I attend a lot of collaboration conferences every year. Over the last couple of years, I routinely hear the same question: Is email dead? In this post, I hope to shed some light on the reason people are asking this question, and why it should matter to you.
First, a little history.
Email has been around now for almost 50 years. An ARPANET contractor named Ray Tomlinson is largely credited with creating the email solution we know today. Email started to become a major means of corporate collaboration in the early 90’s when it moved from a mainly educational institution tool to a corporate communications platform.
At the time, the primary methods of internal company communications were either handwritten, typed, or verbal (phones). Handwritten and typed were delivered via the good old US Postal Service, and voice was delivered through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The transition from these forms of communications to the addition of email was not an easy one. There were many different platforms to choose from and many didn’t interoperate very well. Over time, the many platforms consolidated down to a few. Today, Microsoft is widely viewed as the king of the corporate email world with Exchange and Office 365.
What triggered this shift?
Email really started in the universities as a means for departments of different colleges to share research information easily. It eventually filtered out to the students for personal use, and when those students left school and entered the business world, they wanted to bring email with them. Many of the students started developing the corporate email systems which became the early corporate email platforms.
In the first quarter of 2018, Microsoft reported 8.24 Billion in revenue for their Productivity and Business Processes group which encompasses Exchange and Office 365. Microsoft‘s current strategy is to actively encourage their email customers to move to Microsoft Teams. Given the amount of revenue coming in for the Productivity and Business Processes group, one big question begs an answer…
Does Microsoft think email is dying?
The landscape of corporate collaboration communication is changing yet again. More and more products are popping up to displace email as the main channel for corporate collaboration tools. Applications like Slack, Amazon Chime, Trello, Asana, Google Hangouts and WebEx Teams along with Microsoft Teams are positioning themselves as the next generation of collaboration platforms. These new platforms are taking the classic email interactions to a new level with team and project-based collaboration while embedding voice and video communications. One of the biggest features is the ability to add bots into spaces to automate some of the functionality and to even add Artificial Intelligence (AI) to handle mundane tasks.
Will this happen in the next few years? Of course not. We are just at the beginning of the transition. Just like email didn’t completely kill those other forms of corporate communications, team messaging won’t kill email completely. Email’s influence in the corporate environment will become diminished over time. When was the last time you had a corporate memo in your office mailbox? Who even has an office mailbox anymore? Today you get those memos in your email inbox.
Why is this happening?
Again, I believe it’s the students coming out of school driving this shift. Very few new employees grew up with email as the primary means of textual communications. They have SMS texting and a wide variety of other means of communication.
Email does a great job when dealing with a fixed set of participants in a conversation. When the participants vary or come and go, email really has a problem keeping the conversation and the shared data consistent. These new conversation/project-based applications are designed to allow the grouping of the conversations and shared data into spaces separated from the actual participants in the conversation. With this model, participants can come and go from the beginning to the end of the conversation, or project, and data is always available to every participant. From a participant’s perspective, having the ability to come and go in the conversation and not lose any thoughts or data is paramount. Everything is stored in one space rather than a specific email someone sent earlier in the conversation. No one loses an attachment because they were added to the thread after the attachment was sent. When a task in a conversation becomes more complex than messaging can handle, the conversation can be escalated to a voice or video call to the entire group. Email simply can’t keep up with this type of functionality.
Is email dead?
When email took over the collaboration high ground, it made communications between distant participants easier and faster. These new team messaging applications are building on that foundation and bringing newer and better forms of communications to the table. Does this mean email is dead? I don’t think so. I believe that just like typed memos transformed into email documents, we’ll see these same documents transformed into space attachments.
Tomorrow, that memo may be a video message or even a group video meeting in the conversation space of the application rather than an email in your inbox. For now, email isn’t going anywhere, but we are in the middle of a collaboration transition where we’ll see email taking on less of a role. If you need help understanding this transition or assistance managing your companies path through it, please contact us.
About the Author
Marty Jefferson has worked in IT for over 30 years, with extensive experience in project engineering, management, collaboration technologies, voice solutions and computer networking. He began his career in the military, and after being honorably discharged as an FTG2 Second Class Petty Officer, moved into the private sector where he now works as Senior Technology Advisor of Collaboration for Internetwork Engineering.
About Marty Jefferson
Marty Jefferson has worked in IT for over 30 years, with extensive experience in project engineering, management, collaboration technologies, voice solutions and computer networking. He began his career in the military, and after being honorably discharged as an FTG2 Second Class Petty Officer, moved into the private sector where he now works as a Director of Collaboration and Voice Solutions for Internetwork Engineering.