At a very early stage in the life of a company, from any field (not just technology), a decision needs to be made- Which Email/File/Calendar solution should be used?
In the process of answering that question, immediately another question comes up- Why now? What is the threshold that upon reaching it, a company needs a unified communication and digital information solution?
The answer, in my opinion, is simple: from day one. The number of employees or the size of the business (an argument frequently used) has nothing to do with this decision (at least at this decision point, future decisions are a different story). From the moment there is a decision about the corporate entity’s name, a unified information solution should be used. The reasoning is simple- why not? Today there are solutions that are quick and easy to configure, hence the “low on resources/time/money” argument has less merit. Beyond the obvious benefits of the solution itself, there is also the added benefit of slowly building the company’s brand name by using it in external email communications. There is really no reason why not to start early. Furthermore, after using a specific system for a while,it is relatively hard to change to a different system, so it is better to have the first system you use be the one you can continue with for quite some time.
After the decision has been made, as system needs to be selected. There are several options, which in general are divided into two categories:
My recommendation would be to go with an online service solution. The quality of online services is on par with internal solutions, especially at an early stage when the demands from such a service are pretty standard. The ease of use and configuration was raised earlier. Hence there is no reason to waste company resources on an internal solution. Unless your business is MS Exchange hosting, its just not worth it.
From the online services available, I’ve had experiences with both MS Exchange hosted services and with Google Apps. Out of the two, Google Apps wins by a landslide. Setup is very easy and administration is even easier. As Gmail is very popular, users are already familiar with the interface. The evolution of Google Docs answers most if not all the needs of most users (for example- working on documents in collaboration with other users).All things considered, I believe Google Apps provides the best solution for a young company because of its ease of use, short setup time and low cost.