E-Mail Grows Up
New E-mail packages can do everything from manage multiple accounts to provide access to people using a variety of computers all over the world
Early E-mail users felt as lucky as the first people to use telephones. They could communicate instantly via computer. What fun.
But E-mail has quickly gone from quirky novelty to business necessity. The Yankee Group, a technology research and consulting firm in Boston, predicts that by the year 2000, 100 million people will depend on E-mail to do business. Many companies already rely heavily on E-mail for customer orders and for other essential daily business transactions.
Suffice it to say, the fun has worn off. It's not uncommon for some businesspeople to receive hundreds of messages a day, sometimes on more than one account or even more than one E-mail service. Sorting through all those communications to separate the genuine business from the junk--and then responding to or dispatching them--is nobody's idea of a good time. Luckily, there are some new programs that deliver more features than just speed, making it much easier for companies to manage the onslaught of electronic communication.
American Speedy Printing Inc., a $1-million printing company in Santa Clara, Calif., has six E-mail accounts, one generic and five that are assigned to people in the company. Each account has a different user name and password. All kinds of business communications come in to each account, as well as through the company's Web site. Employees of the small, 10-person company sometimes have to be out of the office, or they just get so busy that they aren't able to check their E-mail and respond to it every day. So inquiries started backing up and were going unanswered.
For a while, vice-president Jim LeGoullon tried to ease the E-mail burden by checking all the accounts himself. But logging in and out of each account several times a day was tedious. He needed a more efficient way to manage the E-mail flow. He turned to Eudora Pro 3.0 for Windows (Qualcomm, San Diego, 800-2Eudora, www.eudora.com, $89), which is different from the free and less impressive Eudora Light. Eudora Pro allows LeGoullon to set up one computer to check all the accounts every 10 minutes or on any schedule that he chooses. The program's Remember Password setting allows him to bypass all or some of the six passwords; the software automatically logs in as many of the passwords as it's instructed to when booted up. That wouldn't work for all companies, he acknowledges, but at American Speedy, everyone has access to all information, strangers don't have access to the terminals, and E-mail is used only for business. LeGoullon has also set the program to separate out E-mail messages received from larger clients and to store them in their own folders so that they can be dealt with promptly.
Eudora Pro can also sort messages based on trigger words. For example, any message containing the word brochure could be automatically routed to its own file. These kinds of features, which take only minutes to set up, have saved LeGoullon and his staff hours of time each week that they used to spend reading, sorting, and responding to the most basic E-mail inquiries.
Dana Free, advertising coordinator for OGCI Training Inc., a 25-person company in Tulsa, Okla., needed to manage not just multiple accounts but multiple services. The company, which offers training services to petroleum companies, started out using MCI's E-mail package. After a couple of months, the company was attracted to Compuserve's features and decided to give it a try. But rather than track down all of her contacts' ever-changing E-mail addresses and sending out a change of address, Free decided to keep her MCI account (it costs around $35 a year). There was another reason Free kept the MCI account: she regularly exchanges files with clients, and those attached files often come out jumbled or encoded when different Internet services are used.
Sound like E-mail hell? It could have been, but Free had a way to manage all the services--a program called EMail Connection (ConnectSoft Inc., Bellevue, Wash., 800-889-3499, $49.95), perhaps the best program of its type. Free has configured the program to check all her services (MCI, Compuserve, and a local ISP) regularly. Then, when she logs onto EMail Connection, she can look at a list of messages from all the services at once and open them from the same window. Free uses the Default Destination setting--a function that lets her specify which of her E-mail addresses she wants each recipient to use to reply. "With all the attachments going back and forth," Free says, "I want to be sure people send them to the right service."
Contract Solutions Inc., a $39-million placement firm with headquarters in Salem, N.H., had the opposite problem. It needed one service that its 125 employees could access from all over the country, no matter what computer they had in front of them. So the company got Email America (Inergy Online Inc., Providence, R.I., 888-463-7491, $59.95), which is accessible from any PC or Macintosh that has a Web browser. Each recruiter has an individual account, but employees don't need to have E-mail software loaded on the computer they're using. All they have to do is go to Inergy's Web site and use the software that resides on the Web server.
Jeff Keith, director of marketing and public relations for the company, keeps track of all the accounts by logging into Inergy's server. He plans to give an account to each of the company's many contract workers this year. That way, they'll be able to use the new Web-based service to communicate with Contract Solutions but still keep their own E-mail providers for their other work. Staying in touch with these occasional workers will be much easier. "I can't tell you how often my contract workers change their E-mail addresses," Keith says.
The fact that Keith could choose a domain name was also a deciding factor for him in purchasing the service. "I didn't want to confuse all our clients," Keith says. Using the parent company's name (The ConSol Group) makes E-mail addresses easier to remember--and it gives any small company the cachet of looking like a company that has its own server for E-mail.
If your old E-mail package is becoming more of a burden than a boost to your business, call up a few companies and ask them to demonstrate some new ones for you. E-mail isn't just snail mail on steroids anymore.
So you're ready to test drive an E-mail package with a little more oomph. Here are three that are worth a try.
Calypso E-mail 2.0, $79.95 Micro Computer Systems, Irving, TX 800-886-4923 E-mail: email@example.com; For Windows. Manages multiple E-mail accounts.
Claris Em@ailer 2.0, $49 Claris Corp., Santa Clara, CA 800-544-8554 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; For Macs only; Windows version due out mid-1997. Manages multiple E-mail accounts.
Pegasus Mail, free David Harris (no company affiliation), Dunedin, New Zealand No phone E-mail: email@example.com; For Windows, Macs, and DOS. Manages multiple E-mail accounts and has a powerful sorting capability.
Sarah Schafer is a reporter at Inc. Technology .