The Message Is the Medium: Selecting a Mail System

How can you select the right messaging system for your business? In 10 easy steps, Hallett German and Beth Cohen outline the criteria needed to evaluate messaging systems.

 By Hallett German
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Life was good. Acme Widgets had ten employees and modest but steady growth. Tanya Hunter, administrative assistant and part-time IT staff, implemented an e-mail system for the company. After reading some trade magazines and the recommendations of a couple of mailing lists, the package she chose handled both text and binary attachments, was easy to install and support, and was free.

Fast-forward ten years, and everything has changed. Acme Widgets has grown to 250 employees, the merger with Spacely Sprockets is proceeding, and the company is embarking on an exciting new phase of expansion.

Except...remember that old e-mail system? Acme is still using it, but Spacely Sprockets is using an equally antique but different legacy e-mail system. Potential business deals are lost. Customers are complaining that Acme Widgets is unresponsive. The CEO's administrator is faxing important documents to key partners rather than trusting e-mail. The support infrastructure has grown to two full-time e-mail administrators who are overworked trying to cope with:

  • Babying temperamental servers unable to handle the growing messaging volume. A large part of the growth is increasingly large attachments and unsolicited e-mail (commonly known as spam).

  • Unstable network connections to both servers and the outside world caused by broadcast storms

  • Endless problems debugging mail attachment issues (e.g. messaging client does not understand attachment type, attachment type understood but not decoded, corrupt attachments, etc.).

So, obviously, it was time to take action. Tanya Hunter, now CIO, is researching a unified messaging system for the merged company. The system must be stable, secure, cost-efficient, fast and scalable. Power users want full support for various Internet messaging standards. Can she find products that meet all these requirements? Yes.

Even though Tanya and Acme Widgets are obviously not real, the problems we've outlined are very real for many companies, so a discussion of messaging solutions can be applied to many situations. With a good messaging implementation, your company can also enjoy:

  • Productivity increases

  • Stable servers

  • Seamless attachment translation

  • Proactive viruses and spam protection

First, let us learn something about choosing a reliable and appropriate messaging system for your company. Later we will also delve into some of the details of the messaging protocols.

This article was originally published on Dec 27, 2002
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