email. communication

I have always had a love hate relationship with email. On days when I had to wade through hundreds of them, or worse, referee two employees engaged in an email war, the love pretty well disappeared. On those days I wished for a world without email.

So it was with great interest that I read recently of a British Columbia Provincial Government minister who simply refused to use email. In a March 8th, 2016, Vancouver Province article British Columbia premier Christy Clark explained to media that finance minister Mike de Jong simply chose not to use email. According to official government sources, “his (de Jong’s) choice not to receive information or hold conversations by email is a matter of personal preference as a way to manage and prioritize the volume of information his portfolio already entails.” He gets his job done in a most senior leadership position and he does not use email. So it is possible! But is it realistic for the enterprise where communication is key to success? Likely not. If not what is the alternative?

Enterprise Social Media (ESM) is one contender vying to replace inefficient and sometimes embarrassingly public email. Well-known environments such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked in are useful tools for many companies as a social media outreach tool, but not for internal, sometimes sensitive, communication and collaboration. A number of companies offer enterprise internal communication solutions. One of these, Yammer (which was purchased by Microsoft), is now used as an internal communications and collaboration platform. Among a number of ESM’s providing services to the enterprise are Connections, Socialtext, and Zyncro. There are many others.

Each of these offers some useful tools aimed at facilitating closer and a more community-like communication among company employees. So far though, I do not see any that could be the true replacement for email providing instead a way to engage in productive and efficient communication with individual or teams of employees.

It just so happens that I served as a judge at the 2016 Compass Intelligence Awards held at the CES in January of this year.  At that event I remembered the winner of the Innovative Application of the Year was a “next generation” ESM called Carii, a mobile and web enabled networking platform for crossing the boundaries of communication, collaboration and simplification of business community development. I reached out to Carii CEO Denise Hayman-Loa and asked her what she thought are the biggest challenges and problems today with corporate communications? According to Hayman-Loa,

“some of us remember a time when business was conducted via phone calls and meetings. Then voicemail and group voicemail entered the picture for coordinating with teams on the go. I still remember checking my voicemails at 5:30 am to see if I had to fly to Boston that day! Next up were emails which has led to significant improvements in organizational efficiency — and still does to this day. Email is a great and flexible tool in many ways, and is still very useful. However, as organizations grow, as teams work across boundaries, and as internal and external collaborations become the norm, email has proven to have many limitations for corporate communications and efficiency. For example, email is not confidential (and) there is no reliable history. It doesn’t support productivity or true collaboration because it is difficult to find comments in a trail of emails. It is difficult for new people to join an email trail and get caught up. It is difficult to audit for compliance and regulatory purposes.

In terms of administration, it is cumbersome to manage and communicate with groups and sub-groups. It is not consistent or secure across platforms (internal and mobile). It is necessary to know email addresses to include people, and tedious to open attachments and links. And last but not least, it is not always clear who else is on an email that has been sent to many people, leading to accidental inclusions and exclusions of people, which can cause a raft of problems.”

In that response, Denise pretty well summed up every issue I had experienced with email in my years as a CIO and senior executive. To provide you with a solid take away from this article, I asked Denise to describe the main benefits a company would realize by moving away from email and towards an enterprise communication solution such as Carii. Denise sees the benefits as, “more effective and efficient communication, knowledge sharing and collaboration within and across groups and sub-groups; privacy, security and control over communications at both the team and the administrative level, including access to history for compliance purposes; collaboration and communication in a secure, efficient environment both internally and with external customers and partners; and consistent communication experience and data across all platforms, including mobile.”

With over 97 per cent of enterprises currently implementing some form of Enterprise Social Media, I’m optimistic that the days of receiving “reply all” CYA emails and refereeing those emails that “were not meant to be insulting” are numbered. We are not quite there yet but with companies like Carii gaining awards and recognition for innovation in this space there is hope.

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