Published articles written by Castles staff-Castles Information Network

  C:castles logo           Education Quandry
By James E. Downey
President/CEO - Castles Information Network, Inc.
            Technology Committee Member

Published   June 29, 2006  
Vacaville Chamber of Commerce - July 2006 Comments

The Reporter Newspaper

"Education is too important to be left solely to the educators."
                                    Francis Keppel
"A, B, C, D..."       And now I’ve said my ABCs -- however, I can't find Alabama on a map.
I’ve always believed that people are a product of their environment. And that especially holds true for children at all age groups and grade levels. The younger a child, the greater the opportunity for influence. So what has this got to do with business? Everything.
Business schools teach about core competencies, sustainable competitive advantage, and renewable resources. We have domestic, international and multinational companies. Even if a company today isn't an international business, each one is touched by hourly changes around the globe.
Core competencies are not only built around a product or service, competency also depends on the labor force. It's in every business owner and manager's best interest to ensure a well-educated workforce for today and the future.
Americans in general and civic leaders especially are deeply concerned about the migration of jobs overseas. We hear about plant closings and contracting of jobs that have traditionally been done in-house in the news almost weekly. Immigration and citizenship are hot topics, along with the high school exit exam and the state of our schools. So what's the point? Keep reading.
The standard response from business managers when they're asked to get involved is, "I pay taxes, let the schools do what they're supposed to do." That's fine in a perfect world, but a perfect world isn't what we live in. However, we can make a difference.
We can't affect what’s happening in the classroom. Or can we?
We each have a vested interest in every child's education. Children entering first-grade will be the labor force in only 12 years. It seems as if only yesterday my daughter was in Kindergarten. Now she's a senior in college. Time really does fly by.
Each child needs the basics of reading writing and math. But the need goes beyond the basics and we've found that many high school graduates are not only bad at geography, some have no clue of what's happening in the world around them. So let's change that – starting now.
A solid and educated workforce is the key to our success. Advanced technologies can't be employed if the labor force can't use it. High-end quality control functions can't be mastered if the worker has difficulty comprehending.   The quote by Margaret Fuller says it best: "Today a reader, tomorrow a leader."
Reading is the key to success in the world of today. Readers are thinkers and thinkers are problem solvers. Children who read can be taught to do almost anything. Children who love to read are also interested in science, engineering, and business. It’s not about becoming an engineer or scientist. It's about competing in the workforce of tomorrow and being part of your
core competency.
So how do you get involved? Good question. Become active in your Chamber's education programs by volunteering or allowing employees to get involved. Talk to the library about their reading program. You spend lots of money on marketing so why not spend a half hour reading to children who will go home and tell mom and dad about the nice person from XYZ company who read to them.
A tremendous program exists in communities throughout the United States where newspapers are delivered to classrooms weekly and incorporated in lesson plans by caring and dedicated teachers. Studies show that children exposed to newspapers are more aware of current events and more eager to read. And children who read well do better in school.
Just look around for opportunities and you’ll be surprised at what you find. The Reporter's Newspaper in Education (NIE) program is one program we're involved in that's helping kids learn to read. It's a fantastic opportunity for any individual or business to contribute to the education of our children at less than it costs to go to the movies today. For $20 a month, you can sponsor a NIE classroom through the newspaper.
It's a small investment in the future and every business in the city should be involved. More information is available by calling Shauna Manina at The Reporter at 453-8177 or going online to   And to entice you to become a sponsor, The Reporter is offering a $25 gift certificate for Merchant & Main to anyone who becomes a sponsor by July 17th and pays the first $20.
We can't change the world or the education system overnight, but we can change it – one child at a time. This isn't about No Child Left Behind, it's about helping all children get out in front.

The author is President/CEO of Castles Information Network.
He holds an MBA and is an adjunct professor with Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

C:castles logo             Net Neutrality
By Jim Downey
      President/CEO - Castles Iinformation Network, Inc.

Published   May 28, 2006  
Letter to the Editor

The Reporter Newspaper

Net Neutrality is a hot topic these days and Vern Sandusky addressed the issue in a recent online column (5/14/2006 Last year a Canadian phone company and Internet Service provider (ISP) literally blocked Internet access to the striking union’s web site and other pro union web sites. Obviously law suits were filed and we saw one of the first blatant violations of free Internet traffic.
The issue of net neutrality affects us all. As president of an ISP I’m deeply concerned with both the short- and long-term affects of any changes in the way Internet traffic is controlled. Today all traffic, as far as we know, freely flows from A to B without restriction. But that will change if the bigger players have their way. And don’t be fooled by those that say we shouldn’t legislate a problem that doesn’t exist.
Personally I could care less if AT&T tells Uncle Sam whom I call and who calls me. But I do have a problem with them recording or eavesdropping on the conversations.
All independent ISPs are concerned about Net Neutrality and the continuing collaboration and consolidation of the major telco companies. The California Internet Service Provider Association (CISPA) along with others has actively battled this consolidation with little effect. Regulators state that competition will increase and the consumer will enjoy greater benefits with consolidation.
The government has successfully created an oligopoly and as some have said, a duopoly.   It was only a few years ago that they broke the telephone company up because they said it was a monopoly and not good for competition. So what’s changed?
This may not be about competition at all – it may be about control. Listen AT&T, we broke you up once, and we can do it again if you fail to do as we say. But maybe I’ve been watching too many 24 episodes on TV. Where’s Jack Bowers when we need him? Oh yea, he’s on a slow boat to China.
Net neutrality is actually tied-up with the privacy issue.   When the network owner is classified by the regulators as a "common carrier," one of the responsibilities/requirements that comes with that designation is "stay out of your customer's content."
I know an individual that worked for Pacific Telephone (when it was Pacific Telephone), and employees were repeatedly instructed to NEVER listen to customer's conversations, except for necessary approved maintenance or a court-approved subpoena for law enforcement.   It was against the law for common carriers to mess with a customer's content.
A part of the FCC's move against net neutrality was the BrandX Supreme Court decision in 2005. One aspect of that decision is that telco broadband services are no longer common carrier services.  
That means a customer's expectation to privacy is GONE.   The telco's networks are now their private playground. They can examine a customer's content (including yours and mine) without a court order -- for any reason.   They can provide the government (NSA, FBI, CIA, the White House) customer content without a court order.   They can examine the content to identify competitor-based services for competitive advantage and can examine content for messages that run counter to their own interests (what would Rupert Murdoch do with that?).
Net Neutrality is important to competition and to civil rights.

The author is President/CEO of Castles Information Network.
He holds an MBA and is an adjunct professor with Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

C:castles logo             Sustainable Competitive Advantage
By Jim Downey
      President/CEO - Castles Iinformation Network, Inc.
            Technology Committee Member

Published   December 29,2005    
Vacaville Chamber of Commerce - January 2006 Comments

The Reporter Newspaper

“He that won’t be counseled can’t be helped.”                        
                                    Benjamin Franklin                                                                                                                    

Just what is a sustainable competitive advantage? Is it doing something no one else does? If that’s the case then you have no competition and therefore, no worry. But, on the other hand, if just one other company provides the same product or service, you have competition.

Business schools teach that there are four phases to a business – entrepreneurial, growth, mature, and decline. The thought is that you begin bouncing all over the place as an entrepreneur discovering what works, what doesn’t, and what your potential customers really want.

Phase two takes place after you’ve discovered your niche and begin growing the business and then phase three finds you comfortably in the market and maintaining your position. And then there’s phase four – decline – the market has been saturated or possibly no longer needs the product or service.   And perhaps the business simply didn’t stay abreast with market changes.

Each phase of the business cycle has specific elements that need to be addressed.   Entrepreneurs often fly by the seat of their pants and that’s how they learn and grow. But as the business venture matures and enters the growth phase, what used to be fun and exciting, often becomes a management challenge. If you are to continue to grow, the business must be able to control all aspects of the venture. If it doesn’t it will often skip mature and move directly to decline.

Inc magazine had an article a few years back titled “Looking for an adult.” It talked about all the young people starting businesses and hitting the growth stage rather quickly and went from entrepreneur to manager without the opportunity for learning business management as they went.   Therefore, they went searching for experienced managers.

There’s something to be said for management maturity, experience, and advanced education. However, to function at a higher level and create that sustainable competitive advantage, business management must continually advance and embrace changes in methods, processes, and technology.

Oops, there’s that word again – technology.

Technology isn’t about computers! It’s about creating efficiencies within an organization and shifting old paradigms. We all use price and quality, as competitive weapons – then why not technology?

Often the integration of technology into a business requires an extreme makeover. And that comes at a cost – measured in both dollars and time. You may have to teach that old dog a few new tricks.   Integration is only the first step. Training is required if the business is to take full advantage of the technology. But in the end, you will create efficiencies and synergy within the business and will ask yourself how you managed without it.

Younger employees are accustomed to using computers and working collaboratively over the Internet. If your business isn’t employing these technologies, those potential employees will pass you by. You’re not only depriving your business of talent, you’re likely hampering growth at the same time.

To create that sustainable competitive advantage you must develop a technology integration plan, hire talent to execute the plan, and position yourself for continued growth that you’ll enjoy.  

If you’ve been busy making widgets and not keeping up with the latest technology, you’re not alone. It’s hard enough for those in technology to stay abreast with changes and you may be asking yourself if it’s worth the effort and/or how do I learn what I need to know?

Now is an excellent time to give a technology plan serious consideration. The Vacaville Chamber Technology Committee is hosting the January Mixer at Hampton Inn and Suites. Many of the Chamber technology companies will have tables at the event. Bring your questions and get the answers from the pros.

Mixers are an important part of your Chamber membership. Where else can you make direct and indirect contact with over 100 existing and potential clients for a mere $5. You should take time and mark your calendar now with all the upcoming Chamber events so you don’t loose out on valuable networking opportunities. Plan on attending the next mixer.

The author is President/CEO of Castles Information Network.
He holds an MBA and is an adjunct professor with Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

C:castles logo       Bridging the Gap
      By Jim Downey
President/CEO - Castles Iinformation Network, Inc.
      Technology Committee Member

Published   November 17,2005    
Vacaville Chamber of Commerce - December 2005 Comments

The Reporter Newspaper

“Education is a progressive discovery of our ignorance.”   Will Durant

How much do you know? Or perhaps the better question would be - How much do you don’t know?   That’s a question we should each ponder on occasion.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that by 2010, more than 50 million people (nearly one in three workers) will be engaged in managerial or professional occupations. And what a managerial professional doesn’t know has a direct correlation on both their individual success and the bottom line of your business.

I read somewhere that 62 percent of graduating seniors go immediately to college and almost a quarter of those drop out and fail to complete their degree requirements. Even those that complete their college degrees have a tremendous amount of theory but for the most part, not a whole lot of practical knowledge that typically comes from on-the-job training and experience.

When we were 25 we thought we knew everything there was to know. And as we gained experience and rebounded from our share of failures, we often learned how much we really didn’t know.   I fell on my face once while trying to manage something I knew almost nothing about. My supervisor said he’d pay me what I was worth but couldn’t because it would violate the minimum wage law. I think he was joking. But I learned the hard way to do my homework.

And every time a manager or supervisor engages in an area where they have little knowledge or experience, the business or organization faces the risk of failed projects, unmet deadlines, loss of business, diminished employee morale, etc.   Legal actions against companies are often the result of poor managerial judgment, bad planning, no policy, inability to recognize and correct a problem, or simply not knowing what he/she should have before acting.

So how do we get your supervisors and managers, with or without that college degree, the tools they need without investing thousands of dollars and lost productivity? The answer is simple - continuing education.

Doctors, attorneys, educators, engineers, and many other professionals complete continuing education courses on a regular basis. Why is that? They have an obligation to maintain and improve their professional knowledge and skill. Can you say you are up to date on all those skills required to perform your job in the best way possible? If not, why not?

A college professor once told our class that every business owner or manager must possess the “equivalent” to a Bachelors Degree in Business. His reasoning was simple and you can obtain that knowledge in a number of ways. When sitting down with a marketing professional, you must have a reasonable knowledge of the subject matter or how else will you know if what they are telling you is correct.   You must also understand what the accounting professional is doing and if you didn’t understand basic accounting, how would you know if your bookkeeper is honest? The bottom line is you must possess a minimum amount of knowledge in many subjects and you should also participate in some form of continuing educations. But how?

Continuing education for yourself, employees, supervisors, and managers is an investment in your business. You can easily calculate ROI on a piece of equipment or expected return based upon a specific marketing plan. The intangible part of the equation is always human resources.   What is the contribution factor you figure for an employee?   Are their skills current? Are we up on current employment law? Are we using old technology? Can we be more efficient? And the list goes on.

When an employee is given an opportunity to learn something new or participate in an event that gives them new tools, it changes their whole perspective relative to their job.   Many times I’ve attended events and brought only one thing really new (or so I thought) away from it and been surprised to later find that I was doing things a little differently because of what I had learned. And every time it changed things for the better.

As a business owner or manager, you should periodically survey the skills of everyone in the organization and find ways to enhance those skills and help employees find new ones. The first stop on your shopping list should be your Chamber of Commerce. Take advantage of all the programs. If you fail to do so, your business and your employees will not keep pace with business trends and advances in processes and technology.

The Chamber Technology Committee cancelled the October Technology Symposium due to a lack of participants. The Chamber University is off to a sluggish start because a limited number of people are signing up for the courses. Other educational events have been cancelled because of nonparticipation.

Is it a case of managers not knowing about the events, don’t think the subjects are relative, don’t have the time to attend, think they know everything there is to know, or simply brushing it off as just another waste of time and money?

Chamber committees spend a great deal of time identifying issues faced by the business members and in turn develop educational programs and resources to help those members build on their existing management skills or provide training for that new supervisor.   One role of the Chamber is to provide education to its client-members.

Continuing education takes many forms and perhaps the best method of gaining and renewing those skills are educational courses of short duration, close to home, reasonably priced, and relative to your business. The Chamber University fits that bill, as do all the other educational programs presented by the Chamber. Call them today for a list of educational programs or visit their web site at

The author is President/CEO of Castles Information Network.
He holds an MBA and is an adjunct professor with Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

C:castles logo             Financial Aspects of Technology
By James E. Downey
President/CEO - Castles Iinformation Network, Inc.
            Technology Committee Member

Published   October 27,2005    
Vacaville Chamber of Commerce - November 2005 Comments
The Reporter Newspaper

People laugh when I refer to the technical world as the world of next – the next update, hardware upgrade, etc. Working in the world of technology has tremendous advantages, but it also requires an upside down thought process.

Traditional business models dictate that you invest in equipment and processes then execute a strategy to employ those items for years. Return on investment is measured over time and depreciation is expensed in years. Maintenance and productivity are easily measured. Yet, in the world of technology, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to wrap your accountant’s mind around the numbers.

Besides the accountant loosing sleep, management must also grapple with unfamiliar areas in an attempt to justify expenses, and often payroll, when it comes to technology. What they’re usually trying to define is the total cost of ownership, or TCO.   The price tag is right there on the package and you know your technical person can install it and you’re off and running. But how do you apportion the technician’s time? Or maybe the question should be – do I need to do this in-house?

TCO is something that every business should be concerned with.   We often forget about training, support, staff, upgrades, downtime, etc. John Udell wrote a piece recently in Infoworld about TCO. He said “Try negotiating traffic on the hills of San Francisco and you’ll discover pretty quickly that in my town, the old adage ‘Your mileage may vary’ has never been truer.” And that holds true for technology. We often don’t think of TCO until after the fact, or not at all.

Are you a manager or employee that was tapped on the shoulder one day and found yourself the resident technician? You get an occasional question and promptly provide a reply. But what happens when the system simply doesn’t work? How long has it been since it was upgraded? How long since you last worked on it? How long will it take you to get up to speed in an attempt to isolate the problem and then find out how to fix it? After all, that isn’t your normal job. And what happens to your normal work while you tinkering with it? How long will the rest of the business be down while you’re reading? How long will it take? And how much is this really going to cost?

Questions like this have to be answered if you’re going to evaluate the Total Cost of Ownership. Exactly what is your business model and core competency? If you’re in business to create widgets, do you really want to have the headache about worrying about technology? Reliable and economic solutions are available to you.

But the TCO of technology goes far beyond the costs already mentioned. What about productivity? How much time are employees spending on downtime caused by software/hardware issues, viruses, spyware, spam, personal items, etc.?   Some studies have shown that an employee with broadband Internet access at work will typically spend between 8 and 10 hours per week on personal email and web surfing.   That’s one full workday! You do the math – what is that cost over a year? Along with this are the interruptions caused by spam. In 2003 Ferris Research said the average cost of spam, when the employee is spending 3 seconds per spam email (based on 60 messages per day), was expected to cost American Corporations about $168 per employee. So how much is it in 2005?
I can recall the days when bookkeeping was done on ledger sheets. Then along came software packages where you didn’t have to know the difference between a debit and credit. The employee worked all day long to pay the bills and collect on invoices. It used to take days to prepare financial statements. Now it’s a click of the mouse. Can you compare how much time the accounts payable person spends now relative to how much they did a few years ago? Has your business increased that much? If not, and the same amount of time is spent doing the books – then where is all that time going?

This subject is near and dear to all managers. Do you struggle with these issues? Are you looking for answers and resources that allow you to concentrate on running your business and not having to deal with all this? The Chamber Technology Committee is here to help. You can submit your questions to and we’ll publish the questions and answers in the monthly Comments. You’re also encouraged to attend the Technology Symposium in October where this and other topics will be discussed.

If you’re the manager or owner of a company and don’t want to attend, then you should tap someone on the shoulder and send them. It will be a great event and you will find the answers to your questions, learn about local resources, and walk away with a binder full of useful information. We’ll see you there.

C:castles logo           What keeps you awake at night?
            By James E. Downey
President/CEO - Castles Iinformation Network, Inc.
            Technology Committee Member

Published June 30, 2005
Vacaville Chamber of Commerce -   July 2005 Comments
The Reporter Newspaper

You’ve probably heard that question asked a number of times in various marketing campaigns wanting you to buy their latest and greatest cure for whatever.   But it does hit a cord when you think about it.   So what keeps you awake at night if you’re a small to medium business owner or manager besides accounts payable and receivables?

If your life is in the small business enterprise (SBE) arena, then one thing that probably keeps you awake at night is technology – purchasing and employing expensive systems, software, and hardware - correctly in your business.   You may be the owner or manager - or perhaps simply the one they tapped on the shoulder one day and said “You’re It.” And if that is you, then you’re not alone.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Few people have any next, they live from hand to mouth without a plan, and are always at the end of their line.”   I wouldn’t say that is true for most people, but in reality, how many business people have an up-to-date business plan? When’s the last time you updated yours? Or do you even have one? Maybe it’s time you revisited your business plan and brought it up to date. But this isn’t about business plans – it’s about technology.

Most SBE managers cringe at the thought of new technology.   The price tags are high, installation normally isn’t without problems, and training/maintenance are a burden. But let’s look back at Emerson’s quote for a moment. What does next mean?

An article in a recent trade publication stated that those of us that work in telecom and high-end technology live in a perpetual state of next - the next application, next system, next release, next generation or whatever comes after the thing we just paid a lot of money for yesterday. Keeping up with next is an awesome task for an SBE person. You have a hard enough time running your business and maintaining that sustainable competitive advantage that you developed. Now you have to constantly worry about next.

If you’re one of those SBE people confronted with next periodically, there are solutions. Seek out those individuals and companies that see next coming, understand it, and are able to show you how to use it. The Vacaville Chamber Technology Committee (TC) meets regularly to talk about next and how it will affect the SBE market.   Committee members rely on each other for advice and often assistance.  

The TC has embarked on a journey to assist Chamber members by helping them understand next.   Every February the Chamber mixer is hosted by the TC with many members present to answer questions and display their services.   The TC normally has a table set up at each mixer. Bring your questions and we’ll do the best we can to find an answer for you.   In the meantime, you can contact the chamber for assistance and they’ll forward your questions to the TC.    
New faces are always welcome at the monthly meetings.   Check the Chamber calendar for dates and times.

A Technology Symposium for the non-technology manager is planned for October   27th at the Hampton Inn and Suites with sessions on topics of concern to SBE client members. Four sessions are planned - Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Network/Internet Security, Disaster Recover/Backup Systems, and Technology Services/ In-house vs. Contracting.  

The event begins with a continental breakfast followed by a well-known keynote speaker.   A buffet lunch will be served between sessions. At the conclusion of the scheduled sessions, a panel discussion will take place and attendees will have an opportunity to explore expanded answers to their specific situations.

The symposium will conclude in the afternoon with wine tasting and networking.
Symposium sessions will be facilitated by professionals in the field. This will be your opportunity to talk about those next things that are keeping you awake at night. How does it work? How much does it cost? Is there an alternative?   Or maybe you just purchased a next and bit off more than you can chew.

The symposium is an excellent opportunity for both senior and middle level managers to get specific information in a short period of time and at a modest cost. Seating is limited and early reservations are encouraged. For additional information contact the Vacaville Chamber or Commerce or visit the Symposium at

C:castles logo             Is Your Business Perimeter Secure?
            By James E. Downey
            President - Castles Information Network, Inc.
            Adjunct Professor - Golden Gate University, San Francisco

Published   August 26, 2004  
Vacaville Chamber of Commerce - September 2004 Comments
The Reporter Newspaper

If you're a business manager, owner, or stockholder, you should be concerned about this subject. We're not talking about your building and grounds. Your concern should be focused on an increased liability relative to hostile work environments.

Employees are considered "captured employees" because. in a sense, they are captives of the work environment and do not have the ability to readily escape. This in essence, creates an employee/employer relationship whereby the employer assumes responsibility for the well being of each employee and is a relationship that must be taken seriously.

Should an employee be subjected to personally offensive language, materials, jokes, etc., then the employer must take immediate steps to eliminate the offensive items or face liability caused by a hostile work environment.   One of the greatest threats and employer faces today is a hostile work environment created by e-mail.

You're saying to yourself "Very Interesting, but so what?"   Employers can be found liable if they fail to protect employees from offensive electronic images or fail to prevent inappropriate use of e-mail.   But what does that mean?

Employees must wade through a barrage of email on a daily basis - sorting out the true business email that must be dealt with - and discarding the unsolicited commercial email, or spam.   A great percentage of the spam hitting the employee's mailbox contains adult content and often outright pornography. Recent court rulings leave a company open to litigation if it fails to provide reasonable protection for employees.

International Microcomputer Software paid a former employee $ 105,000 in an out-of-court settlement after she received sexually harassing messages on the firm's electronic bulletin board.   Continental Airlines paid $ 875,000 in a similar case. Chevron Corporation paid $ 2.2 million to 4 female employees that received e-mails that were sexually harassing. Morgan Stanley & Company settled a case where employees alleged racial discrimination based on e-mails.

Disregarding the risks posed by such e-mail may also result in potential officer and director liability. You do have an option. As the old saying goes, "The best defense if a good offense."   You can gain substantial protection by a proactive program to reduce the threat of inappropriate email.

But the problem extends well beyond the employer liability issue. Employee moral and productivity are also affected. Up to 25% of corporate email server resources are spent processing attacks intended to harvest fresh, valid, corporate e-mail addresses. These attacks are using particularly vicious techniques called Directory Harvest Attacks (DHA). The goal of the DHA is to steal the corporate e-mail directory of valid e-mail addresses. A successful DHA can net a spammer thousands of addresses in just a few minutes.

DHAs are difficult to detect and defend against because e-mail infrastructure was built to be open, accessible, and decentralized.   In fact, most e-mail systems and e-mail management tools aren't equipped to detect a DHA. Managers must weigh the options of having an in-house e-mail system or subcontracting those services to specialists that work to prevent the DHAs and maintain the security of the system.   Once a spammer has a good email address, you know the rest.

If you're in business your focus is on productivity. Statistics show that a high number of employees access the Internet at work. One study found that 55% of employees use the Internet for personal email and 46% use it for personal surfing. One author suggested that employees typically spend 5-10 hours per week sending personal email and searching the Internet for non-job-related information. Think about that in percentage of work time and then do the math.

Because of the DHA, an overwhelming majority of corporate email addresses today receive unsolicited commercial email.... spam. Besides the loss of productivity, this spam includes adult content, pornography, racial jokes, religious jokes and everything but the kitchen sink.

Though most of this email is treated rather casually, it carries potentially significant consequences.     While there is a range of possible responses to this problem, nearly all observers concur that organizations must take steps to address the problem and that cost of prevention are trivial compared to the liability and damages that may result.

Developing an appropriate solution requires an understanding of email technology, employment law, email policies, and available email filtering solutions.     Only a unified approach can provide a solution to this problem, but fortunately, employers can establish an "affirmative defense" to potential claims by establishing both policies and processes that address the problem.

Direct liability results when, for example, the employer's supervisor harasses a subordinate, or makes a habit of forwarding racially or sexually offensive email.
Indirect liability results when an employer fails to adequately address and correct behavior or activity that creates a hostile work environment.

For example, an employer who is on notice that its employees are receiving unsolicited pornographic email may be directly liable for allowing such email into the workplace because technical solutions to this problem are now available.

In itself, receipt of unsolicited pornographic email is not grounds for an employee's lawsuit. But once the issue has been raised by an employee, it is incumbent upon corporate managers to take prompt remedial action.

The good news is that if an organization does take prompt, appropriate, and effective action, it can avoid or substantially mitigate liability even in cases where sexual harassment actually occurred. Clearly, prevention of the problem by intercepting offensive messages before they reach employee inboxes is a more desirable way to go.

Laws related to employment and email are in a state of flux, but several relatively recent court decisions provide some guidance. An employer may establish an "affirmative defense" by showing that it had a specific policy concerning email and that it responded promptly to potential harassment and discrimination claims. Use of filtering and perimeter protection services can help establish a record of prompt response. And by requiring employees to take advantage of the preventive or remedial apparatus in place, employers are protecting themselves as well.

Reducing liability requires that companies implement a unified approach. The approach should have three components: 1) An appropriate email policy, 2) Training for employees, and 3) Mechanisms and computer-based tools and filters for enforcing the policy. To be effective, an email policy must clearly describe each employee's rights and obligations regarding use of his or her employer's email system. Employers must also enforce the policy and proactively take steps to prevent employees from being exposed to harassing material.

Nonenforcement implies non-commitment or, worse, disregard for accepted worked conditions, while the implementation of filtering systems and perimeter protection services count as important indicators of corporate intent to enforce stated policies. The three-pronged foundation of policy, training, and enforcement greatly reduces the potential for employment-related claims.

In the event of litigation, this foundation will strengthen the employer's position in requesting a summary judgement or other motion to terminate litigation at an early stage - saving legal costs and hundreds of thousands of dollars and substantial damages.

Effective strategies for reducing liability are well understood, but most companies have not yet implemented the policies or tools that they should to reduce their risk.

What you should do?
1) Develop clearly stated e-mail policies, as well as administrative means to communicate and enforce those policies.
2) Implement tools that allow automated policy enforcement and prompt remedial action.
3) Use reasonable efforts to prevent unsolicited email.

Organizations that opt to implement these systems can gain a variety of other benefits including conservation of valuable computer resources, employee efficiencies, and the prevention or other harmful content such as viruses.

Just having a policy in place provides no defense against litigation. Policies must address originators and receivers, as well as forwarders (those that can't resist forwarding email to fellow employees). Your policy should contain: 1) a statement relative to the employer's position against inappropriate email; 2) a disclaimer notice to employees stating that using the Internet and email may expose them to spam, including highly offensive, sexually explicit content and the company is not responsible for unsolicited email with offensive content and; 3) a disciplinary action policy for dealing with violators.

Once your policy is in place you must train your employees on how to deal with unsolicited email. This training must be ongoing and documented.

The final leg of the program is the use of individual email filters and spam guard programs. They can filter every incoming email and check for both virus contamination and spam and eliminate them before they even reach your email server.   The cost of policy implementation and spam guard technology is a small investment when compared to the cost of litigation. Both training and perimeter protection services are offered by Castles. For a free copy of the "Reduce Email Corporate Liability" brochure with example policies and training, contact Castles Information Network, Inc. at 707-455-3401 or email Jim at

C:castles logo             Figuring the Value of Chamber Membership
            By James E. Downey
President/CEO - Castles Iinformation Network, Inc.
            Technology Committee Member

Published   June 24, 2004  
Vacaville Chamber of Commerce - July 2004 Comments
The Reporter Newspaper

In society we have three separate complimentary and simultaneously competing forces.   These are business, government and society.   Each one has their own goals and issues.   Remember studying Venn Diagrams in school.   That is how I look at the world. While all groups have their individual goals, there very often exist overlapping common ground. But at the same time, we are often at odds with each other and have mutually exclusive agendas.

Any individual that is in business and aims at growth and success must understand some very simple principles and that being one. I am in business to make money and offer products and/or services to clients at a profit and if I am able to maximize profits then I am able to assist my community (society) and do good things.   However, often the limiting factor in the equation is government coupled with society needs.   And depending on what entity and who is running whatever at the time, it has a tremendous impact on my success.

Being involved in one of more local chambers affords me opportunities that I would not otherwise have. The more active you are, the more visible you are. The more visible you are, the more people know of both your products/services and your character.   Visibility is the key.  

There are numerous opportunities to work on committees and projects. But one must always understand that others will quickly know if you have a hidden agenda. And the more involved you are, the more likely you are to get favorable reviews by people and often the TLC quotient that can't be bought.

Very few small businesses can afford the advertising value that simply comes from chamber membership.   A simple listing in the member directory shows people that you hopefully are an ethically based business person that is doing business in their community.   In the ISP business we measure marketing value in hits and eye time.

We know that a highway billboard is expensive and most don't stop to measure the impact of that mode of advertising. Most billboards receive between 3 and 5 seconds of eye time by a motorist.   The more eye candy around the billboard the less likely it is being seen at all. It also must be there for an extended period of time before anyone even retains the message. A lot of money for very limited exposure. The same holds true for newspaper, radio and TV ads. You must have a presence for an extended period of time.

Every business is competing for the same consumer dollar. I must take advantage of every opportunity that I can.

We also measure a marketing campaign by the number of actual client gains.   If we spend $5000 and target 5000 people, most people would say the cost of the campaign was $1 per target client. Not true.   The only way to know the campaign cost is after customer acquisition. In the end if we acquired 100 customers, then the actual cost would have been $50 per new client. If we only acquired 10 customers then each one would have cost us $500. Big difference.

And then one must consider the value that each new client/customer brings.   If the profit per customer is $5 per month or per visit, and it cost you $50 or $500 to acquire the customer, you won't be making money for a long time. So why do the campaign in the first place?   But we often have to do these campaigns as part of a marketing mix anyway.

Some studies have shown that it typically costs between $300 and $500 for a cold sales call by the time you pay for salary, transportation, benefits, marketing materials, etc. That is normally more than your membership to the chamber for a year and I almost guarantee that you'll get multiple customers.

A good project some day for a graduate candidate in marketing would be to scientifically value the chamber membership from an advertising perspective.   The chamber will tell you that for the small sum of money you can become a member and the membership is worth mpre money to you. Yes, you get a discount on hot sheets, a listing in the directory, placement in the newsletter as a new member etc.   But that doesn't even touch on the value of consistent exposure.

In our local chamber we have the opportunity to participate in at least one business mixer a month after work.   There is always a wake-up event once a month. And then there are many other brown-bag events, golf tournaments, expos, festivals, etc. that one can be involved in.  

Opportunities exist at these functions for meeting individuals that you could never get an appointment with. These are business owners and managers. They are the decision makers.   If they don't make the decision, then they know who does, and often have great influence on that decision maker.   People do business with people they know and trust.

Being involved in chamber activities creates business opportunities. The individual must take advantage of those opportunities.   We often get calls for business services that we don't offer.   They usually tell us that the chamber didn't know of anyone that did that but they could call the people at Castles and they probably do.   And often we do.   If not, we will look through the yellow pages for them   That does two things: people like the friendly help and will often ask us what we do and sometimes come back for our service or refer someone else to us. And when we do know someone that does offer that product or service, it is most likely a person we met at the chamber.   We get a lot of referrals from other chamber members and return the favor.

In the old days, we had business groups that were very successful. The government however, put them out of business.   They were very successful because they purchased almost all their products from themselves. The chambers are today's business groups.   We just don't take advantage of that.   I typically do business with other chamber members and will tell others that. If you want my business, you would be a member of the chamber.

I belong to various organizations because of what they will do for my business and others in my market area that we individually can't do for ourselves. Can I have a one-on-one with a congressman? No. But often the chamber president or a group of chamber presidents have meetings with the lawmakers, the governor and often the president. Collectively they push for reforms that affect our bottom line.  

The chambers and other associations often are able to stop bad legislation from becoming law. As an ISP, we know this fact well. Without the involvement of our chambers and associations, the majority of us would not be in business today. That is a fact. And that would have a dramatic affect of the pricing levels that both residential and business clients pay for their services.

Our new marketing program, SuddenValues, has been very successful and a lot has to do with our chamber membership.   The program is free to area businesses and helps raise funds for non profits. They recognize the benefits of the program and refer others to it.

I don't participate much with the California Internet Service Provider Association, CISPA, but I can't imagine not belonging. They are doing battle with the PUC, the FCC and have taken on SBC and won.   Could individual small businesses do that. No way. Every business needs to belong to their chamber and the associations that can help their business not only grow, but sometimes to even exist.

It would be difficult to measure the savings, etc. that the chambers individually and collectively generate.   Often it can't be measured in real dollars.   But it is at least 10 to 100 times or more the investment, depending on your individual business and how involved you are.

I also consider my Chamber membership a marketing expense. And when the individual business owner or manager sits down each year and evaluates their advertising and marketing budget, Chamber membership should be on the top of the list.   And if the owner or manager of the business just doesn't have the time to participate, then delegate that function.   It's an investment you can't afford not to make.

James E. Downey is the President/CEO of Castles Information Network, Inc. of Vacaville and does business and marketing coaching.   Downey also is an Adjunct Professor at the Edward S. Ageno School of Business, Golden Gate University in San Francisco.