Email Is No Longer the Best Answer to Enterprise Communication

10.07.13 In the News

By: Ron Miller | October 7, 2013 (Featured on Fierce Content Management)

In a piece this week on ZDNet, writer James Kendrick makes a case against texting to communicate about business issues. Kendrick argues if you use your personal device as many people do these days to communicate about company information, you’re doing your company a disservice by not leaving a trail of the conversation.

He suggests email as a reasonable alternative.

Kendrick is right that using your personal smartphone to text about company business is probably not smart, especially if yours is a regulated industry that requires audit trails for regulatory purposes. But where I part ways with Kendrick is that email is the reasonable alternative to texting.

One thing is clear, we have too much email flowing through companies sometimes with cc lists that have more than a hundred people. This isn’t convenient for anyone who has to wade through these emails, many times when you are only tangentially involved, but it also creates hosts of other problems that cascade throughout the company.

For many, email becomes a kind of defacto file and project management system–and it’s not a very good one. People share attachments with scores of people and these documents get stored on individual and company hard drives many times over. And you might not even know that a more recent one may exist. That means it’s entirely possible people could be working off of obsolete versions and nobody benefits from that.

We also have all this storage space being dedicated to a multiple versions of the same document. Even if it’s the true version of that document, there’s no need to store that document hundreds of times when you could store it once and share a pointer to the most current version.

Kendrick is right that texting about company business could create a governance nightmare, but so can having too much email. If a company receives an eDiscovery order for all the information including emails related to a particular topic, having to search through years of email also presents its own set of problems.

The fact is that there are many reasonable alternatives to texting and email in enterprise social platforms. Employees can communicate one to one or one to many. They can share files by pointing to the original, and they can typically access these systems from mobile, laptop or desktop.

They can share information about work or form groups around common interests outside of work, keeping them on the work system, rather than an open web alternative like Facebook . Enterprise platforms also have the added benefits of breaking down hierarchies, giving people access to management including C-suite executives they might otherwise never communicate with, and conversely giving executives insights into the needs and concerns of their employees.

These platforms can also provide a forum for sharing and debating ideas and surfacing the best ones and it can act as a kind of knowledge management system because even after an employee leaves the company, their social graph and the knowledge they shared remains.

What’s more, it provides an environment that today’s younger employees, who have grown up with computers and social tools, are fully comfortable using, and they will very likely demand these types of tools to get their work done.

I can tell you that young people I know only use email as a last resort because an entity (like their teachers) requires it. Otherwise, they would never go near their email accounts. It’s not how they get their work done or communicate given the choice.

For those who insist on texting when a Twitter-style feed doesn’t meet your requirements, there are a growing number of enterprise text services such as TigerText, a tool that purports to let you securely text co-workers.

So Kendrick isn’t wrong. Employees should avoid doing an end-around corporate communications structures, but because there are so many tools that make it so easy, unless the company provides a reasonable alternative, chances are employees are going to use the tools that are most convenient for them.

That’s why it’s up to the business to provide modern communications alternatives to email or deal with the fallout if they don’t.