Low-cost airline Jetstar today revealed plans to implement a multi-pronged email strategy that will see most head office staff continue to use Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange platform while about 2200 support staff shift to Google's Apps alternative.
The airline currently provides an Outlook/Exchange-based service to all of its staff from a Jetstar-built server in one of the airline's datacentres, maintained as a managed service by an external provider. However, the company's chief information officer Stephen Tame confirmed in an interview this morning that he had put together a new approach for sign-off by the company's management.
Tame pointed out that Jetstar had a significant population of staff who didn't have their own dedicated PCs, including cabin and tech crews as well as customer service officers at airports. "They're probably hindered by having a central solution," he said. "They'd get far better service if they had something in the cloud."
However, unlike most other Australian organisations that have adopted Google Apps (one large example being AAPT), Jetstar will not shift the entirety of its staff onto the search giant's collaboration platform. Tame noted that some 300 to 400 head office staff would continue to use Outlook/Exchange Microsoft platform, with the jump to Google being "probably too big" at this stage. There were a number of features that Microsoft's full-featured suite currently did better, he said, such as integration with local storage and dealing with large attachments.
In addition, since Jetstar uses Microsoft's Lync, Office and Active Directory products, Tame noted that moving off the Exchange platform would diminish the value achieved by using Microsoft's wider integrated product set.
Under Tame's strategy, a number of other technologies will be used to bind the two competing suites together into one unified platform.
The CIO noted that all of Jetstar's mail was currently processed through the cloud-based email security suite offered by MessageLabs, which has recently been re-branded under the Symantec.cloud banner. The MessageLabs solution delivers email security to Jetstar, catching viruses and spam, for example, but it also conducts journalling and archiving activities.
When the Google Apps roll-out takes place, MessageLabs will still handle all of Jetstar's email, but it will route email to either the Microsoft or Google platforms, depending on which platform the recipient uses. Email addresses will remain the same, a single secure sign-on service will be at the front-end of both, and calendaring and directory integration (through Active Directory) will also be unified.
Microsoft also offers a cloud-based email product. Tame said that his decision on which provider to choose for the support staff came down to which one could give him "the best commodity price for a commodity service".
"We wanted to make sure we had a negotiable position so that it didn't matter which way we went," he said. After executive sign-off, the plan is that the email migration will take place by the end of the current financial year.
Asked whether he was concerned about the fact that much of Jetstar's email will now be stored offshore, as Google does not operate an Australian datacentre, Tame pointed out that his company already used a number of other offshore cloud computing services, including MessageLabs.
The airline has also implemented performance management software provided by SuccessFactors, which runs on a software-as-a-service model.
"If you've got all your HR records hosted overseas, why are you concerned about email?" asked Tame, noting that as long as security controls were implemented (in this case, through MessageLabs), location was a moot point.
When Jetstar was first created back in 2003, the company was already using a cloud-based email platform supplied by Australian hosting company WebCentral (now part of MelbourneIT), Tame said. It had migrated off the platform when it "outgrew" it.
Jetstar's adoption of Google Apps will make it one of the few top-tier Australian corporate brands known to have rolled out the platform so far. The cloud email technology has mainly seen adoption in the education sector and in medium-sized businesses such as Mortgage Choice, Flight Centre and Ray White. AAPT is one large company known to have deployed the technology.
The dual-pronged email strategy proposed by Jetstar is not without precedent in Australia.
In early 2010, Peter Carr, the managing director of analyst firm Longhaus, noted that there were a number of examples where cloud email was being used in Australian corporates for staff who were on the edge of the corporate network. Examples include the student populations of schools and universities or nurses in hospitals.
At the time, Carr pointed out that Jetstar parent Qantas had actually decided to stop providing Qantas flight attendants with an official company email account: instead, the staff provide Qantas with their own personal email address, which was often a Gmail or Hotmail free account. They are then paid an annual fee for their professional use of personal technology. The reason this sort of system works, according to Carr, is the low volume of official company email Qantas flight attendants need to deal with — just work schedules and so on. The analyst calls this type of staff "boundary workers", because they work on the edges of the corporate technology footprint.