Allstate Canada tackles messaging issues through hosted e-mail

Insurance company Allstate Canada has moved to a managed, hosted e-mail service to free up resources and concentrate its IT resources on sector-specific applications.

The company faced a significant overhead maintaining an Exchange server with 1800 e-mail accounts. It had to kill spam and avoid viruses, while handling backups, change management and availability monitoring. Everything from monitoring the maximum allowable storage capacity for a particular e-mail account, through to providing user support, took its toll on the company’s IT department, a comany spokesman said.

“From a business perspective, which was where most decisions rest, the overhead was an even split between time management, personnel resources, and cost,” explained Allstate Canada’s Derek Tupling. “We were spending too much time and resources on Exchange, rather than focusing on the core business of insurance.”

Allstate had been using Exchange 5.5, which in turn replaced WordPerfect Office. When Microsoft released Exchange 2003, many customers decided to upgrade their internal systems, but Allstate had reached a turning point in its e-mail strategy. “We recognised that we could have chugged along with 5.5 but we didn’t want to continue to do that,” said Tupling. “Support for Exchange 5.5 was being discontinued by Microsoft and as such needed to proceed with the migration. However, as part of the e-mail hosting arrangement, Ceryx will perform the implementation, testing and migration to Exchange 2007 for us, and as such, there was no reason to wait for it.”

There were also limitations to Allstate’s in-house configuration, such as the IT department’s inability to serve up e-mail via Exchange’s online office interface (called Outlook Web Access), for example.

Mobile workers had to log in using VPN software installed on a particular client, which made it impossible to use a non-configured machine such as a home PC or a terminal in an Internet cafe. Given that 25 per cent of Allstate’s employees access e-mail remotely, this was a business-limiting factor.

The company’s internal anti-spam system was also proving inadequate.”There were too many spam e-mails coming into the system. I can attest to that personally, because I remember erasing spam e-mails every five or 10 minutes during the day,” said Tupling.

Rather than invest the extra resources needed to manage the system-wide internal upgrade, it decided to farm out its e-mail service to Ceryx, a provider of managed e-mail services. It made the switch in January 2006.

Rather than switching over all of its e-mail accounts at once, it transferred 75 accounts to the Ceryx service as part of a four-week trial. The pilot, which started in November 2005, last four weeks and consisted largely of IT employees’ e-mail accounts, enabling it to test the migration largely transparently before taking everything live. When that went smoothly, the remainder of the EMAP accounts were transferred over an eight-day period the following January. These included up to 40 Blackberry users, who can now access their e-mail across a mobile network.

Since the transition, Allstate has experienced benefits in three main areas, explained Tupling. Firstly, Ceryx has whittled away almost all of the company’s incoming spam. In one month, it stopped over 5.5 million invalid delivery attempts and identified 56 per cent of incoming mail as spam, which was then quarantined. Users can access the spam folder via a Web interface to check for false positives.

The project saved the time that an IT professional would have spent maintaining the e-mail system, plus half as much again. “Having outsourced that, and let Ceryx provide the service, the IT department turned to more creative and innovative options,” said Tupling. The extra resources have been allocated to IT projects focusing particularly on the insurance business.

Finally, the managed service has given the insurance company more confidence that it can keep its e-mail up and running. “We needed to ensure that we had business continuity and we wanted to ensure that we could service customers internally and externally should something happen,” said Tupling. Now, if the Internet connection to Allstate’s headquarters goes down, mobile workers, agents and Allstate offices across the country can still access their mail.

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