Commerce explores hosted e-mail

Department initiative could lead to a large outsourcing deal for integrated messaging

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The Commerce Department is making a foray into territory many agencies have not explored: hosted, centralized messaging services. If it proceeds, a Commerce deal could emerge as one of the largest examples of outsourced messaging, industry analysts say.

Commerce issued a request for information last month for a contractor-operated shared-services center, which would offer e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging and support for mobile devices. The hosted solution, based on Microsoft Exchange 2007, would have to support at least 50,000 users, according to the RFI.

“The managed-service concept is the way to go. It’s good government,” said Barry West, Commerce’s chief information officer, speaking at an industry event in Washington June 6. Commerce has 13 bureaus, and most information technology services are decentralized, he said.

“E-mail is our first big opportunity to test the shared-service provider [concept] and make sure we can support a centralized model,” West said. “We may look later at help-desk or network services if this is successful.”

Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, which focuses on the messaging market, said an e-mail outsourcing deal of the magnitude that Commerce is exploring would be fairly unusual in the federal sector.

Osterman pegged the number of hosted-messaging seats in North America at 1 million. If the Commerce deal goes through, the 50,000 seats would represent 5 percent of that market.

Denis Martin, executive vice president and chief technology officer at NaviSite, said projects of that size remain uncommon, but he noted that the company’s hosted-messaging deal with DaimlerChrysler involves more than 50,000 users.
 
Martin said NaviSite, a hosting vendor, plans to respond to Commerce’s RFI.

Such large-scale deals could become more prevalent as e-mail operations become more burdensome. “Managing messaging is not an easy task, and it’s getting tougher all the time,” Osterman said.

Sudeep Trivedi, director of product development at USinternetworking, agreed with that analysis. Trivedi called messaging the most complex environment to manage from an administrator’s perspective. “It’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem.”

Managers must devise new ways to fight spam, keep up with various antivirus engines, and deal with denial-of-service attacks on e-mail servers, Trivedi said.

He added the trend is to seek hosted solutions. Trivedi said he thinks that Usinternetworking, which hosts Microsoft Exchange, will respond to Commerce’s RFI.

Another motivation for outsourcing e-mail is a desire to redeploy internal IT personnel. The hosted solution “leaves you more resources available to do the things you are actually good at,” Osterman said.

Jackie Funk, director of marketing at Apptix, said IT shops “want to focus on applications that support the business they conduct.” She said larger organizations have the resources to manage messaging applications such as Exchange, but choose to use those resources differently.

Agencies may also opt for hosted services to avoid an in-house migration to Exchange 2007.

The 64-bit product “requires a lot of changes to the IT department” and a large investment, Trivedi said.

Commerce, meanwhile, cited the ability to upgrade technology as a factor in its hosted-messaging evaluation. “Traditionally, there has been a gap in technology between private-sector initiatives and the current state of the public sector,” the department’s RFI states. “Closing that gap is an imperative for the department to realize its mission.”

Jason Miller and Wade-Hahn Chan contributed to this article.
Outsourced messaging on a major scaleThe Commerce Department’s information technology leaders say the department is trailing the private sector in integrated messaging, and it needs to catch up. The department wants to outsource its messaging needs to a company that will provide what officials described in a request for information as “total communication capabilities.”
Here are six items on Commerce’s wish list for a Shared Service Center:
  • Support for at least 50,000 e-mail, calendar,
  • instant-messaging and mobile users.
  • A single directory service as the source of online authorization.
  • Support for BlackBerry devices.
  • Spam filtering, antivirus and anti-spyware protection.
  • Integration with bureau-specific programs that use e-mail for communication or authentication.
  • Management based on a set of service-level agreements and performance indicators.
Source: Commerce Department

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