The CEO of Atos, Thierry Breton, made recent tech headlines for taking the radical position to ban email at his firm.
I can't help but feel jaded skepticism every time I hear the media exploit this conversation missing the most important point: in business, email is strategic. Email is a vital part of how many organizations communicate internally as well as with clients, customers, partners, and suppliers. We've come to rely on email so much in business that I've had CIOs tell me that they could live without the phone system longer than without the email system.
And we've heard it all. The horror stories of bloated email databases, inboxes that overwhelm users, the horrific ways that email interfaces support collaboration, etc. Rightfully so, users and managers are fed up with all of these issues.
Breton estimates that only 10% of the 200 messages his employees receive on an average day are useful, and that 18% is spam. Managers spend between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing e-mails, he says.
A tool that was built to improve productivity has become, perceived or otherwise, a drain on time and resources. A tool that too many of us turn to for all our communication out of convenience rather than how well it is suited to what we need to communicate. Face it, for all the problems, email is generally reliable, personal, familiar, and crosses organizational as well as technical boundaries so users don't have to.
So the headline making comments, e.g., "Should we ban email in the workplace?," do just that, get our attention. But the Atos approach is much more level-headed than the headlines will have you believe. It is one of careful and strategic thought about how we communicate in the workplace.
As email radical thinkers point out that turning off email isn't as easy as flipping a switch or declaring it dead. It is, however, possible to reduce our dependence on email and modify our email behavior so that it remains a useful tool rather than a burden. This weaning can't be done overnight, as Mr. Price, a representative of Atos, admits in a Pat Morrison interview on KPCC:
The original announcement goes back to earlier this year. There were studies done at the time that measured the number of emails that passed between people at that time...to identify the bad behaviors and try to cut those out and improve the way we work...to begin to introduce a rage of tools...that allow people to communicate.
Improving how people communicate, and how email is used in the workplace, requires a strategy. Understanding how employees communicate and collaborate is key to building out a communications and collaboration infrastructure to support the different ways that people communicate. It's not a bout finding a new tool to replace the old one. Mr. Price points out:
A lot of people ask is this about the movement of one technology to another technology? What it is about is finding the right communication medium for the type of communication you want to undertake.
There at better alternatives to using email for different types of communicant and collaboration. companies need to understand how their workers communicate, have a plan, build the infrastructure, and put the support in place for its users. Only then will email be useful and not a burden.
Of course there are many of us for whom this conversation isn't new. But it seems we continue to focus on finding a killer for the "killer app" when what we really need is a strategy for offering the "right communication medium for the type of communication [we] want to undertake."
Wed, Apr 4th 2012 6:24p Karen Hobert Consumers really do care about their privacy, according to a Consumer Reports survey: According to a Consumer Reports press release, the national survey found that 71% of respondents said they were very concerned about companies selling or sharing their information about them without their permission. Another 65% of smartphone owners don't like that apps can access their contacts, photos, locations and other data without permission from them. Who knew? ;-) [read] Keywords: blogger
Social in Business: Rubber meet Road
Fri, Mar 16th 2012 11:44a Karen Hobert In this next installment of Social in Business we focus on Strategy. Hopefully the thesis of this post shouldn’t knock your socks off; in a nutshell, businesses need a social software strategy in order for the social in business to be successful at the firm. Want to reach the holy grail of an e-mail free working environment? In reality what you’ll likely find, especially if you do the strategy legwork, is that the goal is not getting rid of e-mail. Rather, the goal is to improve e-mail usa [read] Keywords: blogger
Enterprise Social Networking is More Than Facebook Behind a Firewall
Thu, Mar 8th 2012 1:04p Karen Hobert More input from Brian Solis at Altimeter Group on the "you" in social in business: Everything you see in social networks is unique to you because you are at the center of the entire experience. This is why I lovingly refer to social media as the Egosystem. By design, everything revolves around you. Your friends, co-workers, the businesses and organizations you support, are linked to by you. You have become the ringmaster of your personal connectivity and in many ways, serve as the IT departmen [read] Keywords: blogger
Social in Business: What are we doing here anyway?
Thu, Mar 8th 2012 11:04a Karen Hobert This is the third post in the Top Dog/Elguji Social in Business blog series. The first post was entitled "Social in Business: What we are talking about" and the second was entitled "Social in Business: Build it and they will come (?)". Today we focus on Objectives. So if you’ve followed my blog (or other similar minded bloggers) you’ve likely come across one of my occasional rants about the pitfalls of buying technology for technology’s sake. This is sort of one of those posts in thi [read] Keywords: blogger
Oliver Marks, ZDNet: It's the People, Stupid
Fri, Mar 2nd 2012 1:24p Karen Hobert Another point of view on the people factor of social (or collaboration) in enterprise: There’s plenty of great online and mobile technology available across a wide range of price points for small & medium businesses right up to global enterprises, but none of them will be of much use without successfully motivating your prospective participants to start interacting through these channels Read full article here: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/collaboration/its-the-people-stupid/2361 [read] Keywords: collaboration