Reports of E-mail's Death Greatly Exaggerated

E-mail isn't dead. In fact, it's more alive and robust than it has ever been.

By Glen Vondrick

There has been considerable banter in the tech sphere recently arguing that the concept of e-mail as we know it has entered its twilight.

The idea is that this form of communication has become increasingly inefficient and dated, especially in the fast-paced era of social media, where collaboration is taking place in real-time through chat, video conferencing, and other multimedia.

Some enterprises consider e-mail an antiquated communications tool, to the point of publicly abandoning it as an internal tool. Companies including the LAC Group and Atos have launched extremely public movements to do just that, maintaining that e-mail is has already been served its last rights.

As Mark Twain reportedly said after learning his obituary had been published in the New York Journal, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." The same can be said of e-mail.

Recently, a report released by the digital marketing research firm comScore identified a 31 percent drop in e-mail use by teenagers. Although this is definitely indicative of a real social and technological shift that may one day impact the nature of transactions and how organizations conduct business, this statistic fails to consider two key realities:

1. Professional and personal e-mail are two completely different forms of communication. They require different standards of privacy and authenticity.

2. Business is conducted on the standard of "getting the job done now," not personal preference.

Although it can be argued that social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Salesforce chatter all offer functionality that can enable quick and effective collaboration, the same can also be said about the telephone. To be sure, just as modern telephones have evolved from the 140-year-old prototype, e-mail will continue to evolve to meet the needs of individuals and organizations alike. Social media cannot replace the telephone, or, for that matter, instant messaging, texting, e-mail, or face-to-face conversations.

Instead, social networks are growing alongside these existing technologies and continuing to grow, especially as mobile devices become increasingly accessible. The Radici Group projects that between 2012 and 2016, the number of worldwide e-mail accounts will grow from 3.3 billion to 4.3 billion users worldwide. If e-mail is truly being tossed by the wayside, then why are e-mail-like messaging features being added to social media platforms?

Just a few weeks ago, Twitter crashed for an afternoon. Likewise, every business has experienced the inevitable downing of a phone line. How do companies react in these type of situations? They carry on as usual. What happens when departments are unable to communicate with each other via e-mail? Productivity halts.

E-mail is the primary method by which financial transactions, documents, receipts, CRM notifications, and workflow analyses, back-office revenue recognition reports, security alerts, regulatory forms, and so much more are communicated. If you take this system away, you are doing far more than limiting a channel by which two people can communicate -- you are closing down an entire system people can use to exchange concrete information. E-mail is so imbedded into our infrastructure that it is used to reposition both commercial and government satellites. Try doing that via Twitter.

E-mail is obviously not without its own set drawbacks. Frivolous messages and spam extend across e-mail and virtually all platforms used to communicate. Facebook and Twitter generate noise, and there is certainly a drop-off in audience engagement that comes with mass messaging. It takes time to process and keep up with all of the good (and bad) ideas that cross our desktops, which is why enterprise tools such as Salesforce chatter have begun to experience fatigue. Like Charlene Li from Altimeter puts it in a recent report, "Some organizations have deployed social networking features with an initial enthusiastic reception, only to see these early efforts wither to just a few stalwart participants."

Does messaging infrastructure need to be modernized in order to keep pace with innovation? Absolutely, and it's already happening within some of the world's largest organizations.

E-mail isn't dead, apparently. It's more alive and robust than it has ever been.

Glen Vondrick is president and CEO of Sendmail, a company that simplifies business email complexity and reduces IT infrastructure costs for large enterprises. You can contact the author at gvondrick@sendmail.com.
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