These days, finding a hosted email provider is far from difficult. Heck, your local church can probably host your email—that’s how common this service has become.
Each and every provider will tell you about the same thing about their services, too: we’ll provide you with hosted Microsoft Exchange, setup will be quick and painless, support with be top-notch, and you’ll get it all for dirt cheap, so sign up today!
With so many options out there, and with so few distinguishing characteristics between them all, how are you to tell if a hosted email provider is really someone you should entrust your organization’s communications with?
After nearly a quarter century in the technology support business, we’ve picked up a thing or two about how to properly vet a hosted email provider. Below we’ll work through the main factors that you should evaluate before signing on the dotted line—and how to make sure you’ll end up with a solution that is the right fit for you.
Key elements to consider when choosing your hosted email provider
Pay special attention to the following factors when making your selection:
- What’s included. Are you getting a hosted mailbox, or are you getting a cloud-based Exchange solution? If you’re getting a fully-hosted Exchange solution, you’re getting calendaring functionality, collaboration, and so forth as though you have your own Exchange services on-premise. A resold mailbox won’t give you a shared calendar, or much of anything beyond you Inbox. Check your features (I’m talking an itemized comparison) to make sure it includes what you need and are used to, especially if you’re moving from on-site solution.
- Support. How do you get it? Is phone support even an option? How easy it is to get to a human? What’s included in your support? Issues of connectivity? Outlook support? Will they follow your mail from desktop to desktop, or tell you that “our servers are fine; the problem’s on your end”? Are you comfortable with that response?
- Implementation. Most of the hosted email providers you run into have a do-it-yourself model. Fair warning: there is no such thing as “this is all you have to do” when it comes to setting up your organization’s entire communication system in a cloud environment. If you have an IT department, they should approach with as much caution as they would replacing your in-house server (moving your information out to a third party is a big deal). If you don’t, what will it cost you to get someone to help?
- Testimonials. What are other people saying about the provider? Fortunately for us, the Internet brings together a community of users that can give us feedback on their experiences when it comes to almost anything. The feedback is especially helpful if it comes from an organization you know, since they’ll be able to talk through what you can expect on a day-to-day basis with the solution and provider in question.
- Cost. Everyone likes something for nothing. But how valuable can a solution really be if you haven’t had to invest anything in it? Too often organizations become enamored with apparent cost savings, and enter into a low-cost solution unaware of how little they will actually get out of it. Be sure that your solution will fix the problem that you’re trying to solve. If it also can be low-cost (with no hidden charges for support or storage or otherwise), then great. But understand that you will most definitely get what you pay for.
My main point here, as you may be able to see, is that while it seems as though choosing an email provider is a simple and largely inconsequential process, there is actually a very important conversation to have before you click that “sign up” button.
If you have an outsourced IT provider, have a discussion with them about your needs, and from there work to identify the best option to meet those needs. If you have an internal team, talk to them about the same topics and ask what they’ve done to vet the providers out there.
Just because a technology has become commoditized does not mean that all providers are created equal. But it is my hope that, armed with the considerations I’ve spelled out above, you can confidently select the right provider for your organization.