ASP Makes Sure You’ve Got Mail | Article

hands holding cell phone in front of computerWhen midnight hits on December 31, Netizens will have sent 2.2 trillion email messages. That’s because 97 percent of Internet users correspond by email, according to IDC. Back in 1998, a long time ago measuring by Web time, U.S. citizens sent seven email messages to every letter that required first class postage, according to Nua. The number has to be bigger today, given the runaway popularity of email by wireless phone, personal digital assistants and Blackberries in addition to the old-fashioned way of using your computer.

This important process is perfect for outsourcing since it is critical but not core. The Gartner Group estimates that 65 percent of mid-sized businesses will outsource their email function by 2002. USA.NET, an email outsourcing provider in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is ready.

USA.NET got its start in 1991 as a regional Internet service provider (ISP). (That was during the Internet stone age when there were no ubiquitous Internet browsers.) In 1996, realizing email was the becoming the pivotal application of the Internet, the company decided to develop a core competency around email.

Its first product, helped spawn Web-based email. Today it manages over 15 million email boxes using its own software called Consumer Messaging Service.

However, the ISP watched as free email began to migrate to Web portals. In 1997 the founders decided to use their email expertise and enter the outsourcing fray, becoming an ASP in addition to an ISP. “The goal was to provide Web-hosted email” to outsourcing buyers using its proprietary platform, says Ed Dunbar, executive vice president, sales and marketing.

When midnight hits on December 31, Netizens will have sent 2.2 trillion email messages. That’s because 97 percent of Internet users correspond by email, according to IDC. Back in 1998, a long time ago measuring by Web time, U.S. citizens sent seven email messages to every letter that required first class postage, according to Nua. The number has to be bigger today, given the runaway popularity of email by wireless phone, personal digital assistants and Blackberries in addition to the old-fashioned way of using your computer.

This important process is perfect for outsourcing since it is critical but not core. The Gartner Group estimates that 65 percent of mid-sized businesses will outsource their email function by 2002. USA.NET, an email outsourcing provider in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is ready.

USA.NET got its start in 1991 as a regional Internet service provider (ISP). (That was during the Internet stone age when there were no ubiquitous Internet browsers.) In 1996, realizing email was the becoming the pivotal application of the Internet, the company decided to develop a core competency around email.

Its first product, helped spawn Web-based email. Today it manages over 15 million email boxes using its own software called Consumer Messaging Service.

However, the ISP watched as free email began to migrate to Web portals. In 1997 the founders decided to use their email expertise and enter the outsourcing fray, becoming an ASP in addition to an ISP. “The goal was to provide Web-hosted email” to outsourcing buyers using its proprietary platform, says Ed Dunbar, executive vice president, sales and marketing.

Offering Multiple Platforms

In addition, the newly minted ASP decided to add a second platform for software.com. Today it has another 110 million mailboxes using this application. It has became a member of Microsoft Exchange 2000 so it could host the Web-based version of Exchange.

“We wanted to offer platforms with varied features. We have gold, silver and platinum levels,” says Dunbar.

Messsaging is the cornerstone of IT applications, in Dunbar’s opinion. Jupiter Media Matrix says this July U.S. users sent and received 75 emails. And that number is expected to explode. In a global, connected world, email is becoming the glue that holds everything together.

USA.NET is in the thick of things. The ASP processes over 30 million email messages a day. It manages 60 terrabytes of storage daily.

USA.NET’s customers run the gamut from a small manufacturer’s distributor with 10 seats to United Airlines, which has 100,000 seats. Dunbar says the average customer has between 50 and 500 seats. Currently the company has over 3,000 business customers.

In addition, the company offers other ISPs, telecommunications carriers and wireless providers the opportunity to resell its email outsourcing solutions.

Dunbar says prospective buyers should have a detailed list of questions to ask a potential vendor. He suggests:

  • Asking for a thorough description of the services you will receive.
  • Crafting detailed service level agreements (SLA) so the expected performance is clear.
  • Discussing migrations and integrations.

Freeing Up Scarce Resources

  • Confirming all training required.
  • Arranging for user and technical support.
  • Comparing the cost of outsourcing the process to the cost of doing the process in-house.
  • Learning about the tools the ASP will provide so you can control aspects of the application yourself.

ASPs typically win on the cost comparison front. ASPs offer a way to manage costs by making them predictable. USA.NET, for example, charges a set price per seat per month.

Outsourcing to an ASP allows buyers “to free up scarce resources they need to support their underlying businesses,” points out the executive. He says he tells prospects, “You run your business. We’ll run your email.”

In addition, outsourcing to an ASP frees companies from the never-ending task of trying to keep up with rapidly changing technology. It is now the ASP’s assignment to keep up with the newest platforms.

Settling customer disputes is easy, says Dunbar, “because our customers are always right.” USA.NET strives for a “collegial approach” featuring open communications. The ASP assigns a manager to each account “so we can identify their needs,” he explains.

Having satisfied clients helps the ASP in its sales efforts. “We want our entire customer base to be used as a reference,” he says.

Adopting Stringent SLAs

USA.NET has stringent uptime SLAs because it understands its customers need their email. Its proprietary platform has a guaranteed uptime of 99.8 percent. Software.com boasts 99.9 percent. “It’s never been down since we put it up,” says Dunbar. The Microsoft Exchange program also runs at 99.9 percent.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • A majority of companies will be outsourcing their email functions in the next 24 months.
  • Suppliers who believe in creating a collegial atmosphere help in creating a win-win outsourcing situation.
  • Outsourcing to an ASP helps manage costs by making email costs predictable.
  • Asking the right questions during negotiations keeps expectations realistic.


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