Seeking Digital Alternatives to Snail Mail
Some of the benefits of e-mail and secure online delivery services include cost savings and convenience, according to Dana Gardner, research director at Boston's Aberdeen Group.
"Now is the time to reevaluate the benefits of securely delivered e-mail," Gardner says. "It is unfortunate that [the anthrax threat] needs to be a reason for people to reconsider or reevaluate e-mail; it is a good [idea] on its own without these unfortunate circumstances."
And using e-mail for customer communications can help forge a digital bond with customers that will prove beneficial in the long run, Gardner adds.
"The benefit goes beyond cost savings and convenience," Gardner explains. "The fact that [e-mail] is a two-way link and provides a directory entry that includes e-mail will benefit organizations in many ways down the line, particularly as Web services and context and collaboration become more prevalent."
The anthrax incidents, coupled with technology improvements in the past year and passage of the e-signature law, are expected to help speed the adoption of online delivery services in enterprises, according to Sue Barsamian, senior vice president of marketing at Critical Path, a San Francisco-based messaging infrastructure provider.
"This is going to be a very strong catalyst for hastening the migration to secure online delivery service. The migration is inevitable because it is more cost effective than the physical delivery alternative," Barsamian says.
Critical Path's recently released Registered Mail Server, which enables businesses to deliver and receive documents via a secure Internet connection, aims to address the issue of integrating secure-message delivery with existing messaging systems, says Michael Serbinis, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at Critical Path.
"The stumbling block of most secure messaging is that it has not been integrated with e-mail and directory technology [for providing] security credentials," Serbinis says. "Registered Mail Server is an integrated platform, so secure messaging is just another type of messaging now available."
Another vendor, Digital Signature Trust, offers a secure document delivery system allowing users to send any size electronic document and track the delivery and receipt, says Greg Worch, senior vice president of Salt Lake City-based Digital Signature Trust.
Dubbed CertainSend, the system operates as simply as e-mail but allows businesses to guarantee the delivery of large documents that could otherwise overwhelm an e-mail connection, Worch adds, noting that the system uses TrustID digital certificates to guarantee identity and security.
"We can make any delivery
The Stamford, Connecticut-based research firm says its clients have reported a 20 percent increase in electronic bill presentment enrollment since the outset of the anthrax scare. Gartner also predicts that the number of U.S. consumers viewing bills electronically will jump from 32 million at the end of 2001 to 64 million by year-end 2003.
Toronto-based messaging software vendor Metamail this month rolled out XML-based e-mail client software designed to enhance Web-based electronic billing systems. The Metamail technology works with messaging systems including Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, Netscape, Eudora, and Novell Groupwise to enable the secure online delivery of realistic-looking financial statements. To retrieve bills, users enter a password that allows them to view, pay, and print from within the messaging in-box, according to officials at Metamail.
With the dozens of online delivery systems nipping at its heels, the U.S. Postal service has been steadily ramping up online services during the past five years. The recent safety concerns may provide the impetus to develop a national electronic postal service, says Bill Robertson, senior vice president of Boulder, Colorado-based NETdelivery, which provides the technology behind Canada's electronic postal service.
The anthrax threat "is having an untold impact on businesses and governments across the United States because of the interruptions of the mail distribution system, not to mention the terrible human toll," Robertson says.
As a result, Robertson says, "businesses and governments will be looking at alternative methods that might reduce the risks and provide a more uninterrupted flow of communication."
With the two-year-old success of the Canadian ePost as a model, and messaging technology capable of supporting billions of transactions per year, "There is no reason why a large scale national electronic post implementation could not be installed in the United States," Robertson adds.