Despite the justifiable moans and groans about spam, email is still proving an essential communications medium for business. John Caudwell, chief executive of retailer Phones 4U, had his reasons for banning staff from using email across the business last year, but when it comes down to it, email can add value to a business rather than hindering it, as long as it is managed properly.
It is a strange one, but given the bad press email gets it is almost as if a business has to consistently justify using it, and in many ways that is a good thing. A regular review of IT systems and reasoning behind their installation shouldn't do anyone any harm and will ensure that businesses minimise waste and get the most out of their IT investments.
Revisiting installations is part and parcel of a reseller's business, looking for upgrades, bolt-on services and additional products. Email should be high on this list, especially as Microsoft Exchange 5.5 installations are now getting on a bit and businesses may start fishing for upgrades and new ideas.
Email is now an expected form of communication, although it may not always be the preferred form. It is suffering, mainly from poor management, and this represents a huge opportunity for resellers.
According to research firm Butler Group, failure to manage email effectively is an enormous threat facing businesses, particularly in terms of non-compliance with regulations.
The company's report on email management states: "With the need to produce emails now a standard part of litigation, combined with the requirements of various pieces of compliance legislation, organisations have no choice but to retain emails.
"This is despite the fact that many organisations still opt to force employees to delete emails rather than increasing the size of in-box storage. It is therefore imperative that organisations implement email management systems that will automatically archive key emails and, equally importantly, enable these to be retrieved within the required time."
The key for resellers is to convince customers that email management should not be seen as a technology problem. Businesses need to examine business reasons behind the problem and not necessarily rely on existing corporate email systems to do the job.
As the Butler Group report states: "Organisations must accept that corporate email systems will not provide effective email management."
In the same way, corporate email systems and, in particular, email users should not be relied upon to provide security measures and that includes using web mail as a backup option. The report adds that email is not a secure method of transmission and suggests a wider use of digital certificates and secure web sites.
Dealing with spam has become a major issue for businesses and represents a good opportunity for resellers to sell off-the-shelf software or provide more integrated managed services for customers. However, dealing with spam is just one aspect of managing email.
First, there is the overall management of email distribution. Microsoft Exchange dominates in business, and with good reason. The thing with MS Exchange is that, as with IBM, no one is going to get fired for buying it.
Resellers should never ignore it for this reason alone, but they also have the opportunity to broaden the scope. There are alternatives, and having them at your disposal only adds to the armoury.
The increasing number of firms offering email management applications is perhaps not surprising, and this doesn't include spam filters and anti-virus software vendors. For resellers, it is a potential headache, evaluating software and forging solutions from the vast array of applications on offer, so it is no surprise that Exchange is so dominant.
But there is a danger in this too. Resellers could close their eyes to other potentially attractive products and services and take the easier route of selling only MS bundles.
While on the one hand this is not a problem in terms of product ability, on the other hand it may mean resellers are missing an opportunity to maximise the sale through additional services. After all, upgrading to Exchange 2003 is a complete migration and not just about plugging in a few new CD-ROMs.
"Let's not kid ourselves. Exchange is the de facto standard, but we will replace it in some accounts," says Jamie Cowper, channel manager at email appliance specialists Mirapoint.
"Businesses have to start asking questions. What are the on-going management costs' Is there data retention? What about new applications such as voice over IP and devices? Can I have a unified mail box and is everything secure?"
Cowper argues that Mirapoint's appliance-based approach is an alternative to Exchange and that it addresses the on-going management issues that consistently crop up from existing Exchange users.
Mirapoint has conducted its own research into this issue, with 20 per cent of respondents claiming management is their biggest headache. Cowper blames this on the need for a dedicated Exchange specialist and claims: "We are trying to reduce the on-going management of email systems."
Shifting the underlying control of corporate email to alternative vendor solutions only becomes viable when there is an in-your-face reason to do so. Cowper, who is keen to attract more "quality resellers" to the Mirapoint channel for its RazorGate range of appliances, believes that cost will be a key factor weighed up against functionality and on-going management issues.
As the RazorGate appliances are customisable and offer the ability to cover email management and security in one swoop, Cowper believes there are significant margin opportunities for resellers.
This is a view supported by Paul Thackeray, European managing director of Barracuda Networks, who says: "Dedicated, multi-layered email management appliances are a good alternative to MS Exchange."
It is a difficult one for resellers, who no doubt like the idea of having a specially trained email manager on-site, as well as providing tailored options on managed services.
Des Lekerman, managing director of Microsoft reseller Eurodata, claims he is actively encouraging customers to upgrade to Exchange 2003 because it helps him resolve the issues that his customers are generally concerned about, namely management and improved archiving.
Customers, says Lekerman, want no spam and to ensure they are compliant to financial and business regulations such as the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act. They also want mobile access, which with Exchange means extra software and configuration. So would Eurodata's customers be better off looking at alternative management systems?
"It doesn't really matter what the system is, the same issues around archiving and spam apply," says Lekerman. He adds that for many customers, outsourcing the management of email is a preferred option. "It takes the on-going costs out of the company and improves services and support at the same time."
Two Mirapoint resellers have also found that demands for email management are changing, while their own services have been tailored to deal with the increased emphasis on email issues.
"Email security is the number-one issue facing every business right now and our customers rely on us to provide them with a bespoke solution that works," says Andy Stevens, managing director of reseller Nouveau Solutions.
Jaap Schram De Jong, managing director of Peracto Solutions, says: "We pride ourselves on maintaining a 100 per cent customer retention rate, so providing our customers with the type of solutions that allow us to build closer relationships is crucial.
"In our experience, the software-only approach to messaging security is costly, difficult to manage and ultimately exposes companies to more risk."
Times are Exchanging
Exchange (being a Microsoft product probably has something to do with it) has its critics, but it is not the number-one email system for no reason. But times seem to be changing and Microsoft must take heed of shifts in business demands, as well as the growing competition snapping at its heels.
"MS Exchange is an enterprise product and does not belong to the SME space," says Joe Weisz, UK channel manager at Kerio Technologies.
"The fact that enterprises don't spend as much as they used to has forced corporations such as Microsoft to offer their enterprise solutions to smaller organisations that can afford to spend.
"They are offering cut-down and over-priced versions of their products to customers which usually have no means to manage them on their own. This is where the 'alternatives' come in place.
"Kerio MailServer is one of the so-called alternatives. It brings what SMEs actually want from Exchange in a much smaller package and for a much lower price. The fact is that most of these alternatives have been conceived as small solutions and are targeted specifically at small business, and are therefore less complex and easier to manage.
"This means resellers have an easier package to configure and still can wrap their service around it and sell it as a complete solution. Eventually, this may bring them more profit than selling Exchange."
It is an important point, and for resellers, email management should go beyond the actual package they are selling. Ann James, at email management and data archiving firm C2C Systems, says there is a channel opportunity, but it is not straightforward.
"Managing email data isn't just about saving data for a long time; it's about saving with intelligence, the right thing in the right place for the right amount of time, and being able to retrieve the data in a short timeframe," she says.
"Specialist applications are needed for email archiving, so the retrieval to the mailbox is simple for the end-user. But archiving also meets the needs of the retention policy, security and compliance officers.
"If archiving integrates with the storage strategy, all the better. The channel can take an add-on product to its customers with an easier sale." The words "add-on" and "easier sale" must be music to resellers' ears, but there is another strategy worth considering: managed services. The idea that customers may outsource email is perhaps a strange one, but they do. Lekerman claims there is a business case, and Eurodata is proof.
"Email is a utility. If it is easier to outsource it, why not? As long as it is secure and it works, do businesses really care where it is managed? We can reduce the business costs of customers by taking out the core infrastructure from their business and providing email expertise," he says.
Managing email will be a continual issue. Spam and compliance will not go away and it is difficult to see, for the moment at least, email being replaced by instant messaging (IM) as a major communications medium for businesses.
Nevertheless, resellers need to address the same issues with IM. Businesses are using it increasingly and customers will surely want to rein this into any internal communications policy that centres on email.
This is an opportunity that will continue to run. Spam and compliance will still be relevant in years to come, so for resellers with a good knowledge of this market and a willingness to broaden their email management scope outside or in addition to an MS-only approach, there is sure to be a fertile ground for their expertise.
The question now is whether resellers can take that opportunity and keep email firmly on the business map.
Barracuda Networks (01256) 316 581
Butler Group (01482) 586 149
C2C Systems (0118) 951 1211
Clearswift (0118) 903 8903
Eurodata (020) 7619 1500
Kerio (01223) 370 136
KVS (0800) 169 2280
Mirapoint (020) 8610 6044
Unipalm (01638) 569 600
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