May 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

Getting e-mail to retail`s deskless workers

70% of retail workers are without corporate e-mail access. Sendmail, Hewlett-Packard and Intel want to change that by providing universal e-mail access through a new service called Workforce Mail.

When a retailer sends a corporatewide e-mail notice, do all employees get the message? In fact, most of them probably don’t, says Greg Olson, chairman of Sendmail Inc. “More than half of retail workers don’t have access to corporate e-mail,” says Olson, whose company provides e-mail systems for 29 Internet service providers. A survey conducted in February for Sendmail by King Research showed 70% of retail workers are without corporate e-mail access.

Sendmail and partners Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp. want to change that by providing universal e-mail access through a new service called Workforce Mail, which brings the broad accessibility of ISP-based e-mail into a controlled corporate environment. “The key is to make it ubiquitous,” Olson says. “I want to put workers in local stores in the loop with headquarters.”

Through the Workforce Mail program, Olson says, retailers can extend e-mail access to warehouse workers, cashiers, salespeople and others who don’t work at a desktop computer or use a laptop for e-mail access. Built on a Linux platform running on HP servers, Workforce Mail can be deployed through any terminal that can send and receive e-mail, including kiosks and handheld devices. Wireless capability comes from Intel’s Centrino wireless platform.

The Workforce Mail system, Olson says, allows retailers to control employees’ use of e-mail outside of a more expensive e-mail management system like Microsoft Exchange.

Olson says the system is already being used by two retail chains, including one with 60,000 users, though he would not name the retailers. The cost for the system ranges from $1 to $2 per month per user, including software, network hardware, maintenance and technical support. Costs related to end-user devices, such as PDAs and kiosks, are separate, Olson says.

Most modern POS terminals should integrate with Workforce Mail without much modification, Olson says, although older POS terminals could require extra integration costs.

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