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IBM on the Transformation of Business Email

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Business email remains big despite some attempts to get stuff out of an overcrowded inbox.  As IBM mentioned, organizations still consider email to be their most important, mission-critical application. In 2009, there were over 800 million business email users worldwide, and that number is expected to jump to almost 970 million by 2014, according to IDC. For perspective, on the consumer side the numbers are almost identical. There were approximately 760 million consumer email users in 2009, with an expected 950 million by 2014.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with Ed Brill, IBM’s new leader for social collaboration on how email use is changing because of social media. Ed noted that email has been around for almost two decades. I can remember when it was fresh and new.  Then it became the tool for everything and this has become both a blessing a curse. You have a one-stop shop for much of business communication and collaboration but this is a very crowded stop.

IBM is working on ways to transform email and have it better align with the new collaborative technologies within social business models.  Email is reverting to become closer to its communication origins and collaboration is moving to the new social software tools.

At the same time, many of these social tools use email as an alert vehicle. This allows email to become a common dashboard for many tools. Email today has evolved from the static one-to-one exchange, to the inbox for the social framework. Email now includes all relevant updates from your social environment, whether that be a notification of a new activity in your company’s enterprise social networking site, a new comment on a blog post that you’re following, a file sharing notification, or a connection request from LinkedIn

Email is becoming more focused. Ed said that his own email volume has actually decreased in the era of other social tools. File sharing, for example, has moved to these social tools. However, the email he gets more often requires an action on his part. The concept of an activity stream is getting a lot of play these days. This capability had its origins with micro-blogging when auto-generated updates made an appearance.  Email can serve this same function. Ed said that the activity stream, regardless of location, will evolve beyond simple alerts. It will allow for direct actions.  For example a request for vacation can be approved right in the message with one click, rather than requiring opening another app.  REST APIs allow for this capability and it will be a big productivity booster.

Ed said that IBM is working to embed these actions within email. It is also working to apply analytics to email traffic to determine what might be useful to users. For example, it could let users know who should they talk to about certain issues based on email traffic. They are also working to make the activity stream more pervasive, as well as more connected to other apps. SAP is one example, of this increased connection.

Within IBM Connections, the activity stream serves as the home page as shown below. It is the unifying function to connect other activities and applications.

I saw IBM’s LotusLive Symphony at Lotusphere this year. You can do real time collaborative editing on documents. Ed said that this function will be pushed into the activity stream. It will go to where you are working. I like this direction. I think the connections achieved through an activity stream, whether it is email based or social app based, will be one of the major improvements of social business.

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