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Is now the time for an e-mail migration?

E-mail is just not what it used to be. Once a standalone application, e-mail is now just one component among many in today's collaboration suites.

E-mail is just not what it used to be. Once a standalone application, e-mail is now just one component among many in today's collaboration suites.

Consequently, many IT executives, especially those whose IT spending stalled during the recent recession, are feeling the pressure to use new, feature-laden collaboration suites and to upgrade to servers that can handle ever-increasing waves of e-mail and instant messaging traffic.

IBM, Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and Novell Inc. are tempting IT executives with reverse compatibility with legacy applications, integration with back-end relational databases, and support for rapid application development. CEOs, meanwhile, are demanding integrated instant messaging and presence awareness -- features available only with the new collaboration suites. Execs also want their mobile and wireless tools to work with their e-mail, calendars and to-do lists.

The Internet in recent years has done a lot of growing up, and many messaging systems haven't kept up.
Mark Boeser
messaging consultant

"Performance, reliability and scalability are what companies are looking for," says Mark Boeser, senior messaging consultant at Minneapolis-based Born Information Services Inc. "The Internet in recent years has done a lot of growing up, and many messaging systems haven't kept up."

All of this has many IT executives contemplating e-mail migration, although the subject remains taboo in some corporate boardrooms. Migration disrupts end-user productivity, ties up IT resources and typically requires new servers, connectors and migration tools. In addition, migration requires highly paid e-mail architects. And, while all the major vendors claim that their suites reduce e-mail costs, the net savings, after migration, are difficult to calculate.

"That's why the overwhelming number of users stay with their current platforms," says David Mario Smith, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "There is no ROI justification for e-mail migration."

Internal politics -- which often involve groups loyal to either Microsoft or IBM Lotus -- lies behind many e-mail migration discussions. But another driver has emerged: the move toward modular suites such as IBM Lotus Workplace, which allows administrators to turn features on and off.

"We are recommending that our clients look at the new collaboration suites if they have users with simple needs, such as workers sharing kiosks in a break room and [workers] who use e-mail infrequently to download their pay stubs," Smith says.

Migration is also a compelling strategy for large organizations whose e-mail systems have become segmented.

"We had eight different mail systems running simultaneously," says Katherina Sorrentino, assistant director for IT customer support at the University of Connecticut. This year, the school will migrate its melange of Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange 5.5 and other platforms to Exchange 2000.

"We had no common directory," Sorrentino says. "People couldn't read each other's attachments. Everybody was just doing their own thing."

The university hopes to migrate 7,500 e-mail users to Exchange 2000. The school hired a Microsoft-certified consultant to plan the migration, but it has spent no money on migration tools, which can be used to move user IDs and inboxes to new servers automatically. The university is instead using its remaining budget to pay for online training for end users.

IT executives are finding other means for reducing the costs of e-mail migration. "We've been able to bring a lot of the third-party vendor [document-management] apps onto a single system," says Michael Stoeckert, CIO of EPL Inc., a technology service provider based in Birmingham, Ala.

Stoeckert even claims to have found the cost justification that Gartner's Smith says is so hard to find. Stoeckert insists that, by switching from Microsoft Exchange to Oracle Collaboration Suite, EPL cut its ownership costs for e-mail and collaboration by 40%. OCS, he says, allows EPL to store more e-mail on fewer servers than does Exchange.

EPL avoided migration headaches by piloting the new platform with a small group of users. "That was a key to our success," Stoeckert says. "We collected feedback for 30 days, which helped prepare us for the wider migration."

Another CIO encourages his colleagues to prepare for migration with Murphy's Law in mind.

"Be prepared for unexpected expenses," says Chris McDaniel, CIO at Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP, a law firm based in Atlanta.

Smith, Gambrell & Russell relied on Atlanta-based IT consultancy Intellinet Corp. for help with a migration. McDaniel says Intellinet made the transition easier but, even so, "we had to recode some apps, and reintegrate others [that came from third-party vendors]," he says.

The migration took a toll on McDaniel's staff, too. Says McDaniel: "Don't underestimate the challenges that migration will pose to your end users and to your technical staff."


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