As any of their parents would attest, email is not the tool for communication for the new generation coming into the workforce, (those born 1990+).  Mobile phones, SMS, Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook are the tools of these digital natives.   So, does this mean that email is dead?

Email is certainly not dead
In fact, a recent survey conducted by Avanade in March 2010, profiling enterprise IT and business leaders, confirms that email is more popular than ever, standing as the most used applications in the workplace. Ninety per cent of those enterprises surveyed, view email as the most essential tool for communications and collaboration.

To note, the survey did not include Facebook and other similar social networking sites, as these are not deemed as ‘collaboration’ sites as they lack the ‘labour’ required to collaborate. This is something that the new generation will discover as they enter work life in a post-recession world, and a factor that CIOs must address when reviewing the kind of technologies to adopt in-hand with email.

It is a given, that social networking has seen an influx of take-up, however, it is not a replacement for existing collaboration practices; email included. Instead, it is a complementary methodology, which drives the benefits of the likes of email.  In the same way that voice and telephone never replaced contracts and legal documents; social networking practices will not replace structured collaboration and enterprise document management.  However, there is no denying that a new generation of digital natives are entering the workforce, and viewing some existing platforms as obsolete.

Avanade’s recent research demonstrates a mixed response in the field. Findings showed that 33 per cent of executives agree people now address problems in teams not individually, yet 25 per cent fear that new collaboration tools distract and waste time.  Clearly we have a culture clash on the way. The good news however, is that CIOs and enterprise leaders understand this, and are embracing collaboration, with 85 per cent believing it is more important than individual specialisation. Further, 75 per cent plan to increase the use of communications and collaboration technologies in 2011, demonstrating future positive take-up.

Working ‘on the go’

As any CIO who has introduced mobile mail or Smartphones to the enterprise can attest, embracing these new kinds of technologies allows workers to achieve a lot more each and every week, be that on the train, at home, or sat at an airport. Devices like the recently launched iPad are the type of technology that organisations should be looking to embrace and channel appropriately in the IT infrastructure. These devices can maximise the worker ‘on the go’ as best as possible, but also permit the work / life equilibrium to be restored.

What should it look like in 2011?
In the same way that the telephone enhanced and increased the speed of business, by removing communications solely by post; the next wave of collaboration should do the same for our businesses.  The single greatest benefit enterprises should be looking for from collaboration, is to bring the sharing, teaming, creativity and agility benefits of a 20-man agile entrepreneurial start-up and taking it to a 20,000 global company.  Any collaboration strategy should be core to a wider business plan to achieve these kinds of attainable goals.

As the collaboration research has highlighted, email remains a mandatory function in the business arm. However, for it to truly shine and be brought into the next generation of communication, it needs to be teamed with newer communications and social networking models. These next-generation techniques are ideal for rapid, transient and informal information sharing, rather than programmatic and structured documentation. This kind, drive creativity and agility, and the existing platform fits perfectly with business performance factors, in order to measure success.

How are CIOs adopting this?
A successful organisation does not fear change; they embrace it, and channel that change for business purposes. 

Here are some simple steps a forward-thinking business should take to adopt collaboration technologies effectively:

  1. Do your reading: establish what Collaboration 2.0 is; and as importantly, what it is not.
  2. Map collaborative technologies to functional business processes and select the best tool for each.
  3. Log and break down the metrics behind each tool. By measuring this data, CIOs can reinvest in those that are most successful.
  4. Monitor to understand how collaboration techniques throughout the supply chain too.
  5. Boldly challenge existing restrictions and policies.  Not all data is sensitive; by releasing select information into the secure collaboration network, employees will avoid using other external tools to the organisation, to disseminate data; giving CIOs the reassurance that information is locked down.
  6. Embrace the cloud, and technologies in it. In doing so, staff can avoid building something that someone else may already have, cheaper and faster.
  7. Release collaboration tools early and frequently, to enthuse staff members and encourage take-up. Further, use the same technologies for communications and training to engage users throughout the business.
  8. Lead by example; if staff see their CIO using tools effectively, they will be more inclined to get involved and bring them into their everyday working.

Above all, email is not going away, but as our research has depicted, businesses are going to see more collaboration tools coming to the fore. For these to work effectively though, and complement the likes of email, CIOs need to adjust to the cultural change these tools bring, and treat the transition appropriately.  It needs to be in line with wider business processes and IT infrastructure strategies, to be fully embraced. For those CIOs out there that do, they can expect the rewards to speak or ‘tweet’ for themselves.

About the author:

Gavin Williams is a Vice President for Avanade in Europe with 18 years of experience in Enterprise IT transformation.  He has a particular focus on Cloud Technologies and Next Generation Workplace and specialises in helping enterprises plan and deliver Infrastructure and Collaboration transformations.  [email protected]


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What is the future of email?

CIO Debate part 2: Email infrastructure refresh can deliver CIOs a strong RoI

 CIO Debate part 4: Email remains critical, but is remains a burden for CIOs

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