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Evaluating messaging and email platforms

Messaging and email systems are incorporating more capabilities than ever. Learn what to think about when upgrading your messaging platform.

Upgrading email systems? IT managers need to consider more than just the messaging medium when weighing upgrade options, said Erica Driver, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Boston. "The discussion is no longer about just email; it's an entire collaboration platform."

Vendors such as Microsoft and IBM have put together communication suites that include not just email, but instant messaging, social networking and collaboration tools as well. "Email is the commodity product of the suite, but the CIO needs to look at the application strategy of the entire suite," Driver said.

Look at the entire application strategy. It's critical that the IT owner should include the broad capabilities beyond just messaging.

Erica Driver, Principal analyst Forrester Research

Evaluating each suite in terms of how it fits within your company's preferred method of doing business will go a long way toward ensuring a successful upgrade. "Look at the entire application strategy. It's critical that the IT owner should include the broad capabilities beyond just messaging," Driver said.

The upgrade process itself is fairly straightforward: design, test, launch the pilot program and roll it out. Depending on the size of the company, the upgrade can sometimes be done in one shot. "Up to 700 to 800 people tend to be done over a long weekend," Driver said. "If you have distributed offices, or one administrator who needs to travel to those locations to do the upgrades, [then] you may have to co-exist systems for a while."

Raymond Boggs, vice president at IDC, cautions against skimping on the training budget, too. "One thing they always forget about training," he said. "The assumption is that people already know how to use it, and that's not the case." Boggs recommended that IT managers consider the extent to which an email program is self-explanatory when making the original purchase.

A related problem is email storage. "Our biggest issue is managing the file size -- it just keeps growing and growing," said Toby Keeler, CIO of HiRel Systems LLC, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based company that manufactures military power supplies. Organizations need to evaluate their email storage needs and find a way to manage the growth. Don't forget, however, that your storage management strategy must also satisfy compliance and legal discovery requirements, throwing another challenge into the mix. "You can't just arbitrarily delete emails after three months when you take the aspect of discovery into consideration," Boggs said.

Finally, there's the outsourcing option. As companies evaluate the costs of upgrading and administering email, some opt for hosted email services, such as those run by Apptix Inc. or Google Inc. "It's an attractive option in that it's often less resource intensive and less expensive," Driver said. Moreover, these providers also offer services such as archiving, helping smaller companies deal with compliance and discovery issues as well.

Whatever option you decide on, be sure to do thorough due diligence when upgrading your email system. After all, Boggs said, "It's really an information lifeline for the business."

Carol Hildebrand is a contributing writer based in Wellesley, Mass.

This article originally appeared on SearchCIO-Midmarket.


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