keys to keeping spam in the dark

Karen Blackmore, PNM Resources Inc.

As head of IT for a major southwestern utility company that provides natural gas and electricity for more than 1.3 million New Mexicans, top of mind for me is ensuring that our information technology keeps our organization productive, efficient and responsive. When it comes to email, three things that can prevent any of that from being true are spam, virus and fraud.

The ever-morphing landscape of email threats represents a daily mission-critical usability risk. Unwanted email, its volume, and its content, put our IT professional values at risk: cost of ownership, ROI, security, control and end user productivity and satisfaction.

Along with email’s potential threats comes its practical value. Email is the communication lifeline for the 2,600-plus of us at PNM. In 2003, we were driven by a major need to stop the spam that flowed into the company at a rate of over 21,000 messages a day-about 70 percent of all email received.

the right spam solution

The search for a messaging security solution starts first with a priority list of what’s important to us in any technology we consider deploying: agility, simplicity and savings. For a messaging security solution specifically, these priorities become the following requirements.

“- out-of-the-box enterprise readiness: The volume and urgency of the spam problem requires a solution that works as soon as it goes live.

“- minimal IT management: I need the IT team focused on the management of the entire infrastructure – not trapped in front of a monitor seeking false positives.

“- immediate bottom-line impact: In the margin-conscious world of utilities, operational improvements and financial savings have to be immediately and tangibly evident.

Knowing that hundreds of solutions are available to stop unwanted email, we analyze potential solutions based on our critical success factors: effectiveness, accuracy, ease of management. PNM sought a solution that stops unwanted email, automatically differentiated good email from bad email and reduced the burden of dealing with spam. While purchase price is always an important consideration, price alone did not drive our decision-making process. If a solution does not meet the needs of an organization the purchase price is irrelevant.

“- sacrificing quality for cost: Some low-cost content filter solutions still allow up to 80 percent of all unwanted email to pass through. It makes no sense to pinch pennies but still not stop the spam.
“- compromising precision due to lack of guidance: Ample technical guidance is key to precision. PNM evaluated tuning through user feedback and determined this approach could have been accompanied by disastrous results-such as the blocking of legitimate email and no time savings for our end users.
“- allowing unforeseen cost of ownership to affect IT productivity: Sometimes it’s the “soft” overhead of a low-cost solution that surprises you. One alternate solution would have required three PNM IT people a day spending two hours each sifting through the captured spam to look for false positives.

We also learned to watch a solution’s effect on email flow; some solutions would have slowed delivery to a trickle. Stopping the flow of email for filtering purposes is simply unacceptable.

Additionally, I cannot overstate the importance of empowering each individual user with junk box functionality and precise, user-based whitelists and blacklists. One size does not fit all. Failing to recognize this simple fact in the uniquely individualized world of email often results in IT becoming less involved in messaging management and more involved with every single message.

PNM employees can remove messages from quarantine, reschedule junkbox summaries and update whitelists without IT intervention, which ultimately results in a company-wide savings of time and cost. IT retains central control of the solution, so our entire organization remains protected from definite threats such as explicit sexual content, virus attacks and email fraud. Our end users retain control of their inboxes, so our IT organization is freed from managing email security issues one inbox at a time.

Part of making an email system efficient, fast and safe requires specific attention to selecting the best messaging security option. And when you evaluate messaging security, it’s not about purchasing the best product your company can afford. It’s about deploying the solution your company can’t afford to be without.

Blackmore is chief of the enterprise IT organization at PNM. PNM is the principal subsidiary of PNM Resources, an energy holding company based in Albuquerque, NM. Blackmore has 20 years of information technology experience.

PNM chose MailFrontier to tackle their spam/email issues. More information on MailFrontier can be found at

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