Bell’s new SMB offerings might impress the enterprise

Bell Canada’s latest suite of productivity tools may be aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), but the new offerings might also speak to enterprises looking for hosted e-mail, antispam and wireless services, according to one industry analyst.

“It could be a play both for SMBs and for enterprises that don’t want to do this for themselves,” said Roberta Fox, president of Fox Group Consulting in Markham, Ont.

Bell on Tuesday released its Productivity Pak, which the telco claims brings enterprise-level e-mail, antispam and mobile services to SMBs — companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, in the carrier’s estimation.

According to Howard Morton, a vice-president in Bell’s SMB group, the Productivity Pak could cost some 60 to 95 per cent less than the price a company would face if it set up these services in-house.

Morton said the hosted service means customers need not purchase servers, software licences, and pay for its own IT administration. “The upfront server investment and software are the biggies. For a small organization, it’s probably bigger than the human resources part of it.”

The Productivity Pak includes “Outlook Full Client,” which gives users access to secure e-mail, shared calendars, task lists and schedules served from a Microsoft Corp. Exchange server at Bell’s locations. Outlook Full Client costs $19.95 per month, per user.

The suite also includes Outlook Web access, which offers e-mail, shared calendars, schedules and public folders via a Web browser. That option costs $11.95 per month, per user.

As well, Bell presents Outlook Basic for $5 per month, per user. It lets users connect to Outlook or Outlook Express over POP3.

Beyond e-mail Bell has Wireless Mobile support, which gives users e-mail and data access on handheld computers like Research In Motion Ltd.’s (RIM) BlackBerry and mobile phones. The company also has an antispam service to keep e-mail inboxes clear of annoying product pitches. The anti-spam service can be upgraded with content filtering.

Finally the Productivity Pak includes Microsoft SharePoint, which lets multiple users share and manipulate documents.

Morton said the Productivity Pak is somewhat different from its predecessor, Bell’s Hosted Microsoft Exchange, which didn’t provide the various Outlook levels, and didn’t offer a self-serve option. Productivity Pak customers can change user settings, add features and subtract user profiles online.

Morton said Hosted Microsoft Exchange proved popular among large companies with IT administration-less branch offices.

Fox said she tested the Productivity Pak. It’s “overall, good,” although it took a call to Bell’s second-tier technical support staff to make everything work.

As the service rolls out, “I think the process will be easier,” Fox said. “They have a lot of cheat-sheets and screen scrapes and such, but they were missing a simple diagram of, say, my test lab — the basic pieces like, what (equipment) exactly am I getting with this thing?”

However, Fox also said that her company is unusual for an SMB; other firms probably wouldn’t experience the same problems. And she pointed out that hosted enterprise-class applications are a boon for businesses seeking a hands-off approach to IT.

Fox said the Productivity Pak is “interesting from a bunch of perspectives. It’s a move in managed services, which the carriers want to get into. I think it’s a matter of them getting into IT as opposed to telecom. This really is an IT application. It’s bundling network, applications and hardware together, which is smart. And they’re scaling down to small and medium businesses,” which is a rarity, she said.

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