• Technology
  • CFO.com | US

Get Rich Quick Fighting Spam?

Perhaps not. But the ROI from better managing junk E-mail sends a message every finance executive should heed.

At faucet maker Moen Inc., a trickle had grown into a torrent, and security manager Rob Buchwald didn’t like the sound of it. Every day, he heard complaints from employees at the North Olmsted, Ohio-based company — the largest manufacturer of faucets and plumbing accessories in North America — on the flow of junk E-mail that wouldn’t stop. Slimmer hips. Cheaper mortgages. Better sex. Exciting get-rich opportunities (just send your banking information).

Like many hands-on types, Buchwald faced the usual question: Do it himself, or call in a professional? Buchwald quickly recognized that fulfilling Moen’s business initiatives was a priority for the IT staff, but that “antispam is one of those things that doesn’t directly affect how we ship product.” He’d also seen — in his own inbox — how quickly spammers adjusted to the “cat-and-mouse game” and modified the tricks and techniques that help their messages avoid filters, rules, and signature lists. Rather than spend days and nights fending off crafty spammers, Buchwald turned to MessageLabs Inc. of New York.

“Antispam is now a must-have for a large enterprise” just like firewalls and antivirus software, says Phebe Waterfield, an analyst at Boston-based research firm Yankee Group. By some estimates, between 50 percent and 75 percent of all corporate E-mail is spam — not a big surprise when it costs virtually the same to send a hundred messages, or a million. For the spammer, every junk E-mail is another money-making opportunity.

For the company on the receiving end, however, every junk message that an employee deals with personally cuts into company productivity. In the aggregate, spam clogs network bandwidth, indirectly lowering company revenue by slowing down legitimate applications.

As for the do-it-yourselfers, Waterfield notes that many companies once tried to manage spam internally because they were concerned about entrusting their E-mail to an outside company. “That’s considered a little paranoid these days,” she says, now that the aggressive and ubiquitous nature of spam has led to a change in mindset.

Using an external service is only a little more expensive than handling spam internally, adds Waterfield. Managed service providers usually charge a subscription price plus per-user fees, and any additional hardware and software costs are more stable. In addition, says Waterfield, “a service provider might offer you some sort of business continuity” — if your internal servers go down, they may store messages so nothing gets lost, and offer remote access to E-mail until things are back to normal.

Turning Down the Volume

It was less the lure of fringe benefits and more out of sheer frustration that led Edward Kamp to search for a spam solution on behalf of Harman International Industries Inc. “We had users who got anywhere from 10 on the low end to 100s of spam E-mails every day,” says Kamp, director of global networking at the stereo equipment manufacturer. “We definitively had a productivity issue.”

Kamp considered bringing software and hardware in-house, but he realized that meant hiring additional IT personnel. Harman has almost 8,000 users, and although the company is headquartered in Washington, D.C., the company has facilities throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Asia, and Africa. “Because of the complexity of the environment and the time differences and everything else that comes with being geographically diverse,” he says, “the outsourcing decision was an easy one to make.” Adds Kamp: “There was a definite pressure to outsource this functionality, because it’s not a value-add or strategic direction for this company. It was more of a nuisance… and we didn’t want to commit staff to the project.”

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