An easy Sell

You don’t have to sell executives on the notion of reducing the amount of junk e-mail flooding their inboxes, according to two public sector IT professionals.

Henry Renz of Western Economic Diversification Canada (WEDC) and Rick Patsula of the University of Alberta were both approached by managers seeking to solve the growing spam dilemma.

Renz, a corporate network security analyst, said the need for an anti-spam solution received top level support when executives started getting unsolicited and sometimes offensive e-mail.

Renz implemented a new spam filter in October; 40 of the 450 clients he serves are taking advantage of it. Fully 80 per cent of the e-mail received by some people at WEDC is spam, he said, and he has received nothing but positive feedback since the new software was installed.

“They’re happy,” he said. “They’re kissing my feet for stopping spam.”

Patsula, a network administrator for the dean’s office at U of A’s faculty of engineering, also said he did nothing to sell an anti-spam initiative to his managers.

“In my case, they came to me,” he said. “I just took it as a fact of life. But they didn’t want to waste any more time. They said they wanted to increase productivity.”

Wasted Time

For those who are not as fortunate as Renz and Patsula, Bill White, vice-president of marketing and sales for Ottawa-based Roaring Penguin Software Inc., says the increased productivity argument is the best pitch to make when trying to convince executives that an anti-spam solution will deliver some ROI.

“The wasted time is probably the biggest issue that’s most likely to grab management’s attention,” White said. “If you can quantify those numbers, that’s going to be the big selling point.”

And finding numbers that outline the adverse effects of spam isn’t hard. In a recent survey conducted by Roaring Penguin in October, 38 per cent of system administrators from organizations of 250 to 1,000 e-mail users said they spend 25 minutes or more each day managing spam. In organizations of fewer than 250 users, 26 per cent spend the same amount of time tending to spam.

Another study, conducted by Nucleus Research Inc. in the U.S., found that unsolicited commercial e-mail costs US$874 per employee per year. The study also found that, on average, employees spend 6.5 minutes a day managing spam.

“These survey results confirm our experiences in the market – that individual administrators in small and mid-size organizations really feel the pain, because there may only be one IT resource to deal with the entire organizations’ needs,” White said.

Flexibility Required

When it comes to implementing a solution, Patsula said the need for flexibility is paramount. Anti-spam software needs a filter that can be adjusted to the appropriate level to ensure that legitimate e-mail is allowed to pass into the system.

“If you set the concept filter at the highest degree, it removes quite a bit of our legitimate e-mail,” he said. “But when we set it down one level, our [e-mail] passes through, but not the spam.”

Patsula also stressed that a solution has to allow for individual users to opt in and out of the program, often as a result of their job function.

“Some people don’t want to be part of the spam filter, or I can’t have them be part of the spam filter because of the nature of their job, because the majority of e-mail they send would be classified as spam,” he said. “For example, those who are tasked with soliciting for money or information. I just take them right out of the spam filter. Having that ability is really nice.”

User Education

While implementing software is a positive and proactive solution, Renz said the most important anti-spam technique is to avoid getting on a spam list. This means high profile people in departments and agencies need to be armed with ample advice on safe Internet use.

“We have user’s e-mail addresses on our public Web site and it tends to be…the ministers or directors of certain functional units,” he said. “They’re the ones getting buried in spam.”

Renz said it’s important to be careful when signing up for newsletters, visiting new Web sites and clicking on links and buttons. He also stressed that a user should never ask to be removed from a spam list. “They’re just going to put a star beside your [name] and sell that e-mail address for a bonus,” he said.

Blair McQuillan ([email protected]) is assistant editor of CIO Governments’ Review.

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