When global staffing firm Adecco Group began an effort one year ago to consolidate and outsource its five data centres into one, Dave Bossi came to the realisation that moving the data centre would also move three separately managed Microsoft Exchange email servers of different versions and a fourth legacy email technology - with potentially huge disruption to 10,000 email users.
Bossi, the North American vice president of IT, thought this might be an opportunity to rethink the company's email strategy. "Email tends to get lost in the mix. It becomes an afterthought," Bossi says. Unless, of course, something goes wrong.
Bossi's case for outsourcing broke down like this: If Adecco moved the email servers to a separate outsourced provider, the email systems would be unaffected in the event of any trouble (like network overloads) at Adecco's data centre. Having a dedicated email provider also makes administering email accounts, managing servers and handling frequent software patches more efficient and less dependent on other data centre resources. It shifts the responsibility for malware protection to a specialist - and eliminates the need to manage anti-malware appliances.
CIO Alwin Brunner liked Bossi's logic. Adecco is consolidating its four email platforms into one, which is hosted by USA.net (separate from Adecco's outsourced data centre that IBM manages).
Today, Bossi and Brunner say they're very happy with the performance and lower cost of email outsourcing. For example, Adecco cut its email administrator staff in half to three people and repurposed much of the physical infrastructure to other projects, saving thousands of dollars and eliminating the need for future equipment purchases.
Like Adecco, an increasing number of large enterprises are deciding that email is mission-critical but is plain-vanilla enough to be outsourced, says Mark Levitt, vice president of collaborative computing at research firm IDC, (a sister company to Computerworld UK's publisher). The proliferation of malware is also pushing the trend, says Don DePalma, president of consultancy Common Sense Advisory. Now that spam accounts for more than half of all email messages, many businesses are looking to outsource message filtering because the internal burden has gotten too great. This is often the first step a company takes toward eventually outsourcing the entire email burden.
Smaller firms lead the way
Small companies - those with fewer than 100 employees - have gotten the jump on outsourcing email, IDC's Levitt notes. More than half of all small-business email accounts are now outsourced or under consideration for outsourcing, according to a recent IDC survey. Lack of IT resources tends to drive small companies toward outsourcing much of their IT operations, and email has gone along for that ride.
The Arthritis Foundation is a case in point. Four years ago, "we were spending all of our time keeping the systems running, not bettering the foundation's goals," recalls VP of Strategy Management and CIO Marla Davidson. "We realised we could get a lot more depth from our staff by using a managed service provider for those operations," she says. Outsourcing also reduced the risk of failure: "We had just one email admin, so if that person was on vacation or got sick, we would just hold our breath," she says. Now, the foundation gets 24/7 coverage it didn't have before.
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