But he also sees other advantages. "If I can host email externally and still have the safety and security the county government needs, I can save millions in the long term. We'd need two to three people to manage Microsoft Exchange, but if I go to the cloud, I don't need those people. And in three or four years, I'm not replacing my mail servers."
Still, questions remain. "A lot of IT departments are investigating moving email to the cloud," Radicati says, "but there is still concern about whether it will be private enough, secure enough and reliable enough."
Merging Communications Tools
Like many systems IT has to deal with, email's boundaries are expanding, which means IT needs to begin thinking about email less as a silo and more as one component of a multimodal communications system.
Bertolini notes that the new generation of employees clamors for instant messaging -- and he's not against it. "They use it to collaborate. When they have chat, they can get things done in real time." He's also looking at more videoconferencing, first on a one-to-one basis from desktop to desktop, and then from conference room to conference room, and then into a multipoint video arraignment system for the public safety team, because it saves having to transport the county's prisoners among facilities.
Fortunately, these communication mechanisms will start to merge, analysts predict. Two to five years from now, email won't look tremendously different, but we won't talk about it as a stand-alone tool as much as we do today, says Radicati. Instead, we'll have a communications dashboard that includes email, instant messaging and social media.
These hubs will come about thanks to new open APIs, not only for social media applications like Facebook and LinkedIn, but also for unified communications protocols like Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP).
Forrester's Koplowitz concurs. "Over the next few years, we'll see greater integration across these tools. Think about how messaging is integrated into Gmail -- you don't have to switch back and forth because they're all integrated together," he says, citing similar functionality in systems from IBM (with Connections and Notes), Microsoft (with SharePoint and Yammer) and Facebook.
"We'll have a new environment with new aspects of communication," Koplowitz predicts. "Today they're different tools, but in the next three to five years, they'll be integrated."
A Silicon Valley-based freelance writer, Baldwin is a frequent Computerworld contributor.
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