Despite the many column inches generated since Amazon announced its intention to bring a new managed email service called WorkMail to the world, this evolution leaves me cold, even if it promises to deliver a "secure, managed business email and calendaring service with support for existing desktop and mobile email clients. Amazon WorkMail gives users the ability to seamlessly access their email, contacts, and calendars using Microsoft Outlook, their web browser, or their native iOS and Android email applications."
All fine words indeed, but the road to success in the enterprise email market is littered by other attempts to knock Exchange and Gmail off their perch as the world's most popular cloud-based email services.
I see four major challenges awaiting Amazon as they bring WorkMail to the market.
No services capabilities: It’s absolutely true that companies can sell cloud services to customers on a self-service basis. Google has done this for years with Google Apps and the model works for the small to medium market where the level of deployment complexity is typically lower than you find in larger enterprises. Once you try and break into the enterprise market, all manner of problems can crop up, including larger volumes of data to migrate, the need to accommodate features like delegate access to mailboxes, integration of email into business processes, and so on. These issues are often dealt with by system integration partners. It took Google years to build out a partner network to support Google Apps and that network is not as capable or mature as the one enjoyed by Microsoft, who has operated in this space for much longer. Amazon will have to recruit, develop, and support partners around the world and that’s not an easy task.
No ecosystem: Alongside partners go add-ins and extensions that fill in the gap left by the prime vendor. For instance, Spanning.com offers online backup services for both Google Apps and Office 365. That’s just one example of one third-party software vendor who has invested years of development effort to build a product to support those platforms, but it’s an example of the ecosystem that adds incredible value to anyone who wants to maximize their return on a decision to use WorkMail. So far, it seems that the WorkMail ecosystem is pretty slim and it will take years and a huge investment by Amazon to build out a comparable ecosystem to those enjoyed by Google or Microsoft.
No hybrid: When it comes to persuading existing customers that it’s time to embrace the cloud, the most effective weapon in Office 365’s armory is hybrid connectivity. Without being able to span the gap between on-premises and cloud with a unified mail flow, directory, and capabilities, enterprise customers would be much more reluctant to transfer workload to Office 365. Google has no hybrid capabilities and is a cloud-only platform like WorkMail. After years of trying, I don’t see that Google is terribly successful at migrating tons of Exchange seats to its platform whereas tens of millions have moved to Office 365. WorkMail will hit the same rock.
No track record with consumers: Hotmail gave Microsoft the chance to accumulate lots of experience with cloud operations and to establish a track record with consumers before they went into commercial cloud office services with BPOS (not so good) and then Office 365 (so much better). Google gained the same advantages from Gmail. WorkMail enters the market with no obvious track record of anything but the Amazon name. And shifting parcels around the world is a lot different to shifting email, so how will Amazon convince anyone that they really know what they’re doing in this space?
You might get the impression that I don’t rate Amazon’s chances. And you would be right. I don’t. I have no idea how anyone was able to build a business plan to take on Google and Microsoft in a space where IBM, a company with a solid track record of email services, barely registers today. It would be interesting to see the pitch that was made to Jeff Bezos and the Amazon board to justify the launch of this project!
But for all that, if you're interested in kicking WorkMail's tires, you can sign up for the preview. Be sure to have fun while you’re using the preview. I’m not so sure I shall bother as I have more pressing tasks on my plate.
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