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2008: Decision Year for RIAs - October 20-22, 2008 San Jose


Pitney Bowes Jumps on Microsoft’s Cloud-in-the-Making
Rival Earth Class Mail Calls It ‘Lipstick on a Pig’

Pitney Bowes Management Services Inc (PBMS) – the mail outsourcing subsidiary that the giant postage machine tried to sell earlier this year and reportedly couldn’t – says it’s going to work with Microsoft to put its dMail digital mail service on Microsoft’s prospective Azure Services Platform.

That’s Microsoft’s ladder for lifting applications onto the brand new cloud widgetry that Microsoft just announced last week. Azure is the latest example of the computer industry’s newfangled cost-efficient scheme for renting the infrastructure on which to run one’s software (see detailed story below).

PBMS’ dMail widgetry is a solution based on Microsoft technology for digitizing inbound business correspondence and inter-office mail. It’s targeted at Fortune 1000, AmLaw 200 and federal government agencies.

On Azure it would compete with Earth Class Mail (ECM), which has just signed Swiss Post to a trial of its approach to digitizing postal mail. ECM is also threatening PBMS’ corporate mailroom accounts like Sprint.

Of course ECM can deliver now; the five-country Swiss Post pilot is due to start in January. It’s unclear when exactly Microsoft will actually get its Azure cloud off the ground. It’s just gone to beta testing by some outside developers. And Pitney’s announcement is kind of equivocal. It only says it “plans to explore the business opportunities” of putting dMail on the Microsoft cloud.

Earth Class Mail will effectively give Swiss Post a private cloud; Microsoft is building a so-called public cloud.

With the Azure Services Platform, Pitney says dMail should be easier to deploy because of the cloud platform’s virtual, secure and scalable infrastructure.

So far PBMS has only sold dMail as an on-premise, behind-the-firewall solution but PBMS president Vincent De Palma says an increasing number of clients have expressed interest in an off-site, hosted approach.

Speaking of Azure in a canned statement he said, “We see this as an opportunity to address these needs by creating a dMail solution that exists in a hosted cloud infrastructure and also leverages our other assets, such as regional customer service centers, operational expertise and our ability to execute solutions, enabling us to deliver a new model of service to our customers.”

Reacting to the idea ECM CEO Ron Wiener said, “Boy, taking a brand new platform like Azure and associating it with an arcane old technology like dMail is like putting lipstick on a pig.”

“In our experience,” Wiener said, “enterprise customers want new applications developed specifically to take advantage of the cloud architecture. They’re loath to invest in old applications developed on yesteryear’s platforms that try to pass themselves off as SaaS or cloud apps merely by changing how they save their database contents to remotely hosted servers rather than to a local disk drive. Everything from the security infrastructure to database performance is heavily reliant on the vintage of the vendor’s technology platform. For example, the inability to directly sync up with an enterprise’s Active Directory, support popular mobile device UIs, or integrate with popular platforms like Outlook or Exchange will inhibit widespread usability. CTOs are demanding true enterprise-wide scalability.

Pitney describes dMail as “bringing business correspondence mail under corporate records policies and regulatory compliance.” But Wiener says that mail managers who implemented “open everything” digital mailroom solutions have been shut down by their legal departments for potential violations of HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, attorney-client privilege or a host of other regulations.

According to Wiener the only way around this problem is to “give the addressed recipients control over which pieces of their mail are to be opened and scanned in the mail center, delivered to their desks to be opened privately, forward-shipped or electronically transferred to others, destroyed or archived. This takes serious back-end automation as well as powerful web-based apps, and dMail simply isn’t a contender in this league.”

Earth Class Mail got a CIO-100 Award earlier this year for being the first to introduce a digital mailroom technology platform that can achieve 100% enterprise-wide applicability.

Wiener claims that at least one Fortune 100 company that used to have all of its inbound mail processed by PBMS considered its dMail product and rejected it because of scalability, operating cost and legal concerns.

That company, whose identity Wiener says he is not permitted to disclose, reportedly now has all 18,000 of its headquarters employees using Earth Class Mail’s cloud-based platform.

Industry insiders say that it’s generally known to be Sprint/Nextel, which matches up with two of Earth Class Mail’s seven US mail processing centers listed as being in Overland Park, Kansas and Reston, Virginia, plus the fact that PBMS also claims Sprint as a mailroom customer. 

About Maureen O'Gara
Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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