Mobile e-mail initiatives have started in many different ways in the past. Sometimes, they have come about as a result of users pestering the IT department, leading to tactical implementations that were regarded simply as a necessary evil from an IT perspective, rather than a fully fledged part of the IT strategy and infrastructure.
On other occasions, mobile operators and their partners have sold a "proof of concept" pilot project to an organisation. This project solidified over time into a permanent installation, but without necessarily having been bolstered to deal with the broader needs of scalability and manageability.
Third, there are "under the radar" projects in which individuals and departments have used "prosumer" products and services to solve their personal and local needs, sometimes with the blessing of IT, sometimes without.
Of course, there are also organisations that have implemented mobile e-mail systems as one or more properly supported IT initiatives, but for whatever reason, wish to revisit these systems. This might be because of the maturing of user needs, a wish to review past and future investments in the light of technology evolution, or a desire to consolidate multiple systems to reduce cost, improve support or make the system more manageable.
Making sense of the options
Now that mobile e-mail is moving into the mainstream, with technology and services widely available to businesses of all sizes, organisations looking to either invest for the first time or review their current arrangements are presented with a range of approaches and options for moving forward.
But how do you make sense of these options and figure out the best system for your business? If your course is not yet set, you are likely to be faced with some technology decisions.
Although interest in mobile access to a range of corporate systems, such as customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning, is growing, messaging is still the primary driver for investment in handheld technology for business professionals. And according to 756 business and IT professionals participating in a recent online study, it is going to remain this way for at least the next couple of years.
The debate about whether e-mail on the move is going to be an integral part of business life into the future is pretty much over. If you are not yet convinced, you are in the minority.
Some organisations have already set their direction in this area in terms of technology choices, but if you have yet to take the plunge - or need to review an informal, limited or piecemeal capability that is currently in place - then decisions need to be made.
All mobile e-mail systems have one thing in common: they allow a user to send and receive messages via a handheld device. Where they differ significantly is in the way they do this, which in turn determines which underlying mail servers and services they will work with effectively, the experience delivered to the user, and the ease with which they can be set up and administered.
Systems designed to work with large-scale Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino systems are not necessarily going to help the large number of small businesses relying on ISP-hosted Pop3 mailboxes, and vice versa.
Assess your mobile e-mail needs
And from a user perspective, systems conceived for occasional low-volume access will be inadequate for road warriors, and fully comprehensive mailbox mirroring and attachment handling may be an overkill or difficult to cost justify for relatively light users.
The challenger to the crown is Microsoft, with its mobile e-mail capability embedded natively into Exchange. However, it is worth investigating other options, which sometimes provide greater freedom in terms of device support and systems integration.
Mobile operator branded relay services and total hosted e-mail offerings with a mobile access option particularly address the needs of smaller businesses, so there is nothing practical or technical standing in the way of any organisation moving forwards with e-mail on the move, regardless of its size and requirements.