Companies tap RSS to tame info overload

RSS stories can be more precise and effective than email

As employees struggle to read an increasing amount of work-related material, some companies have turned to RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology to improve productivity.

With RSS servers and readers designed for workplaces, IT departments set up internal information feeds that employees can subscribe to, a delivery mechanism that, for some information, can be more precise and effective than e-mail.

"The first problem we see addressed regularly with enterprise RSS systems is e-mail overload. Most knowledge workers these days are just about completely fed up with e-mail," said Oliver Young, a Forrester Research analyst.

An enterprise RSS system is ideal for delivering the type of information employees need to know about, but not necessarily act on right away, Young said.

RSS keeps need-to-know information out of the e-mail channel, which for most people is "a need-to-do task list sort of thing," Young said.

Often those need-to-know e-mails -- such as a corporate benefits update or a newsletter -- end up getting deleted or ignored, even though employees recognize that they may contain potentially important information.

For example, a company could post human resource messages and documents on the intranet's human resources section and send RSS alerts with the appropriate links, instead of blasting out the information via mass e-mails.

RSS feeds became popular initially as a convenient way for Web publishers to alert their readers about new articles and changed information on their sites.

Using consumer grade RSS readers like those from Google and Bloglines, people quickly check what's new on their favorite sites without having to visit them.

Inevitably, people started using RSS readers at work, creating potential problems for IT departments in areas like security and user support.

Seeing an opportunity, vendors like Attensa, NewsGator and KnowNow developed on-premise, behind-the-firewall RSS software for workplaces.

Unlike consumer RSS readers, these vendors' systems can be integrated with existing corporate directories and security frameworks, giving IT departments control over employees' RSS use.

IBM's Lotus and Microsoft have started to add RSS capabilities to their respective collaboration and communication platforms, but their feature sets don't match the functionality of enterprise RSS vendors' systems, Young said.

The Union Bank of California hopes that enterprise RSS can help it tame an internal communications overload.

About 80 bank groups, from areas like public relations, marketing, sales, product management and operations, hit employees with a steady stream of mass e-mails, all-hands voice mails, printed literature and intranet additions.

"We discovered that about half of the messages being delivered via these methods weren't appropriate to the people [receiving them] so we definitely needed to do something," said James Penn, the bank's vice president of interactive marketing and communications.

For example, the bank realized that salespeople, deluged with often irrelevant information, often fall behind learning about the bank's latest offers and promotions, affecting their ability to pitch them at customers.

Union Bank is now in the pilot phase of an implementation of an enterprise RSS system from KnowNow which it expects to eventually roll out to its about 10,000 employees.

The bank is creating very specific RSS feeds and defining the target audience for each one, so that employees will receive fewer but more relevant messages.

While the project will initially focus on improving internal communications, Union Bank may later link up the RSS system with its CRM (customer relationship management) system, as well as allow employees to subscribe to external data feeds, Penn said.

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