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Outsourcing Email Management? Companies are getting the Message

Email is a company's lifeblood. Everyone from the corner office on down depends on it and expects 100 percent availability. They schedule meetings, assign tasks, answer questions, receive product orders, check progress and exchange friendly greetings - all with the click of a mouse. Communication among customers, employees and business partners has never been easier...Until something goes wrong.

An employee inadvertently opens the door to a virus that downs the entire system ... A heavy day of email volume overwhelms the allocated storage, impeding performance of other mission-critical IT functions ... Corporate counsel has asked that you turn over all emails from July of last year to settle a patent dispute, and you're not even sure if you have them. All the while several of your staff members are spending hours trying to solve these problems, while the more strategic and forward-thinking projects get put on hold ... again.

Managing corporate email systems has become a nightmare for companies and an expense that seemingly knows few bounds. Email systems grow so fast that what should be one of the most strategic tools at our disposal can quickly become an out-of-control beast that refuses to be tamed.

In fact, according to the Radicati Group, the number of mailboxes is expected to increase by 20 percent or more, and volume per user has grown by 53 percent over last year. No wonder system management is such a daunting task.

There's more at stake than convenience. Vulnerabilities are exposed as email volume grows, new viruses attack and CAN-SPAM-like government regulations become more convoluted. A downed email system interrupts business, slows productivity and disrupts potentially critical communication. And companies can be held financially liable for viruses that are inadvertently spread by an employee, or for questionable or inappropriate content transmitted from their systems.

Who's managing the Email Store?

Most larger companies still place the responsibility of managing their email systems on already overburdened and under-budgeted IT departments, expecting them to expand systems, prevent virus attacks, filter spam and develop archiving solutions - all with shrinking budgets and dwindling staffs. Most of the smaller companies don't even have that luxury; it's strictly do-it-yourself.

Some companies have never investigated how much maintaining their email systems internally is costing them - in actual dollars, hardware costs, IT resources, personnel time and lost revenues and/or productivity when the system is not available. The costs are high - it seems there's no end to the complexity involved in maintaining a corporate email system.

Most are increasingly heterogeneous, with end users across an organization using different versions and various email platforms - making management and maintenance time-consuming and more complicated than necessary. IT experts are forced to spend enormous amounts of time maintaining a non-strategic - albeit crucial - function while critical business objectives are set aside to meet the urgent email needs.

Meanwhile, system managers are constantly fending off attacks from new viruses and worms, and trying to beat back the influx of spam on already overloaded email inboxes. According to a study** conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 25 percent of Internet users have had their computer infected by a virus, most likely from an email message. They are coming fast and furious, and most companies are ill-prepared. Spam and virus filters are not very good, catching a lot of false positives and dumping potentially important email.

Free Up Your Personnel

A full 60 percent of the costs involved in maintaining a corporate email system come down to personnel, so it makes sense for midsize companies to consider outsourcing. Concerns that made companies hesitant in the past - worries about the consistency of an external data center, and fears that service providers wouldn't be able to support a globally hosted infrastructure - are non-issues today.

A study* by The Radicati Group, released in November, finds that corporations of all sizes are increasingly deploying hosted email solutions as opposed to in-house solutions. The analysts estimate that hosted email currently accounts for about 67 percent of all email accounts worldwide. This trend is attributed to complex in-house messaging solutions, spam and virus problems, storage pressures, compliance requirements and other driving factors.

Outsourcing management of a corporate email system is where another company hosts your system and is responsible for complete reliability and security - can be a wise decision for companies of any size that want to streamline their email operations and relieve their internal IT staffs of the burden. With the right email management services partner, outsourcing will save time, money and lost productivity by:
Freeing up your company's IT experts to focus on more strategic initiatives, furthering the company's core business objectives
Standardizing the email platform across an organization, bringing everything in sync and making the entire system more streamlined and efficient
Ensuring that your company will stay on top of virus and worm protection upgrades and complicated government compliance issues

Getting Started - If you are considering outsourcing your company's email management, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Scalability- Look for an IT services provider that can manage all the complexity behind implementing, securing, managing and scaling your email system. Make sure the company provides a wide range of services from which you can customize your relationship to meet your specific email needs - from a simple, low-cost shared MS Exchange server all the way to a multi-data center, load balanced service for larger companies with global offices.

Migration - Ask about the migration process and make sure it will be seamless, with minimal effort on the part of your internal IT department. To truly get an understanding of what to expect, you might want to get feedback from some of the company's existing and previous clients.

Uptime - While the goal obviously is 100 percent up-time, ask potential service providers what plans they have in place to deal with the unexpected. Find out about a disaster recovery plan - a procedure put into place from the beginning to help you save, store and recover data in case of an emergency.

Support Services - Also make sure the company provides fixed monthly costs, single sign-on capabilities, spam and virus filtering, integration with other services (fax, voicemail, etc.) and help-desk services.

Email will only continue to grow, with new complications at every turn. But with an outsourcing partner, you'll secure a complex messaging environment that will allow you to keep up with minimal effort, along with access to technology and expertise usually on a fixed-cost basis, while reducing the demands on your IT staff.

*The Radicati Group study, "Hosted Email Market, 2004-2008," includes Market Trends, Forecasts, Corporate Attitudes, and in-depth analysis of both Corporate and Consumer Hosted Email Providers.
**The "Fear of Online Crime" study

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