More than half of businesses now take orders by email. For about 20 per cent, it is the way they conduct the majority of their transactions. Ten years ago, sending email between different companies was virtually unheard of, let alone seen as a legitimate way of doing business with each other.
It is not just order-taking, email is also considered critical or important by the majority of businesses for services. Most say customer satisfaction would be significantly impacted within hours of their email systems failing.
All this increases pressure on IT departments. For many users, email availability is a top priority. This is not helped by the high visibility of email; managers are increasingly using hand-held devices to access email and soon notice if the service fails.
You would think then that IT departments would do all they could to make sure that their email servers were as reliable as possible. But a surprising number still rely on old technology, not taking advantage of the increased reliability, functionality and performance of more recent products.
Microsoft Exchange is now used by the majority of large and mid-sized businesses. Exchange is way ahead of its closest rival, IBM’s Lotus Domino, when it comes to market share. But around 20 per cent of these users are still using Exchange V5.5, which was developed back in the 1990s when businesses relied far less on email. It has functionality to match.
Time is running out for the laggards. Microsoft will stop support for Exchange V5.5 on 31 December 2005. While it is annoying for businesses to be forced into an upgrade, it is not as if they have not had time to think about it. However, they are still likely to view their position negatively. But it need not be the case and resellers can turn this into a positive sale with some significant upside.
Customers who have moved to the latest version of Microsoft’s product – Exchange 2003 – recognise a number of benefits. These hold true, even if they are upgrading from Exchange 5.5 or the intermediate Exchange 2000.
Over 60 per cent of users noticed significant improvements in robustness and reliability, and almost as many recognised improvements in performance and scalability. In addition, most recognise a range of other benefits including better end-user functionality, support for mobile users and integration with other software.
This last point really opens up the opportunities for resellers. All organisations use email these days, but many have yet to embrace other technologies that improve employee collaboration. The most obvious of these is portals, which are currently used by about half of businesses, others still rely on file sharing or public email folders.
The number of independent portal vendors has declined in the last five years, as the big vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Oracle and BEA have moved into the market. Many customers see portals as a natural extension of the email environment. Domino users turning to Lotus Workplace and all those Exchange customers seeing Microsoft’s Sharepoint as the path of least resistance.
There is a final upbeat note for resellers trying to cast a positive light on the end of life for Exchange V5.5. Just under half of the businesses that used a third party to carry out their last major email upgrade felt they had done a good job. Less than 15 per cent experienced significant problems. As always, make sure that you can not only sell the dream, but also deliver it.
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