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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Over the years developers have tried to break through users' dependence on email with software that's more sophisticated and better suited to the enterprise task at hand -- often with only narrow success.

Knowledge management systems, touted in the 1990s as the next big thing, failed to catch on, while collaboration systems such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint have been variously successful; the inclusion of Chatter into Salesforce works in the sales arena for specific needs.

But typically these systems have failed to attain email's level of ubiquity because they offered a solution that may indeed be superior to email, but only for a narrow population of enterprise users.

"There's a high correlation in the success of these tools when they're aligned with recognizable business value," says Koplowitz. Unfortunately, he adds, there's frequently an organizational mismatch. The tools that work for one department (e.g., sales) may not suffice for another (e.g., customer service).

Even when new communications tools like Yammer and Chatter do take hold throughout the enterprise, what happens? Users route their notifications to the one place they're most likely to see them first -- the ubiquitous email inbox.

IT's email burden

For IT, email is an ongoing headache. Niraj Jetly, CIO at EdenredUSA, the U.S. division of a global developer of employee benefits and incentive solutions in Newton, Mass., cites a quartet of hassles: the volume of data; compliance and security; corporate email on user devices; and international routing.

"No one can support ever-increasing mailbox sizes," he says. "At the same time, we have to ensure the safety and security of sensitive data being transmitted. We have to ensure the availability of emails archived by users on their laptops or desktops."

As a divisional CIO within a multinational organization, Jetly also cites as a challenge getting email from continent to continent. "It gets very tricky when different government [regulations] and private-sector contracts restrict email routing," he explains. For instance, certain PCI-DSS regulations require that emails originating in the U.S. stay in the U.S.

The oncoming trend of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) also worries him. "If an organization needs encrypted email but also supports BYOD, supporting access to corporate email on personal devices becomes a never-ending challenge," Jetly says. "And if a user loses a personal device, who has liability for the loss of data?" he asks.

Pete Kardiasmenos, systems architect at SBLI USA, the New York City-based insurance company, manages the firm's Exchange servers and gets involved with "anything relating to email." His biggest issue: users turning to external, free email systems, such as Yahoo and Gmail, to circumvent the company's storage limits.

"They don't have bad intentions. They want to know why they're limited to 500 megabytes when Gmail is unlimited. It's because the more space you have, the more time backup takes, the more complicated disaster recovery is. We have to constantly communicate our policies," he says. Like a lot of enterprise organizations, SBLI USA has had to block the use of public email systems from company-owned computers as a security measure, and limit space in Exchange for most users because of storage cost issues.

Even then, he says, email is still a headache for the company. "People keep email in their inbox the same way they keep files on their desktop, to keep them handy. They send the same file back and forth as an attachment until you have 10 versions that you have to store."

For Oakland County's Bertolini, it's the management that's the challenge -- managing passwords, and managing Outlook's .pst backup files when they get too big. At least, he says, when those files get too large, they start to generate error messages. "We find out about it when [users] have a problem," sighs Bertolini.

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