Toronto-based Fusepoint Managed Services recently launched a new Microsoft Exchange service to ease the headache of managing e-mail, public folders, calendaring and collaboration tools.
According to Robert Offley, Fusepoint’s president and CEO, the outsourced IT services and managed applications provider will offer two versions of the service: Dedicated Exchange Service, which provides the solution on a dedicated platform to customers with 500 or more e-mail boxes; and a shared Hosted Exchange Service, a more cost-effective solution for small and mid-sized customers with 25 to 500 e-mail boxes.
Offley said e-mail is a critical communication system and one of the most-used collaboration tools in the enterprise today — but it can also be a massive pain to manage.
Security is one of e-mail management’s biggest pain points, he said. “Security takes on a number of forms: it may mean just knowing that e-mails are backed up and held in a secure location, or it may include security from viruses, hackers and threats.”
Patch management can be another major headache for enterprises. “If you look at the (software) packages we run within Fusepoint, there are over 400 patches sent to us daily that could be [installed]. Patch management is becoming a full-time job for companies.” He said it used to be that three years ago when a vulnerability came out, IT managers had six months’ notice and could take their time installing patches and testing their networks to check for any possible side effects. “Now they get six days’ notice.” Unless there is a team working on patch management full-time, it becomes an overwhelming job for an IT manager who must wear several hats, he said.
High availability is also a concern for companies who consider e-mail a critical application. “Five years ago if e-mail went down there would be other mechanisms to communicate. But e-mail is such a critical part of the corporate environment that when it goes down, it’s difficult to get work done. There is the cost of downtime and loss of productivity, and customers and partners can’t communicate with you. It can have a negative impact on [your] brand.”
Toronto-based Global Mentoring Solutions Inc. considers e-mail a critical part of its business. The firm provides 24×7 online support for people taking online courses. If students have a question relevant to the content they are studying, they can click a button on the desktop, which will connect them with a certified instructor or mentor who will answer their questions in a “chat-like environment,” said the firm’s senior vice-president Paul Maunder. At the end of the conversation students can click a button to request a transcript of the conversation, which is e-mailed back to them.
“Customers are looking for transcripts that will show up accurately and quickly,” Maunder said. “They want to be able to e-mail back and forth with our mentor team in a bug-free and error-free environment.” That’s why Fusepoint manages this e-mail portion of the service.
Maunder said as his firm grew, e-mail management was increasingly becoming a “resource issue.” The IT department was “not focusing on our internally developed mission-critical system and was dealing with patch management issues and other things. While a critical component, e-mail was something that we realized we didn’t necessarily have to manage ourselves because others were better equipped to manage it.” It was a logical business decision to outsource e-mail management to a service provider, he said.
While the service works for Global Mentoring Solutions — one person previously dedicated to the “care and feeding” of the e-mail system now works on other IT initiatives — a managed e-mail service may not be for everyone, Maunder said.
Companies should avoid farming out e-mail management if they don’t consider e-mail an important component of their business. “[Such organizations] may happen to have e-mail as a function in the organization but it is not mission-critical…and they don’t have to have constant communication with their customers.”