Atos is implementing a zero email policy for its employees, steering them to use instant messaging and collaboration tools that reduce the need to send attachment heavy messages.
Thierry Breton claims only one in ten of the 200 messages his employees receive each day are useful and 18 percent are spam – given that over 90% of world email traffic is estimated to be unsolicited messages, Atos has a pretty good spam filter.
Email has been one of the main applications of business technology for the last 20 years, so how feasible is it really to move away from the inbox as the first and last thing you check each day?
The ability to send quick messages between computers has been around since computers were first networked in the 1950s. However, consumers and business largely ignored these clunky features until they were made popular in the late 1990s by the web based AOL and MSN Messenger services.
Most business communications platforms like Microsoft Office, Google Apps and Novell Groupwise have an Instant Messaging (IM) tool built in, which can be easily turned on.
None of this is new technology and it’s probably one of the most used business features in the Skype Internet telephone service.
The downside with IM is that it generally demands immediate attention and can distract someone from their work. IM services also leave detailed logs so don’t for a minute think your rant about a customer or staff member hasn’t been recorded.
Many social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ have their own built in instant messaging. Google’s service includes the Hangouts feature to create impromptu video conferences.
By definition Twitter is an instant messaging service offering both public and private channels. There’s also Yammer which is a corporate tool used internally for staff to communicate with one another. This can be particularly useful if a business has a lot of employees in different countries.
The downside with using social media platforms as business tools is having to rely on the best efforts of external providers when it comes to security and reliability.
Thierry Breton makes specific mention of his company’s wiki. Simply put, a wiki is a website that can be easily updated by anyone with permission to do so.
It’s possible to lock wikis, restrict access or to undo any changes that aren’t suitable so all the information is controlled and subject to review. These can be run on your own office server or hosted on an outside cloud service.
Wikis are a fantastic tool for building a corporate memory and developing standardised procedures and policies across an organisation.
One of the big changes in the modern office is the rise of cloud office software services like Google Docs, Basecamp and – of course –Xero which allow people to work together on the same files at the same time.
In the past, office software has locked individual documents while one person used them. This aspect alone has probably been responsible for many of the emails spinning around corporate offices.
Another benefit of the new breed of collaborative tools is they make it easy to control documents as all team members are working on the one version of a file. No more version control issues!
Trusting outside providers
There are some potential risks with these services as they are cloud based. Firstly you need to ensure you have reliable Internet access and you need to satisfy yourself that the service is being provided to an adequate level of security and reliability.
That said, email itself is evolving into a cloud based commodity as many businesses move to Gmail or similar hosted solutions rather than running their own email servers.
If you’re not happy about trusting external providers you can run some of these services within your own networks but in reality the level of security and data protection offered by these services is going to be a lot safer than anything most small businesses can afford.
One of the first things that jumps to mind from a business IT point of view is that moving to a non-email environment reduces the risk of having to provide masses of data in the event of a legal dispute.
The reality is that instant messaging, wikis and collaborative tools all leave their own “digital fingerprints” and if anything the non-email platforms may make it harder to hide evidence from a determined investigator.
Atos isn’t banning electronic mail with outside parties. It appears the initiative is focused on internal emails rather than those from outside the company.
This makes sense as email is still a key business communication tool and not using it to talk to suppliers and customers wouldn’t make sense. For most organisations such a ban would make it impossible to send invoices.
While email will probably continue to be a key communication channel, what we’re witnessing is an evolution of how it is used in the workplace as new tools are developed.
The last word goes to Thierry Breton who said when announcing the policy, “We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives”. He has a point.
How are you managing your business email?
Paul is a leading expert in online business and is based in Australia where he is well known as a broadcaster, speaker and author of seven books, including eBusiness, Seven Steps To Online Success. His Future of Business website looks at Internet trends like social media, cloud computing and other web technologies that are changing our industries.
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12 December 2011 #