Email remains a core technology in many organisations, yet every new social media technology is said to be its replacement. CIO UK brought together Adam Gerrard, CIO of Avis Europe, the car hire giants and Chris Puttick, CIO at Oxford Archaeology to discuss the future of email. Coming from two very different organisations, one a global customer facing retail service, the other a very scientific and specialist archaeology service, the debate was bound to be interesting.

The discussion kicked off with each of the CIOs explaining where they see email going within their organisations in the near future.

“Email is a part of collaboration, but it is getting harder to manage,” Adam Gerrard of car hire firm Avis said. “How people use it is changing significantly. We employ a lot of younger people at our stations [the retail like units at airports where customers collect hire cars]. They are from Generation Y and have only grown up in a social media world and they don’t really understand why other people use email as it is not real-time enough for them. So we have introduced a Facebook type tool, and it has been really grasped by all the teams involved. Everybody is expected to do more for less in organisations, so any tool to both capture and provide access to more knowledge and more experienced people is welcomed.”

Chris Puttick at Oxford Archaeology said that his organisation is closely related to a construction firm in its demands on IT as workers are out in the field a great deal. “When I arrived we were stuck in a Microsoft desktop way of thinking. We had to stop being desktop centric and moving to everything on the web. For email we are adopting Zimbra [the VMware owned open source collaboration system that did belong to Yahoo] as it has an email tool and a powerful search engine. It makes email more fluid, it supports document management and instant messaging and even integrates with the phone system and we have forums for projects.”

Oxford Archaeology demonstrates that there are technologies available that remove email headaches and incorporate new technologies, but Puttick explains that as with all technology change, the cultural aspect is far harder than the IT.

“My warning to other CIOs is getting people to change takes ages, we introduced the first Web 2.0 elements four years ago and there are still people who refuse to use it. There is a gap, and it is not necessarily generational. The biggest pain is getting people out of the Outlook mentality, but the people who are comfortable with this kind of technology are doing five times more. “

As the discussion moved on to why email is a pain point for CIOs Gerrard of Avis said; “The volume of email means it is no longer an effective tool. There is an element of control needed.”

Puttick concurred, adding that it wasn’t email’s fault, more that our working society now has “communications overload”.

Gerrard said that for a customer facing organisation like Avis, it cannot just skim across emails when they may include customer complaints.” To reduce the pressure on email Gerrard’s IT team are using and promoting the use of Web 2.0 tools.

“The IT team is structured around professional families; each of these communities has a blog, wiki and a Facebook style wall. People can share anything they want and people are starting to understand that this makes data more accessible. With any messaging system there is noise and you have to live with it.”

Following this train of thought, Puttick explained his reasons for switching to the Zimbra system.

“I wanted email to be a little bit more individually targeted, so that the information being sent is targeted at the user. The blanket many-to-many communications have been moved into a different environment. Also, you cannot ship large CAD documents on email, I describe it as, ‘you wouldn’t use a Mini to move a grand piano’.

“Email will continue to be part of organisations, just as phones and even letters are and as CIOs we are going to have to take some of the burdens away,” Puttick says.

Both CIOs have accessed Google Wave and for the moment decided that it doesn’t suit their organisations. The conclusion of our debate was that email remains a core part of organisational communications and that they must integrate new technologies and encourage users to use different systems for different types of communication, but there will be cultural obstacles along the way.

Response Summary

What is the future of email?

CIO Debate part 1: What is the future of email?

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

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