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April 19, 2004 - Anti-spam Protection Pays For Itself

Companies that put anti-spam defenses in place can cut their spam-associated costs by about 19 percent, according to a study released Monday by research firm IDC.

In the report with the heady title of "The True Cost of SPAM and Value of Anti-SPAM Solutions," IDC vice president of research Mark Levitt said that the numbers clearly show deploying anti-spam solutions makes economic sense.

"Investing in anti-spam solutions yields a positive return on investment (ROI) and rapid payback," said Levitt.

Unlike other spam cost calculations -- which typically multiply the average number of spam messages by the time it takes to deal with each -- IDC's numbers came from surveys of 1,000 mid to upper-level IT managers in North American companies. They were asked to estimate how much time their IT staffs and end users waste dealing with spam.

Organizations with 5,000 e-mail users but sans a spam defense, said Levitt's study, waste 10 minutes per end user per day on spam, and 43 minutes per day per IT staff member. The ensuing drain claims nearly $4.2 million in lost productivity per year.

Set up an anti-spam solution, however, and the numbers change dramatically, said Levitt. On average, a same-sized firm with spam protection loses just 5 minutes per day per end user, and only 19 minutes per day per IT staffer. The cost of spam then shrinks by $796,000.

"Even companies that do have anti-spam in place still spend a fair amount of time dealing with it," admitted Levitt. "Costs aren't dropping to zero, but anti-spam solutions certainly reduce them."

IDC estimates that spam accounted for 32 percent of all e-mail sent in North America on any given day in 2003, a doubling from 2001.

While the 32 percent may sound low, what with other analysts and spam professionals touting rates as high as 80 percent for consumers and 70 percent for corporations, IDC's figures account for all mail, in-house company messaging included, and not just that received from the spam-plagued Internet. That, argued Levitt, is a more accurate estimate of how much spam the typical business user deals with each day.

"The amount of spam an address receives varies wildly," said Levitt, "and depends on how exposed that address is. Addresses posted public get a lot of spam, but users whose addresses are primarily internal [to the company] will see lower amounts."

To get a solid ROI on anti-spam, Levitt recommended that enterprises look for a solution that includes multiple layers of defense, minimizes the time it takes to deal with spam, keeps up with the rapid changes in anti-spam technology.

"You want something that has as little human to human interaction as possible," said Levitt, "and offers efficient tools -- such as using the Web browser or Outlook to handle spam -- so there's a very quick way to review spam, and suspected spam."

Time, in other words, is of the essence.

To stay ahead of the rising tide of spam, anti-spam can't just stand still, technologically, but must become increasing efficient. "As spam volumes continue to rise, anti-spam needs to get more effective. While blocking 95 percent of 100 messages may be effective, blocking 95 percent of 1,000 isn't."

And spam is likely to get worse before it gets better. In IDC's survey, three-quarters of the IT executives felt the spam problem will worsen in the next two years, and have little confidence in legislation putting a crimp on the crap that hits in-boxes.

One way enterprises can deal with the climb in spam is to constantly look for a better anti-spam solution. Don't be afraid to switch anti-spam solution providers, recommended Levitt.

"This isn't like e-mail or even CRM applications, which companies have had in place for three or even five years, making the chances of switching remote," he said. A majority of enterprises with anti-spam in place have had it less than a year, and 80 percent have had it less than two years. "With spam, there's always a new technology coming down the pike."

Levitt also urged companies not to get too optimistic about spam. Fighting spam is a cost of doing business, and so the key is to reduce the cost, not eliminate it.

"Spam is never going to go away, but can be managed. Think of it like anti-virus defenses. There's still a lot of money spent on anti-virus, it's still a cost center. The same thing will happen to spam."


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