"We wonder why we didn't do it sooner," says Tom Roets, vice president of IT at Sonic Automotive, a national retailer. A year ago, the company had two email systems: Microsoft Exchange at its corporate headquarters and Ipswitch IMail for its national sales and dealer offices. For years, managing those systems had been a growing burden. "We spent a lot of time on patches and monitoring the platforms. We spent seven days a week keeping up the mail systems," says Chris Maritato, the national director of IT. But there were many fears to overcome. "We have to be compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley and have disaster recovery," he notes. Then there was the fear of such fundamental change, Roets says: "When you're faced with 11,000 people in the field, that's a lot of angry people if there's a hiccup."
But by last year, another pressure was bearing down on Roets and Maritato. "We could not reliably support 11,000 people the way we were doing it. The user satisfaction scores were going in the tank," Roets says.
So the company decided to both consolidate its two email platforms into one (Exchange) and outsource email, to Verizon Business. "We did a pilot for 30 days," Roets recalls, before committing to the switch. To be safe, "we also put the most mission-critical people at the end of the transition," he adds. Within four months, the transition was complete.
Not only did the management headache disappear while costs stayed about the same, but also, email service actually improved, Roets notes. Rather than rely on one email administrator to manage user accounts, Sonic could now rely on its whole help desk staff to do so, using a management portal provided by Verizon that didn't require the expertise that the previous setup did. This let Sonic redirect a staff member to other IT needs to meet strategic business objectives, Maritato says.
Although there were some fears about having email data hosted outside the company, Sonic performed a security assessment on Verizon that showed "there was no additional risk to outsourcing," Roets says.
Adecco's Bossi and the Arthritis Foundation's Davidson came to the same conclusion. If anything, Davidson believes security is higher when outsourced, because an outsourcer can leverage its knowledge across all clients, which means it can be more capable and efficient than any individual client could. "They do security monitoring that we could never do," she says.
A few caveats
Outsourcing email at large companies can work, as the experiences at Sonic and Adecco show. But it does require careful strategic planning because of the integration between email and other applications that may exist, notes IDC's Levitt.
"You need to understand how your email system is being used before you do a consolidation or migration," echoes Bossi. When consolidating his four email platforms, Bossi found real differences among user groups. Some frequently use features like public folders, for example. "You need to understand all of that to transmit the right requirements to the outsourcer," he says.