In the early 1990s as an engineer, I experienced the birth of corporate email. I dabbled into what was on offer at the time and saw dominant products born out of existing platforms at the time. Soon, dedicated ‘enterprise’ electronic mail applications were being developed and very soon after the industry was revelling in the new acronyms that were associated with e-mail (MAPI, POP IMAP, SMTP), .
As usual during the growth stage of any product competition exists and in the case of email, this was around the protocols, standards and of course products. In the case of email there hasn’t really been a dominant winner, but one thing for sure, the SMTP standard has emerged as the de-facto. Surprisingly this technology although almost 30 years old is still being used today despite it’s shortfalls on security. The success of email is simply its disruptiveness, the ability to replace cumbersome, complex and high cost alternatives of communications with a simple concept with a low cost of entry.
Email has created an industry within itself. I chose to focus on it as an early career and many businesses have prospered and continue to on the back of the popularity of email. Archiving, Hosting, Anti-Spam, Anti-Virus, Security and Management, business functions too changed and adopted email as a formal and revenue generating service. Specialist Marketing firms have emerged that provide mass emailers, agencies as their called now provide off-host email services and of course there are the scams that aim to dupe unsolicited individuals from their cash by using ‘phishing scams’ and spoofing.
Electronic communication has now become a high profile regulated communication medium worldwide. Of course email is beneficial to both an organisation and an individual, it makes money, it saves money, and it can reduce risk. On the other hand and more importantly, it can ruin your reputation, it can destroy your business, and it can drive you and your business into the ground. Email grabbed the attention of everyone worldwide with its simplicity and power. Email was becoming uncontrollable.
When I analysed our corporate usage at the time I noticed that 85% of received email was SPAM. This was being stored and replicated throughout the organisation and creating a high cost and reduced level of service. I needed over £1m to get us through the next 12 months. Email usage was increasing. 80% of our communication was performed using email. Almost everything down to arranging to go for a quick beer after work to transferring of confidential documents is based on email.
The term information overload appeared on the scene around 2003 as our productivity time was consumed by managing our inboxes, sorting the signal from the noise or the legitimate email from the unsolicited email. The researchers were telling us we had to overcome ‘information overload’ and email had become out of control. I somewhat agreed with that but I thought back then we needed to evolve email. I remember getting excited when I found ReMail and instantly being disappointed that it was never pursued by IBM.
I began looking at some other early dot com ideas that went pop back at the turn of the century and started to chase the concept of a ‘white list’ email platform. I found a product that was still in a development stage that weathered the bubble. This was indeed a concept I felt was the next evolution of corporate email. 100% SPAM free, confidentiality guaranteed and storage optimisation through threaded conversations being written as single instance records. This certainly would decrease the volumes of email we were generating. Unfortunately still in development meant not fit for production and that was the end of that, but it’s certainly not the end of the search.
Fast forward to 2008, we now have social and professional networking sites popping up everywhere and without noticing we are utilising the inherent email features of these. In Facebook and LinkedIn we are communicating with members of our network or white list. Okay, not quite as feature rich as email (i.e. no attachments and no bcc fields etc) but that’s the right direction I think. Corporate email turned into a corporate filing system that it was never designed to do. Corporate email turned into a medium that bread under the covers espionage with it’s Bcc field and corporate email systems became a mission critical service so much so that without it businesses could not trade. Organisations also became accountable for all the content transmitted across email and without any method of policing this email continues to be a mission critical concern. Added to this we are now embracing Instant Messaging and Chat platforms and now talking about ‘unified communications’ by integrating voice and video (I know this is not new, but it still hasn’t gained the traction it needs) into every peripheral an employee can touch to keep in touch.
These methods of communications have become our identity, which we are and how we can be contacted. This blog is all part of this too. My ‘white list’ can communicate with me within LinkedIn or Facebook, whilst anyone can communicate with me on the many email addresses and phone numbers that advertise my identity.
Enterprise Facebook and LinkedIn? Yes, of course, this is the next evolution of Enterprise messaging and Enterprise CRM, but not in the current consumer guise. Many organisations are watching these technologies and are willing to embrace, but security is still a concern and could they have this delivered as a service rather than host and manage within the corporate boundary? Maybe one step at a time, but I’m certainly keen on this direction.