SaskTel is in the testing phase of a project to roll out an e-mail messaging and calendaring service to 454,000 business and residential customers. The service is based on Sun Microsystems’ Java Enterprise System software.

The Western Canadian service provider has already rolled out its eMessage

service internally, but is going over a series of reliability and compatibility checks with other desktop products such as Microsoft Outlook. SaskTel will primarily market the service to small and medium-sized business customers.

SaskTel general manager Curt Smith says the company developed its last messaging service about five years ago with older sets of software that haven’t kept up with the same level of functionality it wants to offer to its customer base. Although its development team did custom coding to add some features, the layered nature of products – such as identity servers, directory servers and operating systems – made it difficult to keep up, he says.

“”We had let some of the layered products in particular kind of lapse in terms of versions that they were running,”” he says, adding that compatibility was also an issue. “”When we actually figured out the whole ripple effect, we would have had to (go) through several stages of doing upgrading and testing.””

The company chose Java Enterprise System, Smith says, because it had the pre-integration and pre-testing necessary to reduce its time to market. It would also set the stage for potentially introducing additional features – such as wireless and storage on the server – to SaskTel’s customers.

“”(Messaging) is really becoming more about collaboration and the full environment of how people work together,”” he says. “”I guess we were probably talking about portals five years ago, but not nearly to the extent where we can understand what they can do (today).””

Five years ago, most users had only one e-mail address, added Joely Urton, senior product marketing manager for the Java Enterprise System at Sun. File-sharing and the movement of instant messaging into enterprise environments have also changed expectations among customers, she says.

“”They buy Java Enterprise System for a particular project that they have in mind that is a dire need,”” she says.

“”Once that’s done, we’re seeing customers implement the second or third project . . . there’s been a change in the customer behaviour in how they view what they select. It’s not as constrained.””

As a kick-start to the project, SaskTel employees also took a two-day workshop from Sun Services, which Smith says gave the company a better sense of what it needed to do.

“”Being a service provider, I think we have a more complex environment than just an enterprise would have,”” he says.

The eMessage service, which Smith says would be available to customers in a few months, will also take advantage of Sun’s Directory Server and its Access Manager for authentication.

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