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Rethinking e-mail management

May 24, 20044 mins
MalwareMessaging AppsUnified Communications

With viruses and spam, e-mail server duty is costing more than you think.

With viruses and spam, e-mail server duty is costing more than you think.

E-mail used to be fairly easy and predictable, but no more. Between spam and viruses, e-mail management has become a time and money sink. One answer is outsourcing, and many companies are happy to manage your e-mail for you.

First questions first: How much? Surprisingly reasonable. You can get flat-rate systems for a handful of users for $10 to $20 total per month that includes complete virus and spam controls. Plans for larger companies run around $2 to $5 per user, per month.

Think you’re not paying for e-mail now?  Look closely at your to-do list. Managing users, clearing e-mail boxes, updating spam filters and buying virus protection all cost money. Hosting your own e-mail server costs money. Security patch headaches alone may be worth outsourcing your e-mail servers.

The second question: Why would anyone outsource their e-mail when they already get it free from an ISP and Web host?

Simple. Security expertise from specialists beats trying to add spam and virus products to clients and servers, and keeping them all updated. If a virus gets through a specific filtering add-on service, you can yell at them rather than having co-workers yell at you.

If all your users handle their own spam filters, virus controls and address books, they’re wasting a lot of time. Server-based systems for spam and virus filtering mean only one person needs to update the spam rules and virus signatures for your entire company. A single address book means new or modified addresses are available to everyone, not just the one person who updated a customer record.

When my Web host company hosed my e-mail accounts for a day recently, a few dollars per month suddenly didn’t seem so outrageous for guaranteed service. If e-mail drives your daily schedule, missing a few hours can cramp your style considerably. Having e-mail specialists keep my messages flowing is looking more affordable all of a sudden.

You can also get e-mail features from e-mail service providers you can’t afford to implement yourself. Relying on a specialist also makes it easier to retrieve e-mail in a variety of ways, since many service vendors offer universal inboxes and PDA integration,  fax-to-e-mail services, inbound and outbound. Some also offer shared storage space to facilitate workgroup communication. Best of all, a service provider offers a variety of ways to retrieve your mail when you’re out of the office. Some even have text-to-voice options, so you can call and get your e-mail read to you.

E-mail service providers believe they’re in the communications business, and that means more than just e-mail. PDA e-mail integration can be tricky and frustrating, so it’s nice to work with a company with experience. Mailing lists for customer contacts work much better managed centrally than hoping the sales manager can keep things organized. Handling bounced messages from mistyped or dead e-mail addresses takes time, and keeping your domain off spam blacklists can be a problem. Again, experience helps avoid these problems.

How about archiving your messages? Some industries such as healthcare and finance are now forced to keep e-mail. Does your backup procedure capture all the e-mail files on your server and local clients? Many backup programs stop when they hit an open file, and many e-mail applications keep files open all the time. Using the archive options provided by some services will eliminate another e-mail headache for you.

E-mail service providers cooperate with your Web server, even if the two companies are separate. On your domain name record at your ISP, you change one field: the MX (mail exchange) records to separate traffic between your Web and e-mail servers.

The best list of e-mail specialists I found is on Yahoo, here.  Check out which ones match for a fair price.

If it still seems strange to pay for something you can get for free, remember those objections the next time you buy bottled water.