Establish pools of users to handle your generic email traffic

Do your customers complain that they sent an email message to an address at your company's Web site and had to wait for days or weeks before receiving an answer? Do your customers complain that email sent to your company through a common address, such as, never gets answered? If you answered yes to either question, Internet Message Center (IMC), from Mustang Software, is the product you need.

IMC is an intelligent email management solution. The product processes Internet email addressed to common mailboxes and places the email into its tracking system. The software lets you generate an immediate acknowledgment to senders, letting them know you received their email. IMC assigns each message a tracking number that lets you keep track of the message for quality control purposes.

Rather than using complicated mail aliases or translation tables to distribute email, IMC distributes messages into pools. A group of agents monitors each pool. Agents are users who are active in the IMC system at any given time. When a message reaches a pool, IMC forwards the message to the next available agent in that pool. This method ensures that a new message reaches a live individual as soon as possible. IMC integrates with all major electronic mail systems (such as Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes) so users don't have to use a separate email system to benefit from the software.

You can use pool priorities and thresholds to tailor how your IMC system performs. A pool priority and its time threshold determine which message to send first to an agent who is ready for the next inquiry. Thresholds define how long messages can remain in pools before IMC will notify managers of a delay in the software's operation.

IMC includes numerous reports to help you monitor your email environment. You can report on message, pool, and agent activities over a variety of time periods. You have 10 time periods (such as the current day's activity and year-to-date activity) from which to choose. In addition, you can generate reports by special selectors, such as a customer's email address. This function lets you pinpoint potential trouble spots (for instance, if a customer complains his or her mail was never answered).

Installing and using IMC is not a task for a neophyte systems administrator. I installed the software on my Micronics-based home-built dual-Pentium II processor system. After running the product's setup program, I had to answer a series of questions regarding how I wanted the software to install. My installation did not go smoothly. Despite properly answering the questions about my database's configuration, I could not get the database setup to install correctly. I had to repeat the installation and manually run the database setup scripts to create and populate the IMC database. After I completed these steps, I was able to reboot my server and get IMC up and running.

After installing the software, you must run the IMC Setup Program, as Screen 1 shows. The setup program lets you establish your pools and populate the database with a list of agents assigned to each pool. You also need to set up the mail accounts you want the software to process. Once you set these values, the software will function properly.

The software's theory of operation is quite simple: It logs on to your existing Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and Post Office Protocol (POP) 3 server and retrieves messages addressed to the mail accounts you want IMC to process. The software uses scripts to analyze the messages, route them, and mail an automated reply if necessary. The product includes a script wizard to help you develop scripts. This wizard lets you analyze messages using simple keywords and Boolean matches. The programming savvy can even write scripts.

For a large company with the type of business environment that can benefit from IMC, the software's cost is reasonable. IMC requires SQL Server to manage its databases, so you need to factor in this additional cost when debating a purchase.

Internet Message Center
Contact: Mustang Software * 805-873-2500
Price: $10,000 (includes setup for two agents), $250 each additional agent setup
System Requirements: Windows NT 4.0 (Server or Workstation) with Service Pack 3 (SP3), Windows NT 3.51 (Server or Workstation) with SP5, or Windows 95, SQL Server 6.5 with SP3, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)/Post Office Protocol (POP) server, 32MB RAM, full-time Internet connection