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Nov. 14, 2013

Email: Can’t Live with It, Can’t Live Without It

“Email is down!”

Depending on your point of view — and your job description — hearing that phrase is either a cause for celebration or a reason to burst into tears.

On one side, stopping the noise, distraction and clutter that is the email inbox means workers aren’t being governed by their email clients. But on the flip side, workers are now cut off from a vital source of communication and information, which means productivity will be dramatically reduced. Email is one of those double-edged swords when it comes to productivity: Too much time spent on email can detract from work, but work is harder to get done without it.

So how can companies get the upside of email while leaving behind as much of the downside as possible?

Although it’s true that social media and real-time messaging have gained prominence, email remains a critical form of communication, despite naysayers predicting its demise. There are two opposing views of how email has developed as a communication medium: some say that email has not changed over the years, yet other people maintain that email has steadily evolved.

Email’s origins can be traced back to the 1960s, to MIT’s Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS), which allowed users to store and share files on a single disk system. They could remotely dial in to access these files, which was rudimentary at best, modern day email is actually quite similar. Today, users connect to servers that store electronic messages and can share and edit the files (think reply, forward and compose message).

The benefits of email make it an attractive communication platform for businesses (of course, only if you fully filter out all of the spam, phishing and nonrelevant messages).

Email:

  • Is instantaneous
  • Is conversational
  • Creates a digital paper trail
  • Can be archived
  • Is ubiquitous
  • Is easily understood

What Email Challenges Do Businesses Face?

When email goes down, companies need to offer alternate communication methods to keep work flowing. While frustrations may arise for the end user, businesses must think about the impact on IT departments when confronted with an outage.

Most IT departments plan for the worst, but sometimes the unexpected happens. When you consider the magnitude of email management, having one or more people devoted to maintaining a self-hosted email solution is critical. IT departments who host their own email need to focus on the following:

  • Regular maintenance
  • Patches and upgrades
  • Backups
  • Compatibility with email clients (desktop and mobile)
  • Ensuring 24/7 availability
  • Maintaining the physical hardware

If any of these core functions is impacted, businesses are affected. Unfortunately, more often than not, some shortcuts are taken when it comes to hosting and managing email in-house. Even worse, ensuring that you have contingency plans that actually work and testing those plans means email downtime. You might say this work can be done “after hours,” but email is 24/7, and workers frequently insist on 100 percent uptime.

Hosted and Managed Email vs. Doing It Yourself

So what options are available for businesses when it comes to having a bulletproof email solution? There are two ways:

  1. On-premises
  2. Hosted and managed solution

If, for example, you host a Microsoft Email Exchange in your data center, you have to ensure that you have email experts on staff, that they are available at all times, that they have contingency and disaster-recovery processes in place and that they are not tasked with too many other IT activities within the organization.

Using a managed and hosted email solution means that you can put all of these responsibilities into the hands of experts who focus solely on email solutions. When you choose a cloud-based or hosted solution, your workers get the satisfaction of knowing that their email will simply work. And IT departments can focus on other IT challenges, ensuring business growth and continuity.

According to an article in StartupNation.com, the ROI of a hosted email solution can be more than 1,000 percent. When you couple this with the fact that a Gartner and Symantec study suggests that up to 75 percent of a company’s intellectual property resides within email, ensuring email availability is critical.

Companies need to balance the pros and cons of each option. Having your email in-house means that you potentially have more control over the implementation and management, but it also means staffing accordingly to support that business objective. Additionally, by outsourcing your email, you decrease your Capex by not having to maintain the hardware required for email.

Do it yourself or have a hosted and managed solution — the choice is yours. But the bottom line is that a well-tuned email system is a core function of a happy business. Happy workers translate to happy customers and a better bottom line. Isn’t that what your company wants in the end?

[image: ThinkStockPhotos]

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR
Michael Sheehan is a technology expert with a passion and expertise for cloud computing, enterprise IT and gadgets.
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