Dec 152011
 
how does a business manage email with cloud and social media

This post originally appeared in the Xero Accounting Blog on December 9, 2011.

With 74,000 staff, you’d expect the CEO of French technology company Atos to be buried in email, but Thierry Breton hasn’t sent an electronic mail message for three years.

As the US ABC news service reports, Atos and Breton are implementing a zero email policy for their employees, steering them to use instant messaging and collaboration tools that reduce the need to send attachment heavy messages.

Breton claims only one in ten of the 200 messages his employees receive each day are useful and 18 percent is spam which – given some security companies estimate over 90% of world email traffic is unsolicited messages – shows Atos has a pretty good spam filter.

Email has been one of the main applications of business technology for the last twenty years, so how feasible is it really to move away from the inbox as being the first and last thing you check each day?

Instant Messaging

The ability to send quick messages between computers has been around since they were first networked in the 1950s but consumers and business largely ignored these clunky features until they were made popular in the late 1990s by the web based AOL and MSN Messenger services.

Most business communications platforms like Microsoft Office, Google Apps and  Novell Groupwise have an Instant Messaging (IM) tool built in which can be easily turned on.

None of this is new technology and it’s probably one of the most used business features in the Skype Internet telephone service.

A downside with IMs is they generally demand immediate attention and can distract someone from their work. They also leave detailed logs so don’t for a minute think your rant about a customer or staff member hasn’t been recorded.

Social media

Many of the social media tools have their own built in instant messaging with LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ having their own services with Google’s service offering the Hangouts feature to create impromptu video conferences.

By definition Twitter is an instant messaging service offering both public and private channels. The Yammer platform is a grown up corporate tool that offers all the social media functions for a business environment.

The downside with using social media platforms as mission critical business tools is their reliance on the best efforts of external providers that can raise security and reliability issues.

Wikis

Atos makes specific mention of their company wiki. Simply put, a wiki is a website that can be easily updated by anyone with permission to do so.

It’s possible to lock wikis, restrict access or to undo any changes that aren’t suitable so all the information is controlled and subject to review. These can be run on your own office server or hosted on an outside cloud service.

Wikis are a fantastic tool for building a corporate memory and developing standardised procedures and policies across an organisation.

Collaborative tools

One of the big changes in the modern office is the rise of cloud office software services like Google Docs, Basecamp and – of course –Xero Accounting that allow people to work together on the same files at the same time.

In the past, office software has locked individual documents while one person used them and that aspect alone has probably been responsible for many of the emails spinning around corporate offices.

Another benefit of the new breed of collaborative tools is they make it easy to control documents as all team members are working only one version of a file, meaning there’s no uncertainty of who has the latest version.

External risks

There are some outside risks with some of these services as they are cloud based so Internet access is important and there can be some questions of security and reliability with trusting processes to outside providers.

Email itself is evolving into a cloud based commodity as many businesses move to Gmail or hosted solutions rather than running their own email servers.

If those external risks are a concern, then it is possible to run these services on your own networks although most businesses are comfortable with outsourcing their technology.

Discovery

One of the first things that jumps to mind from a business IT point of view is that moving to a non-email environment reduces the risk of having to provide masses of data in the event of a legal dispute.

Many organisations have been caught out by a “smoking gun” message hidden within the pile of emails sent within an organisation every day.

The reality is that instant messaging, wikis and collaborative tools all leave their own “digital fingerprints” and if anything the non-email platforms may make it harder to hide evidence from a determined investigator.

Outside parties

Atos aren’t banning electronic mail with outside parties though, with a company spokesman quoted saying their goal is focused on internal emails rather than those from outside the company.

This makes sense as email is still a key business communication tool and not using it to talk to suppliers and customers wouldn’t make sense. For most organisations such a ban would make it impossible to send invoices.

Email is a key part of business and probably will continue to be, what we are seeing though is an evolution of how it is used in the workplace as new tools are developed.

The last word goes to Thierry Breton who said when announcing the policy, “We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives”. He has a point.

How are you managing your business email and would you abolish it if you could?

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