Chasing your tail in email hell

The demise of email has been a long time in the making but along the way it has managed to create clog the systems of many an organisation.

The demise of email has been a long time in the making. Once a critical communication platform, the reply-all threads and hundreds of unread messages clogging up our inboxes have been taunting business professionals for years now. Yet, with the tremendous reliance on emails today, this increasingly antiquated form of communication has also come to affect workflows, information sharing, and more importantly, work-life balance.

So how did we ever get by without it? Technically, email hasn’t really been around that long, perhaps 20 years at the very most? Maybe some of us still remember the inbox and outbox stacked one on top of the other in the corner of our desks that held varying levels of paper documents in need of some kind of process or action?

There is no denying that working asynchronously via email is appealing and easy in the right place. For instance, employers can conveniently fire off a smoker any time they like, whether or not the recipient is present. That alone has ballooned the volume of messages by orders of magnitude.

Indeed, the general notion of work has shifted – busy executives are tethered to their inboxes 24/7, feeling pretty busy and productive initiating and responding to messages all day long. But are they really?

Some things are better left (un)emailed

Besides general correspondences with clients and amongst colleagues, which make up a large proportion of our emails, there is now a growing tendency for users to use email for threads that include requests, responses to requests and updates to the responses. While this sometimes seems like the easy option for time-poor employees looking for a quick fix on their invalid email password for example, these types of email strings are most often, better off belonging in a system. That way, these requests can be actioned and prioritised accordingly, something, which often gets lost in simple email treads.  

Essentially we need to think of emails like this: any time a thread starts repeating itself, it is a prime candidate to be captured in a workflow to structure, define and manage the service relationship.

From email to a systems-based approach

Message repositories like inboxes are opaque – businesses have no idea what's going on in there. Hence rather than managing services, they are just merely trying to deliver them. Executives wouldn’t know how long it takes, how well it was done, what it costs, or how many of this type have been and are currently in progress.

So why are executives still chasing their collective tails, feeling amazingly busy, with no idea how well they’re actually doing? The fact of the matter is that businesses can't scale, optimise and manage very well without systems. Nevertheless, the good news is that there are options to eliminate this traffic altogether.

IT organisations, by way of that 1990’s notion of a helpdesk, have some history running a service model with defined workflows. HR? Facilities? Procurement? email them, and pray your message doesn't land in a junk folder. Often, they barely think of themselves as service domains – but therein lies an opportunity: The ability to deliver much better service at reduced cost.

Executives request and provide services all day. While providing services is typically considered part of the job, employees do request services from time to time to help them do their jobs better. Moving the requesting and delivery of services from email to systems changes everything overnight. For one, systems do not forget, but people do.

Fundamentally, with a systems-based approach, service delays can be auto-escalated, poor service performance shows up on reports, and sub-par service quality is alerted, amongst many other benefits. On top of that, analytics also provide the capabilities to highlight where organisations are spending their collective time and resources – and with that business leaders can easily plan and justify budgets.

In a nutshell, this ultimately provides an opportunity for businesses to start managing services, rather than simply delivering them. So the next time you hit 'send', think about whether there might be a better, easier and cheaper way of accomplishing your goal for the message. What comes to mind?

David Oakley is managing director, ANZ at ServiceNow

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