Atos is not the only company aiming for zero internal email. Others have been doing it for a while now. Luis Suarez, a social computing evangelist at IBM for ten years, started a 'world without email' movement about four years ago. His personal results are impressive – instead of 30 to 40 emails a day in 2008, he's now running at 16 a week. Others in IBM are following him and, just as he did with social networking, are beginning to evangelise 'working outside the inbox' or WOTI, as they've christened it.

You'd think that such a person would have a strong anti-email message but quite the opposite. His experiences have given him a new appreciation of email and he believes it has a future as a social messaging and recommendation tool for providing links to interesting content that's stored elsewhere. It will also continue to be used for some important traditional activities: calendaring and scheduling events and privately hosting one-to-one confidential or sensitive conversations.

But the pain of carrying on as we are is just too great. Atos estimates that managers spend between five and 20 hours a week just reading and writing emails. To this you can add the draining effect of political games being played out, backside-covering, huge attachments and simple time-wasting – lots of emails simply shouldn't exist. One way of improving email behaviour would be to share this ten-point email charter from Chris Anderson, curator of the TED conferences:

A move to social networking, using tools such as wikis and forums for collaborative development of ideas and plans, blogs for deep(ish) thoughts, web-linkable document repositories and micro-blogs for rapid-fire comments and recommendations, ought to lead to a greater sharing of knowledge, greater recognition for those who add true value and, yes, the inevitable exposure of those who contribute little of value.

In the everyday social world such things don't matter so much but in the business social world they do. One of the major issues for the CIO is how much to 'contain' the social experience of staff. On the one hand, it's very tempting to buy an all-in-one corporate solution and be done with it. But, when different organisations want to collaborate, the systems have to be able to interoperate, which then raises the question of whether to let users get on with it and use the more public services. Or, indeed, use email as a very poor substitute.

Business social tools offer comfort to organisations even if their detailed capabilities might fall short of their smaller and more nimble competitors. A CIO is unlikely to be swayed by the 'small pieces loosely joined' in which standards-based, best of breed, services are adopted quickly and, often, abandoned just as quickly as the swarm moves on. Yet, they can't really lock users out from anything that works and delivers value to the organisation – Skype and LinkedIn are two of the more sober offerings, for example.

These issues are not new but they are rising up the IT agenda as work becomes increasingly virtual and organisational boundaries are becoming blurred as project-focused consortia form and dissolve.

A few years ago, a number of pioneering companies started to experiment with online trade shows. The thinking was that larger audiences could be reached more economically for both exhibitor and visitor. Conference sessions were added and, now, they all sport social tools and varying degrees of content management along with tracking and metrics information for effective management and improvement.

Many organisations are choosing perpetual virtual presences within which they can run seminars, training courses, exhibitions and meetings. Their popularity is rising not least because of the way they extend reach to those who could not or would not travel, whether for cost, convenience or environmental reasons.

Such propositions have the great advantages of content control and behaviour monitoring. They bring revenue opportunities through providing space to advertisers and commercial participants. They allow visitors to find birds of a feather and communicate through, video, text chat, messaging and so on. Some provide instant chat translation into the user's preferred language. And external communication and web-based tools can even be embedded into the experience.

As always, the smart CIO will understand what's available and where it delivers value whether through improved productivity, reduced costs or new revenue opportunities.

About the author:

David Tebbutt works for 6Connex EMEA, a virtual event platform provider.