Oakland County's Bertolini is a big fan of email -- given that the public sector is still heavily paper-based, email still counts a big technological step forward. "We can chase new technologies, but I need something that's trusted and used by the masses. Even though there are people clamoring for newer ways to communicate, email is our main form of communication."
Why we hate email
Unfortunately, email's positives -- its utility and ubiquity -- have become its negatives as well.
Consider this complaint'>: "It doesn't matter if the message comes from a spammer hawking Viagra, your wife asking you to pick up some wine, your boss telling the company that Monday is a holiday, or a client asking for a meeting at his office at 11 a.m. In today's inboxes, all email messages are equal." Journalist Om Malik wrote that ... in 2007. If anything, the situation has only gotten worse.
The problem, says Forrester's Koplowitz, is that "we use email for things it wasn't designed to do." Hooked on email, users default to it for scheduling, workflow, resource management, archiving, document management, project management, and even knowledge management, where ideas that should be shared widely are instead locked up in an email chain among a narrow list of recipients. "The things it does poorly have become problematic," Koplowitz sums up.
Over the years developers have tried to break through users' dependence on email with software that's more sophisticated and better suited to the enterprise task at hand -- often with only narrow success.
Knowledge management systems, touted in the 1990s as the next big thing, failed to catch on, while collaboration systems such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint have been variously successful; the inclusion of Chatter into Salesforce works in the sales arena for specific needs.
But typically these systems have failed to attain email's level of ubiquity because they offered a solution that may indeed be superior to email, but only for a narrow population of enterprise users.
"There's a high correlation in the success of these tools when they're aligned with recognizable business value," says Koplowitz. Unfortunately, he adds, there's frequently an organizational mismatch. The tools that work for one department (e.g., sales) may not suffice for another (e.g., customer service).
Even when new communications tools like Yammer and Chatter do take hold throughout the enterprise, what happens? Users route their notifications to the one place they're most likely to see them first -- the ubiquitous email inbox.
IT's email burden
For IT, email is an ongoing headache. Niraj Jetly, CIO at EdenredUSA, the U.S. division of a global developer of employee benefits and incentive solutions in Newton, Mass., cites a quartet of hassles: the volume of data; compliance and security; corporate email on user devices; and international routing.
"No one can support ever-increasing mailbox sizes," he says. "At the same time, we have to ensure the safety and security of sensitive data being transmitted. We have to ensure the availability of emails archived by users on their laptops or desktops."
As a divisional CIO within a multinational organization, Jetly also cites as a challenge getting email from continent to continent. "It gets very tricky when different government [regulations] and private-sector contracts restrict email routing," he explains. For instance, certain PCI-DSS regulations require that emails originating in the U.S. stay in the U.S.
The oncoming trend of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) also worries him. "If an organization needs encrypted email but also supports BYOD, supporting access to corporate email on personal devices becomes a never-ending challenge," Jetly says. "And if a user loses a personal device, who has liability for the loss of data?" he asks.