Give Customers an Exit Strategy from Hosted Messaging

Sometimes the most successful business comes from out-of-the-box thinking. When it comes to hosted messaging services, many solution vendors take an entrapment approach. Win customers over to your solution, and then lock them in so that you can squeeze an annuity revenue stream from them: per mailbox per month pricing, with extra billing thrown in as storage grows. And don’t make it easy for users to get off your solution.

This strategy is flawed. Many organizations are evaluating hosted messaging, and cloud computing in general; e.g., Microsoft Exchange Online, Outlook Live, Google Apps. Customers want a back-out plan in case things go wrong, or in case the service provider doesn’t deliver the quality of experience customers need. After all, email is the lifeblood of the enterprise, in many cases. And giving customers the standard answer of, “We’ll export your mailboxes to PST if you need to bail out,” is lame. Handing a customer terabytes or petabytes of PSTs isn’t anything more than a tail-light warranty.

I predict that solution providers who offer an easy, automated way for customers to migrate off hosted messaging–back to an on-premises solution or to another hosting provider–will end up with a substantial competitive advantage. This may be counterintuitive, but giving customers a way out is key to buyer confidence.

Customers want to be confident that whatever cloud solution they select will be there for them, regardless of the weather. No one likes the feeling of being trapped, and knowing that getting out is just as easy as getting in will reduce friction for customers who really just want to cut costs and reduce complexity. Excellence and cost-efficiency in outsourced messaging services should stand alone as drivers for choosing to move to the cloud. And everyone will benefit.

David Sengupta

One Comment

  1. Posted October 19, 2009 at 2:16 PM | Permalink

    David,

    An interesting blog that highlights a subject of growing interest to all archiving vendors too, though it’s certain that the majority have not fully prepared to offer migration services _into_ their solution, let alone out of it. Our experiences with hosted archiving may turn out to be similar to some things that are happening in the hosted messaging arena.

    As you may know our TransVault software product was created precisely to offer archiving customers the capability to bypass vendor lock-in and is offered by a variety of partners that package their own domain skills and services to help their customers through that change in a managed and audited manner.

    Our partners are a mixture of archiving resellers, consultants and vendors and it is interesting to note the different approaches between some vendors. The most confident will engage fully with us and proactively share their APIs and best practices to enable the best migration both into and out of their products. They believe that when the customer has a choice they will choose their offering anyway. When the customer does not (perhaps an M & A scenario), then their reputation will best be served by the customer having an easy exit experience.

    Other vendors are more likely to wait until there is a pressing project and then search for a point solution, not taking the time to explore the whole migration marketplace and understand ultimately what will provide the best for their customer.

    In our experience hosted vendors (and service providers) are starting to realise that they will increasingly find a proportion of their customers that have tried to make on-premise work for them but found it sufficiently difficult or uneconomic to do well that they’ll move to the cloud. Here is the comparison with the hosted messaging space because there the customers will always have had pre-existing email services.

    Some archiving vendors have been so aware of this potential that they have taken our product to incorporate it into their offering – giving them a substantial USP to attract ‘second-timers’. As yet we’ve not seen them turn that into a USP around leaving their product or service!

    Another point of similarity between these hosted services is a general lack of usable APIs and data exchange formats. Many services, for example, use EML format internally so just exporting to PST is a significant format conversion that they may not have the capability to do. Some hosted vendors say that they provide the leaving customer with their data for free in EML format, but they need to pay a significant uplift to get it in PSTs. What data and meta-data will be lost in this transformation and how is the process audited?

    We believe the best advice to customers is to plan your exit strategy before you start with a new service. Take time to understand how you would reverse the move since that is a requirement that your business may just hand you in the future.

    Barney Haye
    TransVault Software

  2. Mike Lazar
    Posted October 19, 2009 at 3:05 PM | Permalink

    I really have to disagree there. The providers will not make it “easy” to move, nor would I ever expect them to do so. There is a group that would like to make it “easy” to move. It’s the job of 3rd party tool developers and consulting firms to make that happen. The ecosystem of partners and integrators are the key here. Providers work with them to drive business to their services. Microsoft, IBM, Google, etc., will not want to get into this play, as it is not good for business to drive away partners. Binary Tree, Quest, Transcend, etc…., along with consulting firms all do very well moving customers from one system to another. I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon.

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