In today’s business, e-mail is the most important communication tool you have. Today’s employees literally work out of their inbox. The key to success is finding the right e-mail solution for your business needs. All businesses are different, so there isn’t just one packaged solution that everyone can deploy.
In order to get the most from your e-mail solution (and save money at the same time), you basically have three options: do it yourself, use a free Web-based service or pay for a hosted solution. There are a few businesses that can run on free e-mail, but most others need a more personalized, reliable and secure solution that costs money but saves a lot of time, headaches and problems. In the end, the right solution can be well worth the money.
The overall goal for your company should be getting the most from your e-mail solution while saving money at the same time. But beware of the following pitfalls:
Pitfall #1: The cost of managing your e-mail in-house can surprise you
In my opinion, unless you’re a Fortune 500 company with a large IT budget and headcount, you should never consider hosting your own e-mail. Many companies make the mistake of thinking they can save money by running their own e-mail servers, but it is more than just purchasing a server and loading the software. You need data center space for the hardware with power and networking, licenses for the software, employees to monitor and administer the systems 24/7 and training. In the end, depending on your number of users, you could easily spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Pitfall #2: Managing spam and anti-virus software is hard
A major problem we often hear about from customers giving up on their in-house solutions is that IT administrators underestimate the difficulty of spam filtering. They think that their company won’t have much trouble when, in actuality, fighting spam and viruses can consume hours and hours every week. We often find that companies have moved some of their top IT folks to manage the e-mail systems. They are struggling with spam appliances or software, trying to scale their systems to manage the huge workload. To give a sense of perspective, one type of spammer technique is called a Directory Harvest Attack (DHA) and you could face thousands of these attacks per day, every day.
I’m sometimes asked if outsourcing e-mail is a way to eliminate IT positions and reduce staff. The short answer is no. In my nearly four years in the e-mail hosting business, I haven’t heard of a single customer letting someone go. Instead, our customers are able to take a talented IT person and have them work on things that more directly support their business.
Pitfall #3: Free doesn’t always mean free
Free providers can sometimes be an option for businesses who don’t need their own domain names in their e-mail address and who don’t need much support. Free mailboxes generally come with Web-based e-mail access from a Web browser and sometimes with POP access. “Free” does come with its own costs though, namely: reduced privacy, ads in the Web mail interface and often added to the bottom of outgoing messages, and somewhat less reliability than the average paid e-mail hosting provider. Again, for an early-stage startup business, these may be reasonable trade-offs for the usefulness of a decent working e-mail address.
Be Aware of Option or Guarantee Availability
Pitfall #4: Be aware of option or guarantee availability
It is critical when shopping for an outsourced e-mail solution to find a provider with a good reputation, specifically around e-mail reliability, transition assistance and the ongoing support they provide for their e-mail services.
You’ll also want to check out additional options that might really help your company. Most paid providers will state upfront what their uptime guarantees are, but read the fine print because very few back those guarantees with money. Backing a guarantee provides a strong incentive to a hosted e-mail company to live up to their commitment and avoid making compromises when building their e-mail solution. If the SLA (service-level agreement) really has “teeth”, then it will hurt them if they fail you. This ensures the provider has the right infrastructure in place so this won’t happen.
Looking at all the available “add-ons” such as mobile access and collaboration tools, you are likely to find a number of options that can help your business. Most companies want their executives to have mobile access, but many other types of workers also benefit from “anywhere access” to e-mail, calendars and contacts. And don’t forget to look for collaboration options: can you look at or share calendars and contacts? Are shared calendars writable by others?
Pitfall #5: Migration shouldn’t scare you
The process of moving e-mail from in-house servers, from an ISP or from another hosted e-mail provider to a new hosted e-mail provider can seem daunting. Look for companies with experience in migrating e-mail from many different platforms. And expect a new provider to work closely with you in building a migration plan that ensures no lost e-mail and no lost productivity for your users.
Pitfall #6: It should all come down to support
If you are considering hosting your e-mail through a provider, be sure to look for a strong support structure. Tier 1, Tier 2, engineering and data center staff who are available 24/7 can be found in a few select providers and will create a much better, long-term situation for your company. Keeping e-mail up and working, answering questions expertly and promptly, and keeping spam down to the barest minimum takes a lot of work-and not many providers are able to accomplish everything you’ll need.
In the end, you’re looking for a solution that can save money and time. If you go with a paid hosted solution, you can get a carrier-grade solution with all of these features-and at a cheaper price than purchasing yourself and building in-house. You get more for less money. You can avoid capital expenditures and are on an easy-to-manage, month-to-month pricing plan.
But it shouldn’t always be just about saving money. Go with a provider with a good reputation that can provide a true, business-class e-mail solution. Look for real differentiators when it comes to support, transition help, infrastructure reliability and especially SLA promises. The options for hosting online are better than they have ever been.