Collaboration helps to achieve shared goals and increase productivity. The resultant increase productivity can positively effect revenue through a reduction in operating cost. While most organizations agree an increase in productivity through collaboration, they still rely on Email as the primary means of communication.
In order to understand how the market for email has become the base for other collaboration modalities we need to understand how collaboration itself has changed. For a long time, Email was THE primary and only mode of communication for organisations. Defined in 1982 by RFC 821 as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) as an Internet standard for electronic mail transmission, e-mail had the sole purpose of transfering mail reliably and efficiently. It was later used to exchange messages, plan meetings/ appointments, manage tasks, maintain contacts, share files and communicate instantly over messaging platforms that were integrated into email. However, the nature of email technology and the behaviours around email have changed overtime.
A variety of applications are available today to supplement email functionality. They enable key user activities, previously conducted only on email, to be moved out of email and off into another system or process. From a pure technology perspective we note that, team collaboration, file syncing and sharing, social networks (news feeds & activity streams) and to certain extent innovation management have all become core business functions and have moved into seperate applications outside of email. Some of these capabilities still exist in email today but they have given way to a more fully featured secondary function.
These applications enlarge a single thread of limited email functionality and build on a framework around it addressing a broader market, for example; file sharing on email. The size of a file, versioning of the file, synchronization of the file back to the folders was tedious on email. Several vendors such as BOX & Dropbox took this opportunity to build a whole suite of tools around this single file sharing thread. Today we see that file sync and share market is growing rapidly with mega vendors like Microsoft (Onedrive), Google (Google Drive) and even Apple (Apple for enterprise & iCloud Drive) introducing products in this space.
Let's take another example, discussions and task management on email is particularly hard. We have all been in situations where a single email is carbon copied (cc'd) to more than 5 people and then the email chain goes on forever to a point where keeping track of that one email chain becomes a mega task by itself. Here clearly, vendors such as Microsoft, Intralinks, Central Desktop, Hyperoffice etc., saw a need to better manage team collaboration, tasks & shared workspaces. Today team collaborative applications market is vibrant and growing strong.
Now we start to get the idea of how individual threads on email have gone ahead and built whole new markets for themselves.
Mobile and Cloud deployment models and changes in Social workflow are the major drivers for email segmentation into various collaboration channels. IDC asked smartphone users to identify the top 3 tasks performed on mobile devices related to work. Users responded with "Checking Email" as the primary task followed by personal productivity (note taking) and finally reading & editing documents. Today, users are demanding anywhere-anytime connectivity to content and are looking for better ways to engage their communities of partners, suppliers and customers. In doing so, they are complementing email with various new solutions. Another important driver for email segmentation is the low usage of machine learning techniques (such as spam email filtering) to help the users automate time consuming processes. Complementary solutions to email such as File Sync and Share, Team Collaborative Applications and Enterprise Social Networks are better placed to gain insight into user interaction behavior, due to the singularity of the kind of data handled within these solutions, for example file sync and share solutions primarily automate processes around files ex. file versioning, categorization etc.,
This diversification from email centric to multiple channels definitely has its benefits. However, the adoption rates of these channels have been fairly low and CIO's constantly question the return on investment before they introduce such channels within their organizations. "We all understand that productivity gain is important to organizations! No questions asked here, but where do we take the first step in today's increasing clutter of productivity apps? Do we just add all these tools to our portfolio to increase productivity or do we wait and watch till the market provides us a winning model" is a question on every CXO's mind.
Some guidance to CXO's to ease this transition away from email centric to these new channels and in turn increase collaboration:
- Help users be productive. These new applications enable a different style of working where communications are more informal, faster, more real time & less hierarchical.
- There are going to be multiple channels where work gets done rather than a single channel of email. The earlier we realize this, the better prepared we are to collaborate in these additional channels.
- Creating a larger difference in personal life vs. work life is no more a choice for enterprise organisations. An employee faces consumer applications such as (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc.,) where collaboration, team work is at its peak in personal life and then has to put up with strictly process oriented, silo applications at work that inhibit collaboration and idea sharing in work life. This has to change!
- Dumping non-user friendly tools on employees will not work anymore since they have choice available through other SaaS vendors (tools developed with more user-centric approach).
- Tool evaluation process has to be more fair and open and users must have a say in selection.
- The whole experience of adopting these tools should feel like a way to improve individual productivity and personal gain rather than only promoting operational/ process excellence.
- Finally, Mentors & Influencers play a major role in roll outs of collaborative applications, so make sure to identify them and empower them to take charge.