My company is probably one of the longest users of Postini, a service Google acquired a few years back that was designed to combat malware on Exchange and other business mail systems. Postini could be sold as a standalone product or provided as a service provider offering. The company decided to discontinue support for service providers likely to eliminate support for services that competed with Google Mail.
While Google did provide a press release recommending folks migrate from Postini to Google Apps last August (as a user I was unaware of this), it only provided a 60-day notice for those providers to find an alternative and migrate their customers to it. Google apparently provided no migration support (this created a huge opportunity for others). That means the service providers had to figure out a service, migrate all of the whitelists and blacklists for every individual user using Postini and migrate every user to a new service with no financial help or physical assistance from Google. This wasn’t a free service.
Ironically, MailRoute stepped up and, at least with regard to my service provider (I have Lanlogic and use Office365 as my backend), it got the business because it solved the problem Google created. Business vendors who want to remain business vendors typically don’t behave this way, particularly with an email system because email touches everyone from the CEO on down. And every person who got the message from their service provider or IT organization likely knows this was an artificial problem created by Google and would likely now avoid that company as a result.
Let me explain.
The Power and Problem with Email
Of all the IT jobs I’ve done or participated in over the years, from server and desktop migrations to implementing new networks and telephone systems, the one that scares me the most is email. This is because email ranges from the very personal to mission-critical; it touches every employee, and unlike phones, which used to be as critical, if an email system goes down there is no cell-phone-like redundancy. If you have a second email account, you likely don’t share it as widely as you might your cell phone and migrating a phone system to get a dial tone is relatively binary now. And one phone pretty much works like any other on a desktop.
With email you have to migrate setting (like filters), email and user interface skills to the new platform and, like a phone system, the best result you can hope for, and I’ve participated in a ton of migrations, is that you keep your job. You may win awards for making a lot of things happen, but with email, because of the massive amount of change and potential for pissed-off senior executives, the best you can generally hope for is to not have this appear as a career-ending or damaging event in your employment folder.
My general advice when asked about doing an email migration is to find someone else to take responsibility for it. A true business vendor knows to never muck with someone’s email.
Business vs. Consumer Vendor
What makes the difference with a business, and particularly an enterprise vendor, is they know they need to work extra hard to keep their accounts happy. This is because businesses have long memories that can extend beyond the career or life of any single employee. You lose a business customer because you treated them badly and they may never do business with any part of your company again. Effectively, you get blacklisted and with services like Ombud’s vendor monitoring service growing in companies, pissing off one part of even the largest enterprise may result in being barred from all of it.
In this instance, it wasn’t just that Google provided inadequate notice — typically more like one to two years rather than two months — but that its replacement service, Google Message Filtering, had no migration tools. Apparently, the two Google services weren’t designed to talk to each other and Google didn’t feel it was a high enough priority to fix that.
Google regularly kills services that don’t meet its expectations with little notice and that is a practice that will likely keep it from ever being a reliable business provider.
Wrapping Up: Picking a Provider
We get a lot of companies that suddenly feel the deep need to become business vendors. They see the kind of revenue a single enterprise account can generate and look at IBM’s financials and think, “we should do this.” And with little research or understanding jump in with both feet, sending sales reps out to convince our people to “give them a shot.” Google is a perfect example that even firms like this that are large enterprises often don’t understand the requirements of this class of service and can fall horribly short of requirements.
Google’s past behavior with Android and a variety of failed online service indicate the firm has institutionalized a belief that customer satisfaction and care don’t matter. Granted the advertising source for most of its revenue separates its users from its normal real customers — the advertisers — but whatever the cause, any vendor that doesn’t take customer care seriously shouldn’t be considered for your business, particularly if they don’t fundamentally understand the importance of an email product to you. Apparently, after this Postini thing, other firms are abandoning Google as well.
One final thought: Now Google joins the ranks of firms that acquire companies and tend to shut them down with inadequate notice. Should it acquire a firm you are doing business with, it would be prudent to immediately put migration plans in place.