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Selecting the Best Email Provider

Choosing an email solution that is right for your company can make a big difference in how business is conducted. It is not a choice that should be made casually and should start with a well-planned and carefully considered discussion that involved key members from IT, finance and business development departments.

In today’s high-tech business environment, email is the most important and frequently used method of internal and external communications and often is the first form of communication a new prospect receives from a company. As the primary means of regular communication with suppliers and distributors, employees and management, email is a cornerstone of a business’ foundation.

When used effectively, email can empower employees to work more efficiently.  Most companies do not initially configure the rules, settings, and folders that allow staff to stay organized and spend more time responding to important clients. A mail service that provides powerful filters also can prevent important emails from being misplaced or marked as spam.

Security is a major concern when selecting an email client. SSL (Secure Socket Layer) should always be used to prevent electronic eavesdropping. Readily available open source tools such as Wireshark and Cain and Abel can allow a malcontent individual to read unsecured email going across a company network without much effort. Make certain that your provider offers SSL for all interfaces (IMAP, Exchange, POP, Web and Mobile Web).

Archiving and long-term storage of emails can make or break a company if there is legal trouble. Emails sent and received can be stored for years and should be easily searchable. In the event of a legal discovery action, it will cost far less to retrieve archived emails than to recreate the timeline and information therein.  In addition, make archival rules clear to help discourage employees from shortchanging the company.

Email is the most commonly used form of communication, but it is also the most prone to problems. Choosing an in-house provider for email may lead to expensive service contracts, or necessitate expanding the IT department with an staff available on-call, 24 hours a day, not to mention the necessity of having backup generators and offsite storage. However, a cloud provider requires a business to surrender some control and weather downtime and upstream provider problems.

Deliverability

Ensuring delivery of email also should be paramount when selecting an email provider. Tools such as DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and SPF (Sender Policy Framework) always should be leveraged to promote the authenticity of an email and help keep it out of the junk folder. DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication), an emerging standard, pairs these two technologies together for strong email verification, preventing email from being falsely identified as spam and fighting phishing schemes.

Other DNS (Domain Name System) tools such as rDNS (reverse DNS) are used by many spam filters, but can weed out legitimate email and toss it into the trash bin. DNSstuff is one of many sites with free tools to help authenticate email as legitimate.

Many providers will set these tools up for you, or help make sure they are functioning properly. Many Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies will do all this and more during setup, whereas self-hosted webmail will require IT staff to do it manually.

Mobile

Smartphone use is on the rise for contractors. The Princeton Research Group found 58 percent of firms are purchasing tablets and smartphones for their field employees to stay connected. With many employees working remotely, not having a mobile app can be costly in terms of time waiting for a mobile web interface to load. Without local storage, retrieving old memos can be cumbersome. For a mobile-friendly contractor, choosing a solution that offers a mobile app compatible with handhelds can save a great deal of time and aggravation.

One reason email is so widespread is because it can be accessed in many ways. Your basic mail server will have POP (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) and a web interface, which uses IMAP on the back end to interact with the mail server. All email clients support IMAP and POP, whether it’s a mobile device or a workstation, but other protocols exist that often provide extra benefits. Microsoft Exchange, IBM’s Lotus Domino and Google’s Sync all add speed and features that other protocols lack. Google’s Sync and Microsoft Exchange provide nearly instant push notifications to mobile devices, and they play much nicer with their respective mobile operating systems.

Other Considerations for Productivity Increase

Many features among different providers can be leveraged into increasing productivity. Gmail has a little known featured called Account Delegation that lets users delegate their inbox to others. It can use be used as a replacement for vacation and out-of-office notifications, or can act as a cyber-secretary responding to an executive’s busy inbox.

With Microsoft Outlook, email also can be a Skype account, making conferencing and face-to-face check-ins easier.  Microsoft and Google offer office products online to collaborate and share documents. Many offer calendars and other simple tools to enhance webmail.

Homebrew servers and dedicated hardware can be modified to suit anyone’s needs and even tie into other company software with Single Sign On (SSO) and tie into company ftp or  software (Such as Roundcube Webmail and Cpanel and/or OwnCloud)

There are many providers for email. Some package it with website hosting and some do nothing but email. Products such as Microsoft Exchange can be self-hosted or rented in the cloud, while others such as Google Apps are cloud only. Some options are listed below.

Choosing the right email provider for your company depends on many factors, including control, price and ease of use. Be sure to explore many options and different providers thoroughly before choosing a solution.

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