How to Shop for an Email-Management Solution

How to Shop for an Email-Management Solution

Email is the bread-and-butter communications medium for most companies today. Email is so quick and simple that people take it for granted. But a lot of effort goes into providing accessible, reliable email service. Many companies are finding it more cost-effective to outsource their email functions to specialized service providers.

There are many reasons to outsource email service. The number of devices and protocols by which people need to access email has grown, complicating provisioning and maintenance. The volume of email has also escalated, leading to bigger storage and administration needs. As the most common channel into a company's network, email has additionally become a favorite target of viruses, hackers, spoofers and phishers. Then there are legal and regulatory requirements for the preservation and retrieval of email traffic. For many companies, the challenges of running an email system have become too much, so they seek an outside specialist.

When you shop for an external email service provider, here are some of the factors you should consider.


Just like the electricity that powers your entire IT system, email is something that everyone takes for granted until it fails, wreaking incalculable havoc on the organization. Your first question to a prospective email service provider should be, "What is your uptime track record?"

A 99.9 percent uptime record is acceptable, although many email service providers strive for a higher rate. Just as important is the average amount of time it takes to restore service when it goes down. Ask for reports of downtime incidents and time-to-restore statistics.

Make sure the company spells these stats out in an SLA (service-level agreement). That way, you have legal recourse if your provider doesn't live up to its promises.

Assess Your Email Needs

Before you go shopping for email service, you should compile a detailed list of the services and features you need and those you want. There are many email service providers , so it shouldn't be difficult to find one that meets all of your requirements.

The number of email users you expect to support is a fundamental criterion. Most email service providers include a certain number of users in their base prices. You should know how much will be charged for each additional user.

Storage space allotments are another elementary and critical factor to consider. If your business involves emailing large attachments, you need more storage space and a more generous allowance for how many megabytes can be attached to a single message. Very large attachments can be split over multiple messages, but that is generally an unsatisfactory solution. The going standard is 10 GB of storage, while attachment sizes in the tens of megabytes range are normal.

If your company uses a standard email client, such as Microsoft Outlook, you should look for an email service provider that supports all of its features. A Microsoft Exchange server, for example, will support all of Outlook's features such as integration with the task and calendar functions.

Mobile devices should be supported if your firm makes extensive use of them. Compatibility with BlackBerry devices, smartphones and PDAs is something you should insist on if you have a highly mobile work force.

A Web-based email interface is handy for checking email from public terminals. It's also useful in conserving local disk space on your employees' computers and mobile devices. Leaving email on the provider's server provides a centralized repository, making it easier to secure email from prying eyes.

Spam and Virus Protection

According to some surveys, more than 70 percent of all email is spam . It can overwhelm your employees' inboxes and drastically reduce productivity . An email service provider should provide excellent spam filtering technology.

Email is also the primary channel by which hackers introduce viruses , Trojan horses and phishing exploits to many networks each year. A good email service vendor has technology that detects and quarantines virus-infected messages and attachments.

Security and Archiving

The provider that hosts your company's email should do so in an airtight secure facility, just as you would expect from a datacenter that holds all of your critical data and applications. It is a great advantage to host email in a secure facility versus a lone server in a closet.

Your email should also be secure from the provider's eye. Be sure any provider you select has a very strong privacy policy. It should not share or sell your employees' email addresses to any third party, and it should not analyze email for marketing purposes.

Archiving email is a regulatory requirement for many industries. The amount of time that email must be retained varies by state and industry. Your email service provider should explain in writing how email will be archived and how long it will be kept.

Of course, archiving email is not enough. You have to be able to find a particular piece of email easily or retrieve all email sent by a given person or group or on a particular subject.

A good email-management system just works, without its technical details being noticed by your users. Today's third-party email service providers are well-equipped to meet this standard at a reasonable cost. In fact, because most email service providers offer virtually the same services, the cost of service keeps coming down. There's nothing like competition to make the market ripe for shopping for an email service provider.

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