Email has been declared dead more times than Lindsey Lohan’s career. Surprisingly, both are still with us. Digital communications will continue to morph, but contrary to Dave Wright’s assertion in a recent Information Age article, email is not obsolete, and will not become so anytime soon.
In fact, the relevance of enterprise email is on the rise. Radicati – the technology research firm that has been publishing definitive email statistics since 1993 – just released a 2015 Email Statistics Report, which revealed that the number of worldwide email users is expected to increase from 2.6 billion today to 2.9 billion by 2019.
Radicati also predicted that the average business user will receive 96 emails per day by 2019, up from 88 emails per day in 2014.
The key question isn’t when will email die, but rather: why is email still alive? Moreover, why is email usage actually growing despite the abundance of new enterprise collaboration tools, and how will the next generation of email allow organizations to compete more seamlessly and effectively? Here are three reasons why email will never die.
1. Email is universal
Email is more than 30 years old, so its role in the enterprise predates the Internet. This role has consistently grown over time, and today email remains the only communication tool with near 100% adoption across all companies, large and small.
In practice, this means email can be used to deliver any message from any platform, regardless of origin or destination. Unlike Slack, Yammer, Salesforce Chatter and other modern communication tools, there’s no need to ask individuals or organisations to opt into email – they’re already using it.
As enterprises struggle to manage hundreds of siloed cloud applications, email remains the one constant business users can rely on – a factor that has also played into email’s adoption as a catch-all for business activities.
2. Email is used as both a method of communication and a project management tool
Beyond communication, business users also leverage email as an unofficial document repository and project management tool, using it to delegate and track tasks, share critical documents like work orders, manage calendars and more.
Thanks to its universal acceptance as a communication tool, business users, seeking to limit the number of tools they check, have chosen email as their command centre of choice. Even for those workers using new technology platforms, email still plays a central role by complementing best-of-breed solutions.
3. Email works in tandem with new technology
As new tools mature – Slack, SharePoint, Yammer, Dropbox and more – they often compete with each other directly or indirectly. Email, on the other hand, complements these tools, making it a staple for all business users.
For example, a worker might turn to Salesforce.com to update information for a new prospect, then switch over to Yammer to publish a team update and finish by uploading payment details into the Oracle ERP cloud system.
While the specific applications can be replaced, after using each of these tools for a single purpose, the worker turns to email as the unifying command centre to monitor for notifications and updates.
By keeping the overall view of business activities on a single screen instead of receiving push notifications from ten different applications, email allows business users to spend more time focusing on the big picture.
However, email wasn’t developed with project management in mind, so it still causes information overload due to the sheer number of messages created. Forward-thinking companies are looking to new email best practices and email management tools to better serve the needs of knowledge workers.
The next generation of email
Predating the internet allowed email to gain an enterprise foothold early on, yet the flipside is email has historically been treated differently from document types that came later. Email messages are typically stored haphazardly within users’ inboxes, as opposed to Word documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, images, etc., which are handled efficiently within document management systems.
This dichotomy has led to a breakdown in information management, creating confusion and incoherence while placing an enormous burden on knowledge workers and companies in need of locating, storing and retrieving relevant information quickly for audits, discovery and compliance needs.
While critical for day-to-day business operations, the current state of email makes it an inadequate long-term option until companies embrace the next generation of email, which includes treating email as a document, bringing in contextual filtering, and breaking down application islands.
The first step for organisations using email as their command centre is to implement technology to enable easier, more effective use of metadata and permanent storage for email. New solutions allow organisations to store email in SharePoint and other content management systems just like any other document, empowering business users to manage email with the full capabilities offered by these systems, and IT and ops to meet compliance and audit requirements.
In addition to treating emails as documents, companies are turning to machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to automate email prioritisation based on advanced filters and contextual information. Current contextual email options include IBM Verse, Google Inbox and Microsoft Clutter, and future tools will have deeper options to automatically and manually filter by topic, location, time and more.
While contextual email tools are already picking up steam, in the long run businesses must remember that email can’t be treated as an island. Contextually filtering email notifications from siloed applications is a short-term workaround – the future of email lies in combining the best of all worlds: aggregating email, notifications and capabilities from any app a worker uses within a single, contextually filtered screen.
Email is far from dead, but its true potential has yet to be unlocked by the combination of proper management and taxonomy, contextual filtering and native integration with best-of-breed business applications.
The next generation of email solutions is almost here. These solutions will finally bring the full promise of email into the digital workplace: seamless access to the information workers need, along with the ability to instantly launch the appropriate application to act on that information.
By David Lavenda, VP of marketing and product strategy, harmon.ie