You can stop using email, but the problem won’t go away

In July 2017 TechGenix published an article I wrote titled, Stop using email? Now! During the tenure of the TechGenix Xtreme Podcast, Peter King and I often referenced the issues with email, and we contemplated what would follow as the next best form of communication. Various readers and listeners also communicated their experiences, thoughts, and quite varied opinions regarding the subject matter. Here we are, two years later and guess what? Absolutely nothing has changed! Or has it?

A now-defunct tech company called Digital Equipment Corp. is credited with sending the very first spam email on May 3, 1978. It wasn’t called spam until 1993, but records would indicate that the troublesome messages have existed as long as email itself and have led to phishing attacks dating back to the early 1990s. The history of malware is a little more complicated and goes back as far as 1971. There is no argument that the massively addictive use of email has created a lovely little platform perfectly fitted for the spread of malware and the illegitimate acquisition of personal information.

Is email the boss of you?

It is unnecessary to quote statistics regarding the amount of time we spend reading, composing, responding to, and trying to clean up our email inboxes. For those of us who exist in the world of business or technology, there is no denying our reliance on the tool. Business associates who work in operational roles state that their day is guided by the first emails they receive in the morning. Whatever real, or perceived, fire they encounter upon logging into their email account will often take precedence over whatever they originally had planned for the day. When did this happen? When did we turn control over to a channel for delivery?

Not unlike the cell phone addict who must answer a call regardless of the situation they are in, email addicts are now living their lives guided by whatever misinformation arrives in their inbox. The difference is that we are all email addicts.

The problem is much bigger than email


Let us for a moment consider the possibility that email isn’t the problem at all. Let’s consider the possibility that it is our behavior as human animals that requires correction. By comparison, let’s look back at the early days of the IT enterprise service desk. Personnel spent their days solving whatever issue was brought to their attention. Interaction with these helpful intellects was, for the most part, face-to-face, and it was wonderful! It was also a successful training ground for up-and-coming technical experts and future IT leaders.

As our reliance on technology grew, so did the technical issues that we encountered. The full-time requirement to staff the service desk continued to grow, coincidentally in alignment with the world domination of publicly traded companies. In the drive to maximize shareholder value, the concept of the service desk was deemed to be inefficient. Enter the world of time-tracking. Today, most service desks require a billing code, or work order, to be applied against each task. In addition, employees are measured against set targets to ensure maximum efficiency. I won’t get into the topic of staff turnover or how undesirable service desk positions have become, but there is no argument that they have become efficient and are no longer a cost center nightmare to CEO’s trying to drive out maximum shareholder value.

The time is ripe for an efficiency overhaul

In the 2017 article, I used some then-current statistics to average out an annual cost of $21,500 to employers for an employee earning a $50,000 annual salary. There are arguments for higher numbers and an equally compelling number for lower numbers. That’s the thing about statistics and averages. There is always a good argument left hanging out there. Most, however, agree that email as a mode of communication is an area ripe for an efficiency overhaul. While it is indeed an effective channel for message delivery, it is proving to be very ineffective at actual communication. As readers, it is not uncommon to read only the first few lines, thereby missing additional information and key messages. As email writers, it is easy to incorrectly infer a characteristic, such as humor, or sarcasm. Even more common is sending without proofreading, or to assume the receiver has a certain background or knowledge about the subject matter.

One reader responded with detail from a 1970s study that revealed it took 4.3 telephone calls to complete one business transaction. With businesses incurring telephone bills in the area of $500,000 per month the introduction of email was a welcome resolution to escalating costs. With emails now arriving in the range of 90 per day, it’s difficult to imagine that any business transaction is being completed within 4.3 emails. While the cost may not yet have reached the once escalating telecom charges, it is still rather surprising that email use has not yet been targeted as a means to drive out cost savings.

Next steps

When business costs escalate, questions are asked. When questions are asked regarding technology, we are tasked with gathering data. Fortunately, email tracking tools are readily available. If your business is a user of Salesforce, you can enable enhanced email and email tracking. If you subscribe to Office 365, the options are message tracking or message tracing.

Gathering these statistics is not going to be as straightforward as knowing how much time is spent to close a service desk ticket. Upfront planning will be necessary to gain a deep understanding of the information that is key to your executive. This will ensure that the data you gather will be of the utmost value. Once the depth of the issue is understood, the return on investment can be calculated, and business processes can be adjusted accordingly to change the currently embedded reliance on email traffic. Change management will also need to be an integral part of this challenge. Today our brains are wired to use email to run our schedules and to prioritize our business lives. We can’t just tell everyone to change, we must employ the proven scientific processes in order to guarantee success.

Time to stop blaming email

Blame has been placed on email as a tool for far too long. As a means to deliver messaging, email behaves as it should and has proven itself to be extremely reliable. Now it’s time for the business to step up and adjust and enforce business processes that maximize shareholder value and drive out a positive return on investment.

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