Email addiction: Why the enterprise can't break free

Forget new (and better) technologies, email is as entrenched in the business world as it's ever been.

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Why we love email

We love email because it has utility and ubiquity. It keeps us connected and updated without requiring sender and recipients to be online at the same time, thanks to its asynchronous nature. Everyone doing business today can reasonably be expected to have an email address, where only some use communication alternatives like chat, videoconferencing or SMS texting.

Beyond that, email creates a de facto audit trail as it goes, tracking who sent what to whom when, one that is easily stored, forwarded and, barring space limitations, readily available on one's computer.

The result of this success? "Nobody can live without it for more than two minutes," says Sara Radicati, president and CEO of The Radicati Group.

From Unix mail (b. 1972) to IBM PROFS (b. 1981) and DEC All-In-1 (b. 1982) to email clients and integrated email (think Lotus Notes) to Web-based mail to today's cloud-based options, email has evolved because we needed it.

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.

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