You've Got Mail

Little Extras

Ready to investigate an e-mail outsourcing partner? First, find out what the e-mail provider's basic service plan includes in terms of features, average price per user and the cost of extra services. If you have fairly active e-mail users, find out how many megabytes per user are offered (and the extra charges to include more room).

Since you're paying for reliability, customer service is paramount (get any promises in writing). Find out what to expect if the servers go down and the time frame for getting you back online. Whenever possible, look for 24/7 customer support; if it doesn't come standard, consider paying extra for it.

Security is another important consideration. Make sure your service contract details how data is safeguarded. Your e-mail contains critical business information, so be sure to ask for a copy of any potential provider's privacy policy. Moreover, if you have any qualms about the company (and visions of industrial espionage), look for another provider.

A number of useful e-mail features are becoming more widely available as well. Although not every business will have uses for them, they're particularly beneficial for frequent business travelers who need added flexibility.

One new service is called "unified messaging." Unified messaging offers subscribers the ability to pool fax and phone messages into one universal electronic in-box, or have e-mail messages forwarded to other sources, like a pager or a fax machine. Critical Path already offers unified messaging to its customers, and PostOffice.Net is developing forward-to-pager and forward-to-fax capabilities.

Future services to look for include calendar integration for managing appointment schedules, guaranteed delivery that notifies the sender when messages are received, and archiving for permanently backing up and storing company e-mail.

You can also expect more companies to begin offering e-mail outsourcing services. Some of the big players include Lucent Technologies, AT&T and AOL. Soon, you may find it more advantageous to store your company e-mail on one of these heavyweights' servers, and not on your own.

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This article was originally published in the July 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: You've Got Mail.

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