The eCourier service has been introduced by the Royal Mail's online security subsidiary, Viacode, in a bid to replace courier-delivered paper documents.
Like many other e-mail systems, eCourier notifies a sender when an e-mail has been opened. The difference is that ViaCode's system notifies the originator if the message has not been opened within a specified time.
ECourier is based on 128-bit digital certificate technology that enables users to sign and encrypt documents. But instead of being posted directly to the recipient, messages go first to a server where they are time-stamped and encrypted again before being forwarded. The service has received a lukewarm reception from analyst firm, Gartner Group; and the company's Adam Daum sees only niche applications for it in the short term.
"Some people will be interested in delivering time-sensitive, secure documents, especially those involved in mergers and acquisitions where there is some urgency. But most companies only use e-mail to contact trusted partners, so they don't need this service," he said.
Daum believed that eCourier could come into its own in the next five to eight years, as companies work on a more virtual basis, but he warned that it would face tough competition from application service providers (ASPs). "ASPs that offer business-to-business marketplaces will try to take on this role," he said. ViaCode is offering eCourier to ISPs and ASPs that could include the technology in branded secure e-mail services.