Companies are seeing e-mail usage grow at exponential rates. While the rise in e-mail use can improve employee productivity, it also presents challenges to IT staff, many of whom are struggling to keep pace with the rapid increases as related management, security and storage tasks increase. Some are looking at e-mail outsourcing options as possible solutions.
E-mail use has been increasing by a variety of metrics. First, the number of employees using these systems is swelling. Industry analysts say that there are more than a billion e-mail users today, a number that gets larger every day.
Indeed, e-mail has become a vital business tool. “Many executives feel that e-mail is a necessary component in helping them complete their work in a timely fashion,” said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, a market research firm. Consequently, every morning when employees come in and power up their computers, the first application that they access is often e-mail. If it is unavailable, they may feel lost.
Employees rely so heavily on e-mail, they are generating more e-mail messages to accomplish an ever-widening variety of tasks. “We are seeing employees use e-mail for a variety of functions, like calendaring and contact management, applications that were not designed for e-mail systems,” stated Karen Hobert, an industry analyst with market research firm Burton Group.
At the same time, as mobility becomes more common, employees need a simple way to store, share, and transfer data files between their desktop systems and handheld and laptop devices. Moving even large files between computers can be done by simply sending files to their own e-mail account and then downloading them to a different computer.
Throw Out the Fax Machine
The widening acceptance of e-mail is also reducing the necessity for fax machines. When individuals have to send paper documents, they can simply scan them and attach the file to an e-mail message. Multiple pages of scanned documents can range in size from 2 to 8 MB, which previously meant they were too large for personal e-mail accounts. However, expanded e-mail storage allowances eliminate this problem. At the end of the day, users find there is nothing that a fax machine can do that cannot be done with an e-mail account and a scanner.
E-mailing scanned documents is more efficient than faxing and much cheaper as well. An electronic file is easier to use, store and disseminate than a paper copy. There is no extra phone line to rent and the price of scanners has fallen considerably — and in many cases is being built in to printers. Another plus is the elimination of the stack of unclaimed faxes that typically sits next to office fax machines.
All of these advantages have boosted worldwide e-mail traffic volume to about 175 billion messages per day; this number includes spam as well as legitimate messages. Many individual users receive hundreds of messages per day which might make it difficult to keep up.
Message files are also becoming larger than ever before. Users work with large, complex attachments, such as audio files and video clips, that take up multiple megabytes of storage. As such, not only are users working with more messages than ever before, corporations are also finding that they have to manage those items more carefully now than they might have in the past, in part due to compliance rules.
“Government compliance initiatives, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, are forcing companies to put procedures in place that ensure that e-mail messages are properly collected and protected,” said Scott Bolser, an industry analyst with messaging market research firm Ferris Group.
The end result is a dramatic rise in the volume of messages created and stored. “When Google entered the e-mail market and upped the maximum size from Megabytes to Gigabytes, users expected that a lot of storage would be available with their e-mail accounts,” Ferris Research’s Bolser told the E-Commerce Times.
Previously, sending and receiving large files was difficult, and users were forced to clean out overloaded inboxes on a regular basis. Now, file size is not such a significant issue: a 1 gigabyte inbox can store up to 8 billion bits of data, or the equivalent of 500,000 pages of text.
What is significant is that as more private company data becomes tied up in e-mail, many firms are forced to monitor outbound content, i.e., those messages employees send to co-workers, customers and suppliers.
The bottom line is that e-mail systems are becoming more complex and their management more time-consuming. Firms may find outsourcing of some or all of this management attractive. Many vendors that specialize in this area include added-value offerings such as security, spam prevention, archiving, and compliance auditing, and can also tailor e-mail box storage requirements to individuals, so companies can cater to those with high requirements without buying more storage than they need.
“Managing e-mail systems has become a top priority in most companies, and there is no reason to think that will change as the market continues to evolve,” concluded Osterman Research’s Osterman.