Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Your Email Client as the Ideal Enterprise 2.0 tool?

email_large Tom Kronenburg of CapGemini recently wrote an interesting post on the (Dutch) blog Frankwatching. His post was titled: 'Microsoft Outlook the best Enterprise 2.0 tool...' Nice title eh? At least Luis Suarez won't agree... ;-)

If you want to read the whole post, go ahead and translate it with Google Translate. In short Tom's point is: the only successful enterprise 2.0 tools relate directly to email/the email client.

This is an interesting thought! His post provides lots of input for discussion. I commented on his post and would like to pass my remarks on to my readers as well, and elaborate a bit.

In the first place, I agree with his thesis that web 2.0 concepts and tools should integrate well with the primary workplace of knowledge workers. Which is email mostly. Email is the knowledge worker's habitat. In whatever way you look at it, if you don't integrate with the email client the new tool will be perceived as 'an extra tool'. And in my experience, people have a hard time maintaining content in more than one spot. On the other hand I find that most good web 2.0 tools do exactly this (- although it could be done more deeply).

I think this is something social media evangelists tend to forget (- and I consider myself to be one of them). We are so enthralled by the possibilities of the new web, that we forget the way knowledge workers work and the tools they always use to get things done. Of course we can talk about when to use email and when not. However life in companies is that email is THE communication tool. Lots of research has shown this too. James Dellow over at Chieftech pointed to some of this lately. E.g. research by Stenmark shows knowledge workers prefer to use their email client to collect information for research. (I've pointed to other research on my blog too.)

So, a key issue in social media adoption is truly understanding the way people work and relating and connecting to that reality instead of say: 'Hey, there's lots of good tools way over here! Far away from your email!' Most knowledge workers will take a peak and continue using email. That's where we (still) get new info and manage our tasks.

Tom points to Xobni as a successful e2.0 tool, easily used by many knowledge workers. True, Xobni and other email client add-ons, such as Taglocity, have added value. However, in my daily practice I don't see Xobni helping us to become a more open, transparent and social company. It helps me manage my email in a better way (- although I stopped using Xobni and Taglocity because it slowed down my email client...). It doesn't help me easily shared my information/knowledge, etc.

Well, what do you think? Is email the starting point for enterprise 2.0 initiatives? How tightly should these initiative integrate with email? Or should we stop focusing on email and provide added-value tools that should be integrated in daily work processes? I'd love to hear what you think!

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8 comments:

  1. I think it is a choice between two evils.

    Functionality that is important for a person's job, and that you as a designer or information architect want them to use, should be integrated into the environment where people do their work, and where they direct most of their time and attention. Unfortunately that environment is the "poor man's workflow system" called email.

    I know that it doesn't help if we continue to overload this environment with ever more functions. But I also believe that a broad acceptance and use of web 2.0 functionality in the enterprise will not take off as long as people are forced to divert their attention out of their regular work environment.

    The question I ask myself is this: why do we continue to make the life of the knowledge worker ever more complex (by introducing new tools, new functionality, new procedures, etc) in the belief that it will ultimately make them more productive?!

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  2. Email is not likely to go away, because it's a good tool for communication, particularly private, or one-to-few communication. The fact that it has until recently been our best available tool for collaboration shouldn't blind us to the fact that it does a very bad job of it. What Web2.0/E2.0 tools do is not replace email as a communication device, but as a collaboration tool. A tradesman generally uses more than one tool, and tries to select the best one for the task at hand ... to suggest that giving people a better tool for some of their work than they currently have is going to confuse them is a little insulting, surely? ;-)

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  3. You are very right that we should not give up on providing people with better tools for the tasks that they need to perform. But what worries me is that people are overloaded with an abundance of tools and expected to master these tools with little or no help. People need time to orient themselves on new tools, to experiment with them as to experience the benefits for their work, to give these tools their proper place in their work routines or to adapt these routines as necessary. This is generally not considered as productive work, so only the pioneering types that enjoy such activities will generally find the time for it. Assuming that the others are short term costs-benefits optimizers, what would it take to get them along?

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  4. Working at IT, I can say that the distance between the designer of a system and the user is soooo long that no matter how good intentions designers have, they'll be all gone or wrongly interpreted until they get to the user. The role of IT becomes very important as they are the intermediate layer, that, on the one hand, can evaluate the functionalities and on the other hand, make sure the users know the way to use the tools. Wish it would wokr this way!

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  5. Thanks for the comments, Olha, Ric and Ruud!
    @ruud: we can't overload email with plugins. I don't mind email updates with a link to the actual tool for instance. That's what most web apps do.
    I agree, most new tools only make work more complex. Although there currently is a trend to put the pieces together. Refer to Xobni for instance (relating people, email and files) and Friendfeed (one stream with all your friends and updates over web 2.0 tools).
    @ric: Yes, thanks, it's good to distinguish between communication and collaboration. But it would be nice to be able to do that from one spot!
    @olha: great remark. This is exactly what I like about lots of webapps: direct feedback (and sometime quick changes by the designer of the app).

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