E-Mail's Maturing Market

Widespread use of e-mail led to many new problems in the corporate management world, including worker productivity

E-MAIL has quietly become the primary business tool used today by information workers worldwide. One has to search long and hard to find a businessperson who doesn't rely on e-mail as their primary business communications tool, be it in sales, marketing, manufacturing, engineering or the executive ranks. The business world today revolves around a company's e-mail server.

This widespread use of e-mail by workers has led to a host of new problems for corporate management:

  • Maximizing worker productivity, as people are besieged by the increasing amounts of daily spam, phishing attacks and viruses.

  • Securing the intellectual property contained in the company's collective e-mail.

  • Reducing the cost of IT administration and computing resources as the size of local e-mail storage explodes.

  • Complying with new government regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and GLBA.

  • Providing a means for workers to have private and secure peer-to-peer communications.

All Grown Up
As with any technology that gains dominant usage in the business world, a natural market maturation process is occurring in the e-mail market sector. As popularized by Geoffrey Moore in his pioneering market research work, Crossing the Chasm, new technologies that require the end user and the marketplace to dramatically change their past behavior adhere to a model defined as the Technology Adoption Life Cycle.

As popularized by Geoffrey Moore in his pioneering market research work, Crossing the Chasm, new technologies that require the end user and the marketplace to dramatically change their past behavior adhere to a model defined as the Technology Adoption Life Cycle.

This model predicts that when a new innovation is introduced into the marketplace, users segregate into distinct groups based on their willingness to tolerate risk. Risk immune innovators and early adopters are constantly seeking new technologies -- they thrive on being ahead of the technology curve and are willing to try anything in hopes that it might work. At the other end of the curve are the risk-adverse laggards that are inherently skeptical and love to challenge the bold claims typically made by marketing groups of high-tech startups.

In between the innovators and laggards are the pragmatists and conservatives that represent the majority of the market, as they are the users that account for 80 percent of the revenue in a mature market.

A good example of this market maturation process is the desktop productivity tools sector that is now mature and dominated by Microsoft® Office. When PCs were first introduced, a plethora of point tools quickly emerged, focusing on a single, specific user task such as word processing, spreadsheet calculation or a slide show presentation. The vibrant market of the mid-1980s was full of new PC productivity software vendors such as Software Arts (VisiCalc), Aldus (PageMaker, Persuasion), and Lotus (1-2-3), all of which had great success with the early adopters and innovators.

Something changed before the majority of the market put away the typewriters and embraced a completely digital desktop office environment. Most small- and medium-sized companies, the real moneymakers for software vendors, couldn't afford the high IT overhead costs associated with supporting myriad point tools.

Imagine trying to operate revision control and patch management for dozens of different desktop tools for all your employees. Toss in the need for training all your employees on disparate tools with unique user interfaces and, well, you would have been in IT support prison.

Another barrier to adoption by the majority of the market was the need for compatibility across disparate tools. Not only did mainstream users desire a consistent and intuitive user interface, but they also expected to be able to share objects from one application to another. As IT workers started realizing the potential of using these new desktop productivity tools, they wanted to be able to easily drop into a slide show a spreadsheet of department financials for the next staff meeting. Try inserting a VisiCalc spreadsheet into a Persuasion slide show presentation. Many valuable hours are wasted recreating the same object only in a different application, which, of course, makes the term "productivity tool" an oxymoron.

Innovative new technology is necessary, but not sufficient, for adoption by the mainstream market. Small and mid-sized businesses require an integrated and affordable solution, in addition to powerful tools, before they will elect to implement a new paradigm.

E-Mail Adolescence
The e-mail integrity market is just beginning the market maturation process. As e-mail became widely used by information workers, IT software vendors rushed to deliver powerful point tools, such as anti-spam filters, that had a sole purpose of solving a single, critical business issue -- and they were successful. Witness the dramatic growth during the late 1990s of startups such as Postini and MXLogic, whose e-mail filtering services were quickly adopted by millions of users worldwide for processing billions of e-mails each day.

Other vendors rushed to market in the early 2000s with new point tools that addressed other important areas of e-mail integrity, such as encryption and vaulting, and they were rewarded with equal initial success. But the growth in the e-mail integrity market predicted by analysts for many years has yet to occur. Widespread adoption of e-mail archiving and encryption, for example, has yet to take place. New regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and GLBA have made it painfully aware to public and private companies of their need to be compliant -- and e-mail is undoubtedly one of the key areas that requires management and supervision for regulatory compliance.

The e-mail integrity market has reached the market maturity crossroads and is poised to be rapidly adopted by the mainstream market. Vendors are now providing e-mail integrity tools that meet all of the adoption criteria of the majority users -- not only powerful point tools, but integration based on a common architecture and a consistent, intuitive user interface to all tools that minimizes the cost of IT support and user adoption at an affordable price.

E-Mail Integrity
The mainstream adoption of any new business solution typically results in the birth of a new terminology or market category. In this case, the new term is e-mail integrity. E-mail integrity describes a complete, holistic solution to the specific business problems created by the use of e-mail as the primary business communications tool by IT workers.

In the adolescent phase of this market, e-mail solutions were referred to as security, vaulting or encryption tools -- further highlighting the lack of integration and point tool nature of these solutions. The term e-mail integrity was spawned to clearly identify a complete e-mail solution that is a collection of all these tools and more.

The best way to understand e-mail integrity is to consider the whole product solution. A whole product is a generic product augmented by everything that is needed for the customer to buy. In this case, the generic product is the e-mail servers commonly used in business -- for example Outlook, Eudora, Notes and GroupWise. E-mail integrity is the augmentation of these generic e-mail servers with everything necessary to protect, filter, store, secure and manage e-mail.

Protect. E-mail integrity suites provide a local line of defense, including a firewall with intrusion detection. Companies are realizing that multiple layers of network protection provide the maximum defense -- having a single, perimeter-based network protection system is putting all the eggs in one basket, and that's risky.

Filter. Basically, eliminate the bad e-mail before it even hits the e-mail servers. Anti-spam, anti-virus and phishing prevention tools need to be best-in-class. Gone are the days when freeware tools using registered blacklists were adequate and/or useful.

Store. Bill Tolson, a principal analyst and practice manager for Contoural Inc., blames users' packrat mentality for the need to better manage e-mail requirements.

Indeed, the well-known problem of the exploding size of local PST files is a major reason that analysts are forecasting serious growth of the e-mail archiving market. Providing an easy and fast search and retrieval capability of e-mail vaulted on the server side gives users a natural reason to willingly delete their local e-mail. IT departments have spent too much time and money playing an e-mail cat and mouse game with their users, trying to enforce limitations on local e-mail storage. E-mail integrity suites solve the problem by providing a better alternative for packrats.

Secure. E-mail encryption tool adoption has been limited due to its lack of integration and ease of use. Only 6 percent of physicians are sending clinical information about individual patients via e-mail. However, this would rapidly increase if medical records privacy were guaranteed and included in the whole product solution. E-mail integrity suites provide for the easy and secure transmission of e-mail, allowing the mainstream market to further use their primary business tool.

Manage. Many small and mid-sized companies are moving to hosted solutions to eliminate their internal IT needs and reduce costs. Mid-sized enterprises like the all-in-one convenience of appliances. Larger organizations purchase software tools and deliver the applications to users from their data centers. E-mail integrity suites can be tailored to a company's request -- hosted and remotely managed by a MSP, as a standalone appliance or as software for integration on a server.

It's Time
E-mail integrity suites will see widespread adoption now that the requirements of the mainstream market are being met -- powerful technology, fully integrated, easily administered, appropriately implemented -- and all at an affordable price.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Security Products, pgs. 84-86.


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