Are unified communications (UC) finally killing off email?


Decades after their first appearance on the desktop, emails are being edged out in the workplace by unified communications

The game has changed immeasurably during this past decade or so. That post-millennial blip is a distant memory and newer technology has entirely changed the way we live, work and communicate.

And, when it comes to communication, it is tempting to wonder whether the promises were ever delivered upon; they promised us telepathy headsets and all we got was a little red dot telling us we have three thousand unread emails.

It is perhaps an understatement to suggest that email is no longer the most efficient tool, either professionally or personally. It is truly awful. Social media notifications, newsletters from a bygone age, ass-covering CCs, and of course the supersize portion of spam which still sneaks through – it all adds up to inboxes which are north of 90% clutter.

Yes, we could all manage our mailboxes a little more diligently but that was never in the job description, and nor should it be, most results-oriented managers would argue. Technology should provider the answer.

In order to collaborate effectively, we need apps that allow us to keep up with the workflow and continuously communicate with each other – without too much formality or having to navigate through the cyber-sewer of our least-hated email program.

Don’t just send and forget

In a nutshell, an “off my desk” strategy no longer cuts it. Contemporary work environments operate around the notion of ‘workflow’, meaning a series of processes that allow tasks, information or documents to be passed from one employee to another following a set of procedural rules.

Quick and efficient communication is crucial to keeping the workflow going and ensuring that a task is completed effectively within the least time possible. It all adds up to whether nowadays, we even have the time to read and answer long series of emails?

Add to that and due to the high amount of professional communication happening every day, it also becomes harder to trace back older messages or important past conversations when using email.

In short, the issues with using email for internal communications within the enterprise have intensified over time, as work-environments are continuously speeding up the pace of work, placing greater pressure on all of us. Nothing we have ever seen even begins to suggest that Emailasaurus Rex even wants to adapt or evolve.

Asking for a friend

Four years ago, a question was posted on Quora asking what alternatives to emails were available for internal company communications.

A user answered saying that collaboration and communication tools could be a feasible alternative. Yet, those were still early days, and since then, workplace collaboration solutions have taken a huge leap forward. That user was Bryce Johannes of Axero Solutions which, to this day, is driving at a healthy clip through the UC space with their enterprise-only Communifire product.

Then, some two years ago, The Verge published an article about Slack, saying the (then) chat app could ‘save workplace sanity’.

Born of adversity, Slack took off from the get-go, and, six months after it was launched, over 125,000 people were using the app every day, 13,000 of these being teams working for companies such as Sony, eBay and NBC Universal. Not a bad birth.

And, in October last year, the number of Slack users had risen to 4 million daily users and 1.25 million paying users, and this number is likely to grow further. A premium subscriber base of over 30%? That speaks volumes.

Step-by-step, UC is leaving email to wither and die. Collaboration tools also offer greater possibilities for remote working and freelancers, allowing businesses to create virtual workplaces where their employees can interact with each other and work together efficiently.

Meanwhile, myriad unified communication platforms look poised for growth in a rapidly evolving market; Skype for Business, Fuze, Chime, Spark, and many more.

Towards the end of last year, even Facebook introduced its own workplace collaboration tool, dubbed Facebook At Work. However, and recent outages aside, this is the kind of development that is bound to raise security concerns, as Clique prez, Tim Gentry, recently stated;

“It would be ridiculous to let Facebook manage our firewalls. We wouldn’t let them manage our messaging security, either.”

The tide is in flood, however, and it is going in one, clear direction. Some might argue that this a security disaster waiting to happen. And they would be right. It would be unfair to single out Facebook for sole criticism, (after all, they spend all day every day learning the hard way), because any number of recent security breaches would ram home the point that nothing is truly secure unless we all play an active role in plugging the more obvious points of weakness.

User on- and off-boarding, remote wiping for lost or compromised devices, and information lifecycle management should all be considerations that ought to be added to the “given” of end-to-end encryption. Or, in other words, all the bomb scares that are inherent in most email systems.

Email. A ridiculous idea

Let’s face it, if good ol’ POP3/IMAP email was invented tomorrow, it would win the “stupidest idea of the year”award, hands down.

However, the “send stuff from A to B” principle still applies, even if those packets of data are rather more exotic and make greater use of the 65k ports available.

This year, collaboration apps are likely to roll-out new features that will do just that and make internal communications more varied and easier, such as perfected tools for group-wide video-calling, voice and better data management policies.

If the presence of these tools within enterprises keeps growing, the question arises as to what will happen to email providers and their services.

Many businesses still use emails to communicate with customers or other external professionals, but their effectiveness as an internal communication tool within modern workplaces has been seriously compromised.

Will emails eventually disappear from the workplace entirely, or will they be demoted to a sole role as a means of external communication? Indeed, it doesn’t take too much imagination to understand the potential for UC in CRM or customer service scenarios, especially for smaller companies where intimacy is fundamental to their business.

Only time will tell, but if they wish to survive past the next few years, email providers might need to re-think their services so that they meet the demands of modern workplaces while nixing the aspirations of the bad hombres.

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