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Volume 32, Issue 2

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It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago people, businesses and institutions didn’t rely on e-mail as their most critical communications tool. Today it is pervasive, used internally and externally to operate global enterprises behind the scenes, conduct business with the outside world, and to manage the myriad of business and personal communications in all of our busy lives. Past concerns of privacy, security, and reliability have been widely addressed, and today’s businesses, and specifically business workers, rank e-mail as essential – in fact, according to findings by Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, e-mail is the most critical communications medium they use every day and most would do without the telephone rather than give up their e-mail.

So it is clear, e-mail has positively and significantly transformed the way business workers function. In nearly all aspects of the day – both personal and work oriented – the reliance on e-mail has become nearly “obsessive.” The questions information technology and business continuity professionals must ask are: “What will happen when e-mail outages occur?” “How will business workers remain productive to do their jobs?” “How will enterprises continue to operate within and outside the walls of their business?”


E-mail Outages on the Rise

In a perfect world, e-mail servers would be fail-safe and guaranteed to never become incapacitated – and in that world I would look like Brad Pitt. Unfortunately, that is not the way life works as evidenced by the significant rise in e-mail outages during 2003. In fact, more than 51 percent of U.S. workers were without e-mail up to four times in 2003, according to a recent survey conducted by TNS Market Research. This was particularly strong in the south and east, where e-mail outages really took their toll, due to a worse-than-normal hurricane season and a range of power outages, including the far-flung Northeast Blackout last August. A staggering 56.1 percent of those who live in the south and 54.3 percent of those in the east were without e-mail up to four times in 2003.

E-mail has become such a critical tool for people at work that nearly 40 percent of those surveyed indicated that they “can’t live without e-mail,” while another 25.8 percent indicated that it is “important” for what they do at work. The e-mail stakes are even higher for a majority of high-income earners. According to the survey, for those making $50-$75,000, some 40 percent can’t live without e-mail; for those making $75-$100,000 a year, 44.4 percent can’t live with it; and for those earning more than $100,000, an overwhelming 52.2 percent find e-mail to be something they can’t do without.

Many Companies Are Vulnerable to Loss of E-mail
Unfortunately, a surprisingly large number of companies are not prepared with an e-mail continuity and recovery solution. As we have seen in 2003, there is no way to predict or prevent many of the catalysts for e-mail outages – all organizations around the country and the globe are vulnerable. It has also become true that the loss of e-mail to some or all of most companies could severely impact revenue, productivity, reputation, and the ability to communicate and facilitate a recovery process in the wake of a disaster.
The reasons businesses have for not being prepared for e-mail outages are many, but typically they range from the belief that e-mail continuity and recovery solutions are too expensive, to the feeling that they are very difficult to deploy, requiring a lengthy and work intensive process for the IT staff and ongoing support. Furthermore, after a closer evaluation, many companies realize that the high-end solutions do not completely protect them from the widest range of e-mail threats.

New Affordable Solutions Provide E-mail Safety Net
In the past, these issues have been obstacles to the broad acceptance and use of emergency messaging solutions. However, a new breed of affordable services provides uninterrupted e-mail service in the event of any e-mail outage and can be activated in less than 30 seconds, at a customer’s request. The deployment process is simple and can take place in hours – the price is some 20 times less than traditional high-end solutions and can be as low as pennies per seat, depending on the size of the organization.
While there never is a good time for an unexpected disaster or business interruption, knowing you can rely on guaranteed e-mail communications makes potential threats a whole lot easier to contend with. Many businesses have found that it is not only exceedingly important to continue operating their e-mail systems for business purposes, but that e-mail also serves as a critical lifeline to help a company restore operations and communicate in the wake of any disaster.

While 2003 turned out to be an especially troublesome year for e-mail outages, with disasters both natural and man-made, IT and BC professionals can only assume there may be more of the same and potentially new threats in the coming year. From hurricanes to blackouts, to software viruses and worms, the best strategy harkens back to the tried and true Boy Scout motto – “Be prepared.” When you are prepared for e-mail outages, the vulnerability of potential threats is one less thing to worry about for businesses large and small. Be prepared and be spared.

Michael Rosenfelt is vice president of marketing for MessageOne (www.messageone.com), a leading provider of affordable e-mail continuity services for businesses. MessageOne’s stand-by messaging systems are used by companies worldwide, including Motorola, MaxRe and CC West.