Modern offices rely on email and if systems fail then it’s usually pandemonium with employees sometimes even having to get up from their desks and speaking to colleagues.
It is hard to believe that just over 10 years ago most corporations worked happily, albeit a little slower, without email. Some companies are even moving back to that situation.
The boss of mobile phone giant Phones 4U introduced an internal email ban on employees just a couple of years ago. It was nothing to do with the fact that employees might be spending hours sending emails to friends. Instead, he claimed that staff were not communicating with each other in the office.
At the time of the ban, John Caudwell, the group’s chief executive officer, said: ‘I saw that email was insidiously invading Phones 4U so I banned it immediately.
‘Management and staff at HQ and in the stores were beginning to show signs of being constrained by email proliferation. Phones 4U staff have been told to get off the keyboards, get face-to-face or on to the phone to colleagues.
‘The quality and efficiency of communication have been increased tremendously in one fell swoop. Things are getting done and people aren’t tied to their PCs.’
BANNING the use of email is a fairly drastic measure to take but a study from Nottingham University has shown that employees can spend up to an hour a day clearing out spam emails alone.
Combine this with emails from friends and subscribed websites and it leaves little time for genuine work- associated mail.
Security is also an issue with email. There have been well documented cases of emails which were specifically intended for a single recipient being passed around the globe within a matter of hours.
A study by market research group Osterman Research completed earlier this year showed that at least 20% of email users in a typical organisation would be frequent users of a secure messaging system if it was available to them.
Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, said: ‘Secure messaging is becoming more critical, driven by regulations, as well as a need to protect critical communications of various types.
‘Users need a way to send encrypted email easily, with minimal disruption to their normal use of email, and they need to be confident that the encrypted emails arrive securely at their intended destination.’
Wireless technology could become the norm in a few years, again adding to the problem of security. This includes laptops and computers which can be operated without wires or plugs.
Andy Leech, sales and marketing director at cfc solutions, said: ‘With wireless technology other people are able to pick up the network within a 400-metre radius. This is just becoming mainstream but it will make it easier to hack into a system and intercept emails.
‘Viruses are another problem and fleets need to ensure that their virus scanning software is up to date. It should be updated on a daily basis.’
SECURITY is an issue for internet users and although most company directors will turn a blind eye to a spot of internet surfing at lunchtime or after work, most would not be as tolerant during company time.
The other problem with indulging in a spot of internet browsing is that computers can become overloaded with unwanted advertisements or spyware.
This is software which is downloaded by internet users without their knowledge, which then tracks their use of the web.
Cfc solutions says that spyware is becoming a bigger problem for fleets than traditional viruses.
The group analysed problems recorded and resolved by its helpdesk during the past 12 months.
In 2004, the IT industry as a whole reported that spyware caused more call-outs to computer technicians than viruses.
Leech said: ‘About one in three PCs is infected with some form of spyware. Usually, the software itself is not malicious and is just designed to report information for sales and marketing purposes to a third party.
‘However, it does slow the PC down, causing screen ‘freezes’ and interrupts the normal running of software.
‘Spyware was previously only usually found if you visited some of the less mainstream corners of the internet, so it didn’t affect fleets to any great degree.
‘Now spyware seems to be just about everywhere and it is becoming a major problem for a lot of our customers.’
Spyware usually downloads in the background while a PC user is logged on to an internet site.
It runs continuously and it monitors internet use to target advertising.
For example, if visiting a website with the word ‘car’ in its address, the spyware would pop up a window advertising a particular car sales website.
Leech said: ‘Spyware causes systems to run in an unstable fashion and, because they are not apparently and obviously malicious like viruses, fleet users often do not notice that they are there but simply become aware that there is something not quite right about their PC.
‘We have come across cases this year where spyware has slowed fleet IT systems almost to a standstill.’
During 2005, cfc solutions believes the problem will worsen. It recommends fleets buy anti-spyware software which monitors and removes spyware on each PC.
Leech said: ‘Fleets need to get into the habit of monitoring their systems for spyware in exactly the same way that many do already for viruses.
‘If you are vigilant, spyware can be defeated more easily because the object of the programmer is not malicious, as is the case with viruses.
‘However, it is an issue that fleets and their IT departments need to be taking more seriously.’
Blue Coat, a company that provides filtering systems for companies, has surveyed hundreds of IT professionals who are using, or have used, desktop software products to clean desktop computers from systems such as spyware.
The study was completed to learn more about the effectiveness of desktop software in combating spyware, as well as collecting input regarding the current state of spyware.
The survey showed that the spyware problem was getting worse, with 84% of IT professionals believing that the spyware problem is the same or worse than it was three months ago. Only 16% claimed the problem was getting better.
Steve Mullaney, vice- president of marketing at Blue Coat, said: ‘Spyware will soon be a bigger threat than viruses because it is profit-motivated, backed by venture capital, and it is easily created.
‘While desktop software is the only answer for con-sumers, businesses are likely to see their costs spiral unless they implement a ‘defence-in-depth’ strategy that includes a gateway anti-spyware solution.
‘Only a proxy-based solution can prevent spyware while actually improving overall web performance.’
Latest figures from the Interactive Advertising Bureau have shown that online advertising now accounts for almost 4% of the total advertisement market, compared with 2.6% in 2003.