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March 24, 2011updated 19 Aug 2016 10:05am

Is this the end for email?

Are we really ready to swap email for social networking and instant messaging?

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is email dead?

Is email going the way of the dodo?

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that we were wondering whether email should be spelled e-mail or email – it was that novel. But Atos Origin’s CEO and chair Thierry Breton said last month he wants the services firm to be rid of email inside of three years, describing one by-product of the electronic communication technology as information "pollution".

"The volume of emails we send and receive is unsustainable for business, with managers spending between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails, " Breton said. "We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives. [So] we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organisations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution."

He certainly has a point: the firm noted that the average worker gets 200 emails per day, of which 18 per cent is spam. Meanwhile, middle managers spend over 25% of their time searching for information.

Talking to CBR, Rob Price, head of IT leadership at Atos Consulting said that Breton is deadly serious about getting rid of email inside three years. But what will it be replaced by? "We will use a range of enabling technologies: instant messaging, voice, video conferencing," Price says.

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But hang on, what about the fact that not every corporation is going to go in the same direction? Indeed Atos may find itself in a small minority of firms that actually scrap email altogether. Will it not find itself ostracised, unable to communicate with key clients? "We have a personalised portal for whoever it is you are trying to interact with – that’s how we will interact with the external world.," says Price. So Atos staffers will still be able to receive email? "We will undoubtedly continue to receive email," Price says, "but the intention is that there won’t be email on every desk but a personalised portal that presents information in the right way for each individual. That might mean there is a translation from email."

Not everyone is convinced. Infosys’ head of Europe BG Srinivas told me Atos’ move is a little extreme. "It seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater," he said. "My view is that any technology can be a challenge or an opportunity depending on how you use it. We have email, but we also have knowledge management portals, instant messaging and so on."

"We wouldn’t advise clients to do away with email necessarily, but if they are having issues with it to look at as what the underlying cause is," Srinivas said. "It may be about a lack of governance, poor practices or what have you. Email itself though is just a tool – it’s all about what you do with it."

Atos’ Price though believes that Atos is not the only firm wanting rid of email. "We have had companies coming to us and asking us that question – how they can become email free," he says. "We are moving to different ways of communicating. I’ve been using instant messaging for ten years. I communicate through text, the phone, social media. We’re absolutely seeing the paradigms of Facebook and Twitter coming into the enterprise. [Becoming email free] is absolutely the right ambition; it reflects changes in the personal and corporate market. Doesn’t the way we communicate evolve naturally over time anyway?"

"Businesses need to do more of this," Atos’ Breton insists. "Email is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business." For Atos, this is the beginning of the end for email. But whether there’s anything else just yet that is quite as versatile as email? The jury is still out.

Please follow this author on twitter: www.twitter.com/jasonstamper

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