June 2015

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Is Email Obsolete?

Is Slack really going to replace email?

Manny Mandrusiak Manny Mandrusiak,
Managing Creative Consultant,
4 Bravo Marketing

Contributing Editor

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Companies are always looking for faster, and easier, ways to communicate and collaborate.  I remember my first real exposure to using new technology for improved team collaboration was when I worked for MatrikonOPC. The entire company ran on MSN Messenger, SharePoint, and email.  I thought that was the absolute pinnacle for inter-company communication and working with geographically dispersed teams. 

Technology evolved, and life got more mobile, and more social.  The options that we have for collaborating with teams has evolved as well.  Corporate social media pages and groups.  Internal social feeds like Yammer emerged and integrated into everything from SharePoint to CRM’s like Salesforce. 

Every aspect of our lives is becoming more and more social media driven, and as a society we are becoming more and more addicted to the instant gratification that social media provides.  Which leads me to ask the question “Will email become obsolete with all these apps trying to replace it”?

It is a pretty valid question to ask as I wonder how many apps, or programs, do I really need open at any one time to collaborate and communicate with my team?  I’ve used Yammer, and Facebook, and Snapchat to manage projects with teams.  I’ve used Lync and Skype to hold meetings and have conference calls. Most recently I started exploring Slack which is labelled as the app to replace email. I personally had some serious doubts about Slack’s claims to replace my beloved inbox, but I’m always up for innovative products.

At first glance I liked Slack’s chat-room approach to communications.  It was easy to set up, and get the team on.  It all seems really great, but I still found myself going back to my email when I really wanted to assign a task, or communicate urgent matters with other members.  Maybe I’m a little too “old school” coming from an enterprise background, but I’m not seeing Slack as a replacement for my email just yet. 

If you think about it email has stood the test of time.  Email is available on every device, phone and computer on the planet.  There is a short learning curve to using it, and no matter what email platform I use, they all have common features.  That means that email is incredibly flexible.

When I look at Slack what I see is that once again I have to learn new conventions and yet another new way of doing things.  If I am working on an article for automatedbuildings.com and I need the editor to take a look at the revisions that I made to the article preview before it goes live I have to tag him with this Slack handle to make sure that he sees it.  If I don’t then it could get lost in the stream of information and overlooked. When I use email I write the email and push send.  I know that it is going to appear in one of two places: his inbox as a new item, or in his junk mail.  As a business person, who tries to have a minimal inbox footprint, I’m conditioned to check both of these places several times a day. I can’t tell you the number of posts that I have missed on Facebook or LinkedIn simply because there were so many, and more coming in constantly.

I also look at email as a natural part of my day’s workflow. As soon as I get a moment between meetings, I check email. I come into the office from a meeting the first thing that I do is check email.   When I get an email from a client that I am working with I automatically feel compelled to respond.  If I have some urgent copy that I have been working on for a client I send it via email.  Even if I use Dropbox to send a large file to a client I will still email them to see if they received it.  As business people I think that we are conditioned that once we receive and email, we automatically respond to it.  It is how many of us conduct business.

I see a product like Slack working well in a software development environment where there is a team working on the newest plug-in for an ERP system.  Everyone on the team is working on their parts of code and utilizing the conversational nature of Slack to effectively collaborate about how the bits of code work together.  Though to me reading the information in Slack would be highly desirable by a competitor who is designing a similar product.

Reliable ControlsSecurity is always a concern and after that recent incident where the company Valleywag was able to discover the Tribe Wearables chatroom and learn about a possible acquisition even more of an issue.  Slack positions itself as a business service and if major corporations are considering using Slack to replace email then they have to have trust in the app.  To me Slack is going to have a really hard time ensuring data security.  We know from watching any evening newscast that we should naturally expect low-level leaks in social platforms and apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, but not for corporate communications.  Companies spend thousands of dollars to ensure network and email security provide data security.  Slack just seems a little “lax” when it comes to that.

Now I’m not out to bash Slack.  The app is very innovative in many areas.  I was discussing Slack with some marketers at the recent Social Media Camp held in Victoria, BC and many people could not stop talking about how much they enjoyed Slack’s social aspect to team communication.  There was one business developer who compared Slack to the chat feature in the game Clash of Clans.  He said that it was great to be able to talk with other members of his clan during a clan war, but he could not imagine communicating with his business colleagues in the same manner.  Email is the tool for getting things done in the business world.
Email has been the cornerstone of business communications for as long as computers have existed.  It is battle-tested and survived threats like spam, phishing, hacking, and my favorite “oops I hit send before I was finished”.  Email is here to stay and it is still the way that the business world communicates, and while I am all for innovation, there is something to be said for technology that stands the test of time.


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