email-computer-type-typing-ss-1920Many articles are being written on the supposedly imminent death of email.  Today’s contribution is from the BBC:

“Because of its drag on workplace efficiency and worker wellbeing, email has come into the crosshairs of corporate policies around the globe….Email bans have become increasingly popular ways for companies to help employees maintain work-life balance and boost their productivity.

“While the no-email trend seems like it would be only for the most maverick of companies, it’s taking root in a range of industries..”

The article cautions however that perhaps we shouldn’t write off email just yet, at least not until suitable replacements are found:

“… to successfully ditch email, companies need to find alternatives to communicate and collaborate.”

Alternatives to Email

These alternatives may well exist, at least according to a widely-read article in last week’s New York Times.  The piece comments on the rise of workplace communication players — like Slack and HipChat — which are generating excitement in the marketplace (Slack was recently valued at $1 bn).

“…despite email’s admirable endurance, it’s possible to envision a future in which email … is supplanted by new tools that allow people to collaborate in big groups and force upon companies the sort of radical information transparency that many in the tech industry, at least, believe is essential.

“Behind Slack’s rise is [CEO] Scott Butterfield’s grand vision for the future of the office. He is betting that solo work is on the wane and that as all of our jobs become more complex, more and more creative and technical feats will be accomplished by teams rather than lone practitioners.

“To be effective in such an environment, workers will have to become adept at navigating complex team dynamics, and doing so will depend on the sort of nuanced, intimate communication that you can’t get from email”

“Collaboration also demands another factor in modern workplaces, what Mr. Butterfield calls transparency.  “That can be a loaded political term, but we just mean being able to see into different parts of the organization, which turns out to be important”

This brings us back to a couple of consistent themes on this blog: (1) the idea that people need real-time access to relevant information no matter where it is, and (2) the idea that better knowledge-sharing leads to better decision-making…

“Mr. Butterfield’s beliefs fit with the notion, pushed by organizational scholars, that the free flow of information makes companies more effective.

“What we know about organizations in general is that the more knowledge workers have, the more likely it is they make better decisions, and the more likely it is you’ll feel invested in the work,” said James O’Toole, a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business who has studied the benefits of transparency in the workplace.

“The idea that workers should chat more freely has become a mainstay of Silicon Valley culture.

“Now, thanks to technology, we have almost a second layer of the business that doesn’t have a hierarchy — it’s much more of a web,” said Aaron Levie, the chief executive of Box, whose tools allow for a similar sort of sharing. “What it means is that you have to be more collaborative instead of hoarding information, which is no longer the way that you add value.”

Conclusion

To haters of email: sadly, it’s probably too early to get your hopes up.  Despite its many frustrations, email is still ubiquitous and also very good business.  In the last year, Amazon, Dropbox, Google and Microsoft have all announced new email initiatives.  And despite the success of newer players like Slack, none of the potential successor systems are quite ready for prime time.

Yet it’s clear what some of the key attributes of this successor system will look like.  It will, for example:

  • Facilitate enhanced knowledge-sharing and collaboration among employees
  • Be easy to use
  • Work across multiple devices
  • Include a good search engine
  • Be easy to set up and maintain

Implications for Information Professionals

The same trends and principles apply in the world of the information professional.  Many information management systems are analogous to email: frustrating, clunky and heartily disliked by users.

For information professionals, the future is in tools and platforms that help their users easily find relevant information in the context of their work.  And these tools need to do the exact same things as outlined above: facilitate knowledge-sharing, work across multiple devices, be easy to use, etc.

I’m struck by how many of these attributes already exist in Attensa.  Our platform is specifically designed to encourage social interaction and the sharing of relevant, high-quality information.  We firmly believe that improved knowledge-sharing leads to organizational intelligence and better decision-making.  It’s why our tagline is Stop Managing Information. Start Creating Intelligence.

See for yourself.