Full-service vs. self-service outsourced IT: What to consider when evaluating hosted email services

When it comes to choosing the right hosted provider, it’s important to understand what hosted providers can and cannot offer to avoid causing more problems than you're eliminating says Intermedia's Jonathan McCormick.
Written by Jonathan McCormick,, Contributor on

Commentary - As hosted solutions become more prevalent, so do the number of providers. When it comes to choosing the right hosted provider for your company’s email needs, it’s important to understand what hosted providers can and cannot offer in order to avoid confusion and mitigate the risk of adopting a hosted email solution that causes you more problems than it eliminates.

Let’s take a closer look at two different types of business-related hosted email offerings: full-service and self-service solutions. Outlined below are a few key areas to consider as you investigate whether a full-service or self-service option is the right choice for your company.

Overall experience
Both types of providers typically implement, manage and maintain the underlying technology – as well as provide some level of support.

As their name would imply, full service solutions offer a higher level of engagement, often setting up the service for the client – and backing it with live 24x7 support – while providing detailed reporting every step of the way.

Providers of self-service solutions are sold at a reduced price, but prompt customers to help themselves – usually via online guides – when it comes to setup and troubleshooting.

If your IT shop has the time and resources to manage your hosted email solution, perhaps the self-service solution is the right approach (as well as the cost savings it provides). However, for busy IT staff, managing dozens of end-user email accounts, knowing there is a helpful resource available should issues arise might be worth the minimal additional seat charge.

This is probably the largest hurdle for every email service change, and the reason most companies opt for status quo. Companies have often made extensive investments in their current email set up. Existing email data, users, contacts, calendars and more reside in the system, as do address groups and other business rules.

Not only does this make migration to a new provider a daunting task, it makes it risky. IT takes the blame for any data loss, file confusion, etc. Most organizations are not equipped to manage a rapid migration to a new hosted provider with little to no impact on end-users.

Full-service providers add value here, assisting customers with each step of the migration process, with automated toolkits, documented processes, etc. They also remain in regular communication with customers to ensure the migration is completed satisfactorily throughout each phase.

Again, self-service providers rely on online tutorials and automated set up procedures. This option can provide the user with greater control and if a company is starting from scratch – with little to no email data – there is no need to worry about migration back-ups, and other settings and configuration issues. However, if you have an existing email environment in place the full service option may be the best fit.

No IT solution is perfect and IT workers know more than anyone else that hiccups can occur. What happens when you have questions about your hosted email service or need support?

Full-service service solutions offer 24X7 support that includes a live, certified support staff available by phone and email. Full-service providers also have a knowledge base or library of data that includes information on frequently handled issues and best practices that users can reference to help carry on after receiving human-directed support.

Self-service solutions may also have a knowledge base, and again will have helpful online tools and documents that can be helpful in identifying and resolving issues quickly, but few offering live support.

Finding support to address problems or questions can be a daunting task (and a stressful one if, say, the CEO’s iPhone isn’t syncing email). “Do it yourself” offerings are best suited for situations where email is not mission critical, such as personal use or micro-businesses not dependent on online collaboration with customers or employees.

Reliability is equally important as technology support when it comes to hosted email but both types of providers approach them differently.

A provider that offers full-service has extensive experience dealing with business customers and typically provides a 99.999% uptime service level agreement (SLA) that has financial penalties in event of failure. Additionally, the right full-service provider will submit to SAS 70 Type II audits not just in the datacenter, but organization wide – giving customers full confidence it is applying rigorous security and operating practices.

Self-service providers typically offer 99.9% SLA and offer little to no financial penalty for failure in the event of service outages, data loss, etc. Hosted email solutions are reliable and rarely, if ever, face extensive outages or data loss but consider how the level of service of hosted solution providers impacts how such technology issues are handled.

Control and flexibility
Similar to on-premise IT solutions, the right full-service provider will offer rigorous control and flexibility to customers. Just because there is full-service support does not mean the customer can’t be hands on in the set-up and management of the solutions. The idea is to simplify how a customer meets business requirements without limiting important controls. Data migration, access controls, mobile and remote worker set-ups and controls (including remote data wipes in case your CEO’s iPhone gets lost) can all be handled by the end user in a model that is not “one size fits all.”

Self-service solutions do not offer the same level of flexibility because there is not the support and technical foundation to help end users develop and manage significant environmental changes. Because of this, full-service is likely a better fit for organizations with compliance requirements and other more complex email needs.

Hosted solutions provide your business with significant cost savings versus on-premise solutions but each type of provider differs greatly in terms of how they migrate your existing data, their level of customer support, their experience dealing with business users that rely heavily on email and the amount of control offered over the user’s existing IT environment. When selecting a hosted email provider, the most important consideration is the total cost and benefit picture. It’s critical to evaluate the levels of service and control in areas that are important to your business – like hosted providers, not all businesses are created equal and you need to implement the solution that will provide the greatest benefit and mitigate additional headaches.

Jonathan McCormick is chief operating officer at Intermedia.

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