The Outsourcing Continuum, Part V: Application Outsourcing

In addition to the infrastructure outsourcing we’ve been discussing in this series, there is now opportunity to outsource selected applications that are important to the company but not strategic. Let’s consider all the business functions that are common to many businesses, for example, your email server.

Modern business relies on email to do business every day, so it’s very important that you have an email connection. But do you really want to dedicate internal resources to managing and maintaining an email server? There are literally dozens of companies that will provide you with an email service that in many ways may be superior to what you have now.

What about your CRM function? It’s important for the sales force to be able to track their customers and sales pipeline, but building and maintaining a CRM server takes resources away from focusing on the really important applications that provide your business with a competitive advantage. Let’s take a look at an email example and see what the analysis looks like.

There are two types of email outsourcing available, Web-only and hosted server. Each of these has their strengths and weaknesses, but generally they will do the job pretty effectively for very little cost. As in all outsourcing, you’ll need to make sure that the service level agreement (SLA) meets the needs of your company. What you should get from both types of service providers are:

  • Large mailboxes (2+ GB)

  • Large email attachments (at least 20 MB)

  • Virus protection

  • Spam filtering

  • Secure access to email

  • Email client access via standard access protocols.

What you should get from hosted-server service providers are: Locally installed email client (e.g., Outlook, Eudora, Scribe, etc.) and Web access to email.

The mailbox and attachment size will determine how much data can be immediately accessible in the user mailbox. Many users of business email are used to having very large inboxes because they rarely clean them out. So, the larger the mailbox the more emails can be retained. Email attachments seem to be getting bigger and bigger, so make sure that you aren’t too limited when it comes to the size of the documents you attach to an email. This can be very frustrating for some users if they just want to quickly share a document with a colleague.


There are literally hundreds of thousands of malicious software types (viruses, Trojans, spybots, etc.) running around the Internet. Unfortunately many of them are transmitted via email, so you want to make sure that you have all the protection you can get to avoid compromising your internal networks. Unfortunately, the majority of email traffic today is junk mail from spammers, so you’ll want any service provider to stop that spam before it reaches your user’s inboxes.

Another great feature of email is the ability to encrypt sensitive information to ensure that it doesn’t get read by unauthorized people. You’ll also want secure encrypted access to your email, wherever it is stored.

Access Protocols

There are a couple of standard email protocols, POP3 (post office protocol 3) and IMAP (Internet message access protocol), that you will want a service provider to make available. This will allow your users can get their email delivered to the standard email client that you have installed on their systems. Typically, the service provider will give you a set of easy to follow instructions on how to set up an email client like Outlook or Eudora to access email stored on their servers.

What you won’t get are unlimited mailboxes. You will have to train your users on how to keep their mail organized and their email boxes down to a reasonable size. This is going to be tough for some folks (you know who they are) because they don’t ever clean out their inbox. With the basic email service you typically won’t get mobile email support for your smart phones and PDAs, either. That in most cases is an extra cost item.