The Long, Drawn-Out End of E-Mail as We Know It

J. Caron
J. Caron

Summary Bullets:

  • E-mail has never been popular in business environments, so reports of its death are celebrated
  • If e-mail is going to die, however, it will be long and slow, with new approaches requiring e-mail integration at the very least

Not long after e-mail went mainstream in late 1980s people started to complain about it. In fact, it was nearly instantaneous. At first there was a hint of pride embedded in complaints about the number of e-mails received – the eye-rolling moan about the “hundreds of e-mails each day” that really served to illustrate the complaining party’s indispensable magnificence.

But the faux-annoyance quickly became all too real. A hideously organized workflow platform took over every working person’s life. As one IT director put it recently at an industry event, the worker’s ecosystem—bosses, co-workers, customers—took control of what got done and when, subjugating the person to a sort of tyranny, or at least an organizational trap from which it was very difficult to escape. You might now wonder, “What’s so wrong with that? It’s certainly better than handwriting notes and mailing paper letters.” Indeed, it is – but just as e-mail was better than paper-based workflow, so too there must be some better way beyond e-mail.

As is so often the case, those operating outside of the work environment have already embraced these better things—IM, micro-blogging, file sharing, Web conferencing, etc.-in other words, many of the tools wrapped up in social networking solutions these days—so much so that e-mail rarely factors in at all. And with the likes of IBM, Jive, Cisco and even Microsoft (the E-mail Empire) working furiously to make these communications and collaboration techniques applicable to businesses, you can expect that we’ll be moving slowly but surely away from e-mail domination and toward more efficient, collaborative platforms.

There are major obstacles, however. While most social networking vendors have socialized e-mail through direct integration, those vendors have yet to really tie e-mail itself to the one part of business where it could really do some good: line of business apps (you know, the workflow systems that e-mail on its own completely ignores and stymies). So what IBM and all the others are moving toward, and what IT managers should insist upon, is full and complete integration of social networking and real-time communication techniques with existing workflow structures.

And what does that mean? Yes, e-mail. You have to love the irony.

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