When you're a financial services company, monitoring email is not just a security precaution, it's a legal necessity. But a couple of years ago, brokerage firm Scott and Stringfellow had just about had it with its email surveillance system.
The system was flagging some 30 percent of the company's email 100,000 messages every day, which meant that a raft of employees -- often branch managers -- spent large portions of their days trying to figure out which correspondence was legitimate and which wasn't.
The number of false positives was so high that the reviewers were becoming numb to the evaluation process, said David Stahr, CTO at Scott and Stringfellow and the person in charge of rectifying the problem.
Scott and Stringfellow was acquired in 1999 by BBT, the 14th largest financial services company in the US. With about 1,000 employees, Scott and Stringfellow now operates as a regional brokerage firm.
In the middle of 2006, awash in false positives, Scott and Stringfellow began looking for a replacement for its old email surveillance system -- Stahr declined to name it -- which had been in place for about 10 years. The old system was showing its age, he said, and was not flexible enough to keep pace with the rapidly changing techniques that spammers and hackers employ.
The product review started with some basic Internet research and then a polling of information sources, such as market research firm Gartner and other financial services CIOs. After narrowing the list of candidates down to four -- Stahr declined to name the losing three -- the brokerage hosted the vendors' "dog and pony shows" and called their customer references.
"We were surprised that some of the [losing] vendors' references were not that enthusiastic about the products that they had purchased," stated Stahr.
But one vendor -- Orchestria -- got rave reviews from customers. Orchestrias Intelligent Compliance software also had a number of features that appealed to the brokerage, such as prepackaged policies that enable users to set up different filters, the ability to assign groups of users to do message pre-review, and the ability to stop messages before they went out.
Orchestria's long-term vision also contributed to Scott and Stringfellow's decision. The vendor was researching ways to leverage the agent it used on remote clients for more than simply email monitoring. It was moving into emerging areas, such as data loss prevention (DLP).
In early 2007, the financial services firm decided to buy the Orchestria product. The installation began in November of that year and was finished about three months later.
We were concerned, because the Orchestria agent sits in the middle of our email system," Stahr recalled. "We did not want it to have a negative impact on our system performance, since that system is mission critical. No performance problems arose with the firms Microsoft Exchange email system, he said.
Since its deployment of Orchestria, Scott and Stringfellow has seen a 90 percent reduction in its false positives, which means that employees can focus on other tasks. Such time savings helped to cost-justify the $500,000 the financial services will spend on the product during a five year span.
Also, because the reviewers are no longer numb to the process, it becomes more likely that they will catch potential problem emails. The companys image could be severely damaged if a mistake ended up in the press, explained Stahr.
The brokerage is happy with Orchestria, but wishes it offered email encryption features. Orchestria has no plans to add those features, so it has pointed Scott and Stringfellow to partners who do offer those capabilities. The brokerage is now in the process of selecting an email encryption program to replace Winzip, which lacks flexibility.
Once that piece is in place, Scott and Stringfellow believes it will have the email surveillance problem in hand. We expect the regulations concerning email monitoring to change frequently, and feel confident that the Orchestria product is flexible enough to support those changes, Stahr said.
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