Bringing group e-mail under control

E-mail, at the best of times, is a time-consuming process. For employees participating on large group projects, sifting through e-mail can become an onerous and time-consuming task.

Abridge Inc., a New York-based company, has come up with a solution designed to ease some of the pain by sorting through the oysters to find the pearls.

Abridge for Enterprises captures e-mail, sorts through it, breaks down the message content, grabs the important information and distributes it to user-defined message folders. The solution works as an ASP model. Users CC a given message to the group address ([email protected], for example). Then group members can access the information from any location using a Web-enabled device.

“[Abridge for Enterprises] helps solve the issue of mass reliance of e-mail as a cross-company means of communication,” said Susan Hunt Stevens, president of Abridge.

“E-mail is, in many ways, the institutional memory of what is going on (in a company),” she added. It is increasingly important information that is difficult to organize, Hunt Stevens continued.

Users set up folders with auto-file rules. So a large group working on the creation of a complex product, such as an airplane, could have folders for specific aspects such as wing design. Those working on engine development only would get the wing e-mail as it related to engines and not all wing related e-mails.

The program uses natural language processing rules to scan the messages for key words that define which folder a message should be placed in. The messages are indexed based on a variety of factors such as headers, message content, attachments or any blocks of information that match a user created profile.

“Then we parse it out to build an object, we put an XML wrapper on it, and can match that object to rules about what to do with it,” Hunt Stevens explained.

The technology can take information from e-mail and the Web but Abridge is also looking into voice and fax integration.

In essence you get the information you need, not all the information that is out there.

“There is nothing automatic about e-mail, it is a very manual process,” Hunt Stevens said. In many cases it amounts to a huge productivity drain, she added.

The goal of Abridge for Enterprises is to reduce the amount of time group workers spend dealing with e-mail, not in only reducing the actual number of e-mails but also dramatically reducing the time spent searching for lost information.

Enzo Galli, president of InfoPac in Minneapolis, Minn., especially likes the searching capability. His company is beta testing the product.

“It does save time in finding e-mail that addresses a certain issue but (you) don’t remember the date it was sent or where you saw it,” he said.

Eric Austvold, research director of Boston-based AMR Inc., sees potential for the product. “I think this has some interesting ramifications as businesses rely more on communications between them in electronic format.”

Austvold envisions Abridge’s technology also potentially working like a chat room in large companies as a means of gathering information, with the added beauty that there is no need to set up a chat room.

Participants could search a repository of e-mail to find information on a certain subject. “The chances are at a big company, there is somebody who has the answer to your question,” he said.

According to Hunt Stevens, “We know there are time savings at the user level but where we are seeing a lot of fascination is at the corporate level.” Abridge for Enterprises allows for better customer service and a reduction in the amount of queries and co-ordination that teams have to do, she added.

“But we are really careful about not turning it into a Spam machine.”

going asp

Abridge currently offers the solution as an ASP model only, though there is the possibility of offering it as a software solution in the future. The reason for the ASP solution was, in part, to make adaptation easy for end users.

“It allows people to get up and running without having to purchase databases and servers and know how to manage this very complex thing,” Hunt Stevens said.

Basically a company just signs up for the service. There is no need for corporate IT to get involved in the set up. The person who starts a group goes to the Web site and sets up a group based on what topics should be covered and who should be a member. Then those in the group are notified that there is a new repository. Users access the technology through their traditional e-mail program.

A user can then choose which messages remain in the private domain and which are copied to the group. Since your message is going to one group address, rather than a series of people in your user defined group as is the case with traditional e-mail, there is no need to constantly update who is in constantly changing groups.

The annual license ( for up to 300 internal and 500 external users is US$25,000. Hosting is based on the type of information being sent, but for a company which traditionally sends Word or PowerPoint documents, it works out to about US$4,000 per month.

Abridge in New York can be reached at (212) 924-9814.

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