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Success in today's hyper-competitive  marketplace hinges on a single concept. Electronic Darwinism. Simple stated, it's the survival of the fastest.

The era of computerized commerce calls for quick

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For most firms, email is the first foray into this electronic era, paving the way toward a time when importers and exporters will source almost exclusively through cyberspace.

"Implementing email into your business should be a no-brainer- it's cheap, and it's great for both the importer and the supplier, "says Steve Kraus, director of vendor management for Sears. Yet there are still many missing out- thinking it's just too high tech to tangle with. This thinking must change.

Great Time Saver. Chicago - based Sears is an excellent example of the power of electronic communication . It's recent rebound as a retailing superpower is mostly due to electronic initiatives like a sophisticated electronic data  interchange (EDI) program, but email is playing a significant role as

"We're totally emailed out internally and we're moving quickly into an external email system through the Internet," says Kraus, "It's the way to go and anything standing between us and the Internet will simply go away."

Sear's buyers are using extensively to communicate with vendors and the result is faster turnaround times and better, more efficient communication. "email  lets buyers decide what's important enough to warrant a long distance  phone call," Kraus says. "When you do call a supplier, both parties have already organized what they are going to talk about - that saves so much time."

Intra-company email has been used for many years, but it is the Internet  explosion that has propelled importers and exporters to use email to conduct business externally, according to s study  by INPUT, a market research firm.

Levi-Strauss & Co uses email not only to source , but to communicate  with its retailers. "We exchange email whenever possible with the customer service people, sales people, or the distribution centers for our raw material suppliers," explains Levi Strauss business analyst Bhavo Michael. "So far this is mainly in the U.S.A. because the gateway we use to protect  against viruses and provide security makes it impossible for our overseas offices to communicate with local suppliers."




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In many cases, Michael says email virtually replaces the phone and fax machine. "Faxing is really inconvenient, especially  in computer environment. And if you're sending something like a spreadsheet to a manufacturer, it's so much easier to send via email," he adds.

"In my job where I deal with suppliers and end users all over the country, it saves me at least one or two hours a day, because I'm not forever trying to get in touch with people via voice mail, it eliminates telephone tag." Sears' Kraus agrees." If you look at the flip side of our coin, getting in touch with buyers is a nightmare for our vendors.

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By Jonna Mancey

It takes 20 minutes and little more  than a modicum of computing expertise to knock out a company's electronic mail (email) network. Five years ago, for someone to do manage to a company's network they had to be a hacker. Today, anyone with access to email needs only minutes to seriously disrupt the operations of a large business.

Anyone typing in "hacker, email and bomb" into an Internet  search machine, for example, will come with a list of programs that can be downloaded and used to bomb a company's email network. "You simply type  in the address of the target and the program will automatically subscribe  the recipient to thousands of lists across the Internet. Within no time, they'll be receiving 5,000 to 10,000 emails a day," says Michael Overly, a socialist  in Internet Law at the Los Angeles office of law firm Foley & Lardner.

It may sound far fetched, but such incidents are far from an irregular occurrence. Events like these, coupled with the growing number of high profile  trials utilising email evidence, such as the Microsoft anti-trial case, are signaling  that the honeymoon period between businesses and email is coming  to an end. email may have been labeled the killer "app" of the Internet but , says Overly,

"there is a gradual weakening up to the concern that email can come back to haunt businesses". Ironically, the most insidious  threat is coming from inside rather  than outside the corporation.

The casual, almost flippant attitude that has grown up around email interaction, says lawyers, is resulting in a legal minefield. "The nature of email is that people don't stop to think about what they are sending," says Amanda Ryding, an IT lawyer.

Companies are not completely oblivious to the risks. A recent survey found that 89 per cent of large companies considered network security important, but over a third had not policy in relation to email, and nearly 60 per cent did not provide guidelines on email use to employees. According to Overly, a third of all US companies have written policies about email, but only a small percentage are effective.


But accordingly to Sheri Anderson, Chief Information Officer  of Novell, simply making  policies is not the answer. "This is not a tech issue, it is a cultural issue. It is not good enough to make the rules...we have really smart people who can bypass the rules. You have to educate people inside the company have to set the tone."

Most important of all, she says, it is not to overreact and fetter employees" use of email. "We want people to be connected. I want people to live a connected life, it is part of the transformation of Novell," she says.

But the risks of allowing staff  unrestrained access to email are only just starting to be defined. Because email has only been used widely in many companies  for the past two years, there are still few laws governing its use, and there have been insufficient  rulings to aid corporate lawyers in devising watertight policies.

What is undisputable, however, is that "email is a document", says Ryding of Dibb Luton Alsop. What that means is that emails are discoverable in court proceedings and have all the same legal characteristics. But even when messages are only sent internally, companies need to be concerned about defamatory or offensive content.

"People are aware that emails can get you in trouble, but most companies vastly underestimate the depth of that trouble," says Dai Davis, an IT specialist at UK lawyers Nabarro Nathanson. And because of  the potentially global nature of email, any misdemeanors can result in multiple lawsuits around the world. "Defamation on the Internet can spread like wildfire. It is very easy to copy information and send it on," says Davis.

The majority of court cases relating to email to date have centered around messages sent by rank and file workers rather than management . In an attempt to try to cut down on these kinds of transgressions, says analysts, between 40 to 50 per cent of US companies now monitor  employee email. Courts around the world have ruled that company email systems are the property of the company, so employers are virtually free to set email policy and review messages as they choose, says Overly.

There are three forms of monitoring currently in use. The first is random monitoring, which is generally very ineffective. Second, there is responsive monitoring in relation to complaints. The problem with this is that often the liability has already been created. However, responsive monitoring can help to limit the extent of the liability should the case go to court.

Increasingly, however, companies are realising that the only effective form of monitoring is automated checking, where every email traveling through a corporate email network is routinely  interrogated for secret or unsavory content. 

Many lawyers and analyst believe that email content scanning will ultimately become routine to reduce liability, protect corporate assets and secure intellectual property - particularly in highly litigious industries such as financial services and healthcare.

But the problem itself is only set to get more complex. With the convergence of voice and data using technologies such as IP (Internet Protocol) telephony, the distinction between the spoken and written word is already starting to become blurred, admit  lawyers. The litigation lottery, it seems , has only just begun- Computer Business Review

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ADD COLOUR TO email MARKETING Intelligent Enterprise, July 2000 Issue

Want to add impact to your email marketing activities? How about letting customers see commercials- like the ones you see on TV- delivered directly and viewed from their email screen?

Advertising agency allows you to do just that. With its Virtual Prospector solution, companies can now push "eCommercials" that combine full motion, quality audio, rich graphics and hyperlinks to any designated Web page.

"Unlike other multimedia rich content, an eCommercial does not require online connectivity when viewing. And it does not require additional software for viewing. What is nice about it is that you can send the whole eCommercial to other people of similar interest, generating a vital effect that will give marketers a large audience," said Sam Lee, chairman and CEO of FusionActive.

Another plus is that when recipients open and "interact with their eCommercials" ,tracking  and analysis of the response starts instantly, and results are recorded and forwarded to the marketer. eCommercial also boasts a response rate of 20%-95%, revealed Lee.

In fact, such direct email marketing methods are generally seen as one of the most effective type of Internet advertising.

"Permission-based email marketing delivers customised messages and content , straight to the consumers' desktops, when they want it, and for as long as they want it," said Patrick Jonathan Wong, Managing Director, 24/7 Media Asia.

He added: "Permission email lets you drive online sales, reduce sales cycles and increase response rate. It also helps you build brand awareness, communicate with customers, analyze real-time demographics and improve customer loyalty."

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