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Is email still relevant for the enterprise?

By John Oates

Email was one of the first technologies to push enterprises to adopt early digital technologies. It was seen as a key reason for businesses to provide all staff with computers and internet access. For many years it reigned supreme as the ultimate business communication tool.

Email helped kick start the mobile revolution too. The good old BlackBerry was a major push, especially in the United States, for executives to embrace mobile technology.

But in recent years business email has seen several challenges.

Attention has been focused on messaging on the likes of LinkedIn and other platforms.

Other enterprises have embraced more tailored and complex messaging and instant messaging software.

Whether intranet based, bespoke or just simple web-based third party systems these provide instant communication between staff.

The third major challenge to enterprise email has been the widespread adoption of work sharing and collaboration systems like Slack, Jabber or any of the dozens of similar products which have their own integral messaging functions. There are options for every kind of business, some with enhanced security and encryption, some with more sophisticated messaging or document sharing options.

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First embraced by software development teams these are now used by many different teams within the typical business.

This shift also reflects a change in how business communication works.

It less about top down communications and bosses and managers telling people what to do and when to do it.

Enterprises tend to have flatter structures today with more of a tendency to put team work ahead of tiered management structures.

Such a corporate structure needs a collaborative messaging system to match.

But although these sharing systems have many great functions it is too soon to write off email entirely.

It has several inherent advantages over its competitors and in many enterprises is seeing something of a revival.

Some appreciate the simple, uncluttered interface of the typical email client.

Because it does not require an instant response like many other collaboration platforms it gives people the time and space to respond more thoughtfully.

The danger of pushing too much communication onto instant platforms is that you demand a knee-jerk response to queries.

Email can provide a more reasoned debate and more thought out and unhurried replies.

There are data protection and compliance issues of course. Rules vary widely from organisations which insist that all emails are acted on and deleted within three days to those which require tamper-proof archiving systems.

Whatever the platform employees need to understand there are compliance and reputational risks to anything they write.

There seems little doubt that the enterprise of the future will continue to demand ever faster communication to accelerate and deepen collaboration.

But there will always be a human bottle neck to such systems. Human beings have limited bandwidth. We cannot absorb unlimited data even if it arrives via the most fantastic delivery system.

Of course email still has its limits. Wide ranging discussions can quickly snowball into monster email discussions which take up time of dozens of people without creating decisions or clarity.

The same thing can happen in a poorly-prepared real world meeting.

However we see enterprise communication develop, whether that means more video communication, more instant communication and wider, deeper collaboration, it is still far too soon to write off the good old fashioned email.

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