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Metering may curb frivolous e-mail

March 5, 1999
Web posted at: 9:41 a.m. EST (1441 GMT)

by Paul McNamara

Network World Fusion

(IDG) -- Looking for a way to discourage frivolous e-mail use within your company? Try docking workers' pay for any messages they send over a preset maximum. That will make those joke lists and animated greeting cards seem a whole lot less amusing.

Chargeback policies have been attempted before, but experts say most organizations want no part of such Draconian measures. However, a growing number of companies are turning to chargeback policies as a tool for planning future infrastructure needs and to ensure that departments pay their fair share for the network resources they're using.

According to a survey of 50 organizations by Ferris Research of San Francisco, about 40% have implemented some kind of chargeback mechanism. Of that group, 22% assess charges based on overall network services, while just 18% are charging for e-mail usage only.

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These numbers are certain to rise as e-mail networks continue to mushroom, the result of corporate mergers and acquisitions and e-mail itself becoming more ubiquitous, sophisticated and resource-intensive.

"Messaging is starting to cost more and more, and management is starting to rely on it more and more," says Bob Demond, president of RD Software Services, a reseller based in Bakersfield, Calif. "The natural thing is to start spreading those costs back to the people who are consuming the service."

As the messaging and Internet manager for the U.S. Department of Transportation, George Ramick oversees an e-mail hub with an X.500-based directory that connects seven different messaging systems used by 75,000 federal employees in 14 agencies. Ramick's operation is funded entirely by a chargeback system that imposes a flat fee on each agency, adjusted a bit based on the number of users.

"At one point we were going to charge based on kilobit usage, but our chief information officer intervened and said no," Ramick says. "We didn't want to provide an incentive for Department of Transportation agencies to step away from using our systems because they thought they could find a cheaper way."

However, Ramick wants to show agencies that they're getting their money's worth from his services. Toward that end, he's implementing reporting software from Tally Systems. Dubbed Veranda, the package also allows companies to implement chargeback policies based on usage parameters, such as the total number or volume of messages. Veranda costs $35,000 for a 10,000-user license.

"We're like any other business, so what I need to do is offer services at a reasonable rate and demonstrate that the services I've provided are real," Ramick says.

Naturally, Department of Transportation agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard aren't always cognizant of the value they're receiving from the e-mail hub. "People say they don't use the system that much, but they don't know how much they use it," Ramick says.

Along with Tally, several other vendors provide software for measuring e-mail usage or applying chargeback fees, including ViewPoint from Automated Business Solutions, AppManager Suite from NetIQ and 2MA from MessageWise.

Moreover, there are many different ways to assess chargeback costs, including systems based on a fixed rate per user, number of messages sent or received, storage space used, or some combination.

"Many folks are just charging for Internet e-mail traffic because that's where the cost of the bandwidth is the largest, and where they really have to watch traffic to make sure they have a large enough pipe," says Karen Kaliski, Tally's vice president of product marketing in Lebanon, N.H.

Rolling out a chargeback program can be tricky, and experts say top-level executive support is critical. "A lot of people are just opposed to the idea of being charged for something that they believe is fundamental infrastructure," says Jonathan Penn of Ferris Research.

The ongoing proliferation of junk e-mail - jokes, greeting cards and excessive personal correspondence - has been one of the primary forces driving interest in chargeback schemes. "Every manager I know is concerned about how much garbage is coming in that is not work-related," says RD Software Services' Demond.

Do not, however, expect e-mail chargeback to be a cure-all for this problem. "It's a little early to tell whether [chargeback] really influences user behavior," Penn says.

Paul McNamara is a senior editor for Network World Fusion.

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Tally Systems Corp.
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Report on Messaging Chargeback Policies

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