is Email a necessary or Unnecessary evil? (interview with IBM’s Luis Suarez)

email - luis suarez

I have been a long time fan of Luis Suarez whom I was supposed to meet at the Enterprise 2.0 summit except that my clients decided otherwise. Fortunately, I was able to reach out to Luis and send him, ironically, my questions via email.

That’s my point precisely. Email is one of those necessary evils. A system which is broken but difficult to break away from. At least, this is my perception. I have managed, over the years, to cut through the clutter… yet, I have never managed to do away with email completely.

Even worse, whenever I spread the good news that one doesn’t have to use email and that other solutions exist, there is always at least one person in the room who takes it personally and gets very very cross. It happened to me again last Monday after a lecture at HEC, while we were all having lunch. There was only one person around the table who seemed very angry with me but it got me thinking. Why would people be so in love with e-mail. Is it because this is the only online system which is close enough to the old world and mimics – vaguely – traditional letter writing?

Well, I don’t know. So I turned to Suarez instead, a man who is supposed to have turned off his mail reader completely … except for my questions. Good man!

photo by Londonbloggers

Doing away with email: Interview with Luis Suarez

1. You have been heralded as a no-email evangelist. How and why did you decide to do that?

I initially started this journey of Life Without eMail over six years ago (On February 2008) and, mainly, for three different reasons:

1. Over the course of time you realise that e-mail is not really a good collaboration and knowledge sharing tool. Quite the opposite. It’s today’s productivity killer, not necessarily because of the system itself, but more than anything else because of how we have abused it over the course of time resulting in all sorts of political games, bullying, managing up (or down), and overall unnecessary stress seeing how plenty of people keep using it as a way to protect and hoard their knowledge vs. helping one another.

antimuseum.com-inhouse-4480

2. The second reason why I stopped using e-mail was because over the course of the last few years I have been having hundreds, if not thousands, of interactions with younger generations of knowledge workers, whether they are working already or before entering the workplace, and all along I realised that we were using all sorts of various different collaboration tools, except e-mail and we got the job done, just as effectively, so I thought if they could pull it off together, why couldn’t we, right?

3. The last reason as to why I started this movement over six years ago was essentially to demonstrate, as a social business evangelist, that there is a work life without e-mail. That, nowadays, we do have more appropriate and relevant collaborative and knowledge sharing tools that help us get our jobs done much more efficiently and effectively. Time and time again, plenty of people came to me indicating, as a show stopper, that they couldn’t do social networking at work because they just didn’t have the time and when asking additional questions about why that is happening I realised how they were all saying a large chunk of today’s interactions are happening through e-mail as a time sink, which is why I decided to challenge the status quo of e-mail in the enterprise and, instead, prove and demonstrate, day in day out, that you can eventually have a very productive work life using social technologies versus just e-mail.

2. Wired pointed out that you had reduced email volume by 98%, does that mean that now you only receive 2 million emails a year?

Well, before I started this movement of Life Without eMail I used to get about 30 to 40 e-mails per day. Over the course of the years, that amount has gone down substantially till it reached that 98% of e-mail reduction to the point where I was getting two e-mails per day a couple of years back, averaging about 15 per week, which, I guess, is not too bad after all. The interesting part is that I have not reduced my interactions with others though, quite the opposite, they have increased a great deal, so the main difference is that the vast majority of those conversations are now happening through open, public social networking tools allowing for knowledge to flow freely helping people make better decisions with that information.

3. Honestly, who can really get rid of email. I can’t imagine telling my clients I don’t want to communicate with them in that way?!

You would be surprised about the large amount of people (Customers as well!) who are most willing to reduce their e-mail Inboxes in order to collaborate and share the knowledge across much more openly and transparently through social technologies. It’s that inertia that’s killing us, that is, the one where we don’t challenge the status quo and we all keep resorting to e-mail because “Everyone uses it, so why change?” Well, exactly because of that!

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enterprise collaboration matrix: positioning the various types of services

I’ve already had the opportunity to touch on the important subject of the return on investment of Web conferencing in a previous post published in three separate instalments on this very blog. One of the questions that came to my mind following that post is related to the comparison between various conferencing modes. Telepresence may be on top of the media agenda at the moment, but I don’t think that this will make the need for different types of conferencing modes any less important. On the contrary, the advent of telepresence is breathing life into this entire industry. This is a typical example of a competitive advantage applied to an industry as a whole, as Michael Porter would have it.

Having established this fact, what is the difference between the various conferencing modes and what makes them complementary rather than mutually exclusive? I have attempted to represent a number conferencing alternatives in the following slideshow in order to highlight how complimentary all these solutions could be.

  • read on at this address on the Business Value & ICT blog by Orange