Learning from the Congressional E-Mail Bottleneck


In the U.S., people are so upset with their congressional leaders with regard to the economic bailout measure that they are overwhelming the e-mail system contacting their representatives. As a result, many are getting a message similar to what they would get if they overwhelmed a phone system: "Try back later." This creates a bigger problem for Congress; voters who are already upset with their congressional leaders are given the impression that those leaders don't have the time for them during a crucial period, and mail that may be critical on other subjects isn't getting through. Unfortunately, even when the mail does get through, it is coming in such massive numbers that there may be no real way to analyze it in time to respond effectively.


In addition, it is likely that a relatively few panicked constituents are generating most of the traffic and that spam is significantly exacerbating this problem. There are tools that can help with all of this.


Anti-Spam Tools Applied to the Problem


SonicWall has one of the leading tools used to address traffic management issued. While it is primarily designed to address directory harvest and denial of service attacks, this same tool could be applied to the problem that Congress is experiencing by removing not only the spam but blocking only the individuals who feel the need to e-mail several times a day and thus overload the system.


SonicWall works at both the e-mail and the connection level to do pattern analysis so that it can deal with massive volumes and keep an e-mail system from being buried by a wave.


A similar product called Praetor G2, while more closely aligned with anti-spam activities, promotes a rule wizard feature that could be used to aggregate waves of messages into buckets automatically and help set up the result for analysis.


The Appeal of Hosted


BoldMail was developed to address sales-oriented problems and appears designed primarily for marketing campaigns that could create high loading levels on e-mail systems. This, coupled with a lot of volunteers, could be very useful. Assuming you had the manpower, it could take the remaining inbound e-mail, route it to a volunteer for response, and provide metrics as to how quickly and effectively the responses were handled.


BoldMail is a hosted solution, which means it could be used as a stop gap measure so that extra resources would be available during a crisis, but those extra costs wouldn't be incurred during times when traffic was at more normal levels. This could be particularly useful during a proxy fight, when new products are rolled out to mass markets for both sales and service support, and any time traffic loading exceeded system capabilities.


Analyze What You Have


Tools like HP's RISS (one of the most powerful), Clearwell Email Intelligence (one of the most innovative), and EMC's tools (richest tool set) can then be used for e-mail analysis. Part of the problem isn't just getting back to the constituent, it is rapidly rolling up what these voters want and voting on the bailout program in a timely fashion. These tools are designed to analyze large mail repositories for regulatory compliance, but they can be applied to this problem as well to determine trends and rapidly form opinions based on what is coming in real time.


These tools do appear to require a substantial amount of expertise but that, in my experience, is true of any good analysis tool. The person using it needs to know how to do so properly or the results won't be reliable.


Wrapping Up


Each of the tools I've identified has peers; in some cases, I've listed them, but the time to have a plan in place to deal with a problem like the one the U.S. Congress is dealing with is before that problem occurs. The fact that congressional IT managers have to block critical e-mail and put the politicians' jobs and effectiveness at risk suggests this planning wasn't done and lowers the overall impression of congressional effectiveness. With approval ratings already at an all-time low, this doesn't bode well for reelections.


So too in business, if stockholders or customers can't get through to the company, they are likely to make decisions that will result in layoffs or even company failures. I recall that a similar problem during the Windows 95 launch caused sales for that product to crater. This was one of the big turning points in Microsoft's history, when it went from a firm that folks stood in line for towards being one that created product concerns.


It might be wise to make sure you have a plan to deal with an e-mail wave, and it probably is a good idea to be able to analyze e-mail more effectively, if only to make sure people are being responsive to customer needs.