Q&A with IDC Research Director Wayne Kurtzman: It's time to make email collaborative

In a new IDC study, Research Director Wayne Kurtzman dug into email, the unsung hero of the working world that’s managed to go years without seeing innovation. With collaboration tools exploding in popularity in the 21st century, why has email remained relatively unchanged since its humble beginnings in the 1970s?

In this Q&A session, Wayne explains why traditional email is holding us back — and how collaborative email is the solution that will power the next generation of productivity for businesses.

Is email still a business's most valuable communication tool?

Wayne Kurtzman: Email remains the single most prolific business tool in the enterprise, but no longer the most productive one. Now, there are hundreds of thousands of applications that will make your work life better with messaging and collaboration, but unfortunately, we are still shackled to email. Email – we love you, now change. Please.

Why are businesses accepting traditional email as the status quo?

WK: Because they don’t know that anything different exists. Customers, partners, vendors, anyone outside the company is undoubtedly going to have an email address, therefore it’s the most efficient way to communicate with the outside world. So, email must be used. Most businesses just deal with the inefficiencies of traditional email because they think it’s necessary. There are other ways, some of which we share in this new IDC study.

What's wrong with email today?

WK: Email was great to share ideas between two people, but it got messy when we started bringing teams together. Originally, teams were meant to collaborate using a different group application, but email was the killer app. Workarounds were created almost 40 years ago so groups could share inboxes, and it was better, but it still didn't work well for groups. It is still hard to mentally remember which email belongs with another. It is still nearly impossible to see if another team member is acting on the need, and none of us know what's going on without creating more email, and trying to remember everyone in the thread. Using email actually creates more email.

What are businesses missing out on by continuing to use traditional email?

WK: Email could and should become collaborative and simpler. It needs to move from its individual inbox origins and become team centric. Ideally, you could have a conversation around a given email, which starts the topic. It could be a customer request, a project – literally anything. Conversations should be kept with the original asset (email) and the team can build on that goal together. It would be easy to allow the participation of subject matter experts and stakeholders to work together, define accountability, keep everyone on the same page, and measure results.

This removes the need for follow-up emails. It could integrate with other systems to remove duplicate steps. Teams with legacy email are missing out on time savings, improved employee and customer experiences, faster and more accurate work, cross-functional learning, and greater corporate governance.

What are the benefits businesses see from collaboration tools?

WK: IDC research shows the most common benefits of collaboration are increased group productivity, saving time, personal productivity, and faster time to market and execute projects.

As the average mobile device owner continues to grow even more tech savvy, collaboration is more natural to virtually every member of the workforce. IDC research shows 56% of all collaboration projects start as ad hoc projects. They recognize the need to work smarter. Providing corporate governance and empowering greater productivity while decreasing time to results is a powerful incentive.

What benefits does collaborative email bring to businesses?

WK: Collaborative email brings many benefits to businesses. It makes it easy to loop in subject-matter experts and stakeholders to work together. It creates accountability, keeps everyone on the same page, and enables you to measure results.

Collaborative email saves time, enables people to work faster, and ensures greater accuracy. It improves both the employee and customer experience. Don't be afraid of modernizing email. Rather be afraid of not modernizing email – or worse, seeing a competitor do it first.

IDC research sponsored by Front