing programs. Companies just have no idea how much abuse is going on."

And we're not just talking about a loss of productivity here. According to Forrester Research, 22.8 percent of emails contain content that poses a legal, financial, or regulatory risk. Insider trading, sexual harassment, intellectual property theft -- all of these can occur through messaging systems, but most companies don't do much more than random checks of messages on the email server.

If you're serious about regulatory compliance and leak prevention, it's probably time to start thinking about content monitoring and filtering tools -- not just for Web browsers, but for email and IM as well. Companies like Oakley Networks, Orchestria, Vericept, and Vontu have been offering some of these capabilities for some time now, so the technology is there.

These technologies may seem to be on the Big Brother side, but in the end, they could save you a lawsuit. Some of them block the sending and receiving of objectionable content, others simply ask the question, "Do you really want to send this?" These may be a way to help employees quietly learn your messaging policies, without getting themselves in trouble.

Five minutes doesn't seem like much -- until you multiply it by hundreds or thousands of employees. Maybe next time I talk about the Gators, I should do it on my own time.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • Forrester Research Inc.
  • Oakley Networks Inc.
  • Orchestria Corp.
  • Vericept Corp.
  • Vontu Inc.