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Could collaboration software, social media unseat email?

Email is here to stay, but its functionality could soon be folded into collaboration software, social media and unified communications tools.

Email has formed the backbone of interpersonal communications for decades, but it has a lot of often-overlooked flaws, which could allow alternatives such as collaboration software to knock it from its perch.

Email's popularity made it a natural fit as one of the first mobilized apps for the enterprise, so it's probably not going away anytime soon. But it leaves a lot to be desired, especially in enterprise settings.

Among email's flaws is security. Email is simply not very secure unless it includes end-to-end encryption and authentication. It's even more of an issue in the age of mobility because it's difficult for administrators to prevent users from circumventing internal email policies, such as using personal email for sensitive communications or downloading business-critical information to their personal mobile devices. Saving emails and their attachments is at the user's discretion as well. Reliability isn't guaranteed, and network failures can even result in lost messages.

For those reasons, email functionality could be absorbed into other kinds of software. So, what types of tools could replace it?

Collaboration software builds on email’s foundation

Collaboration software is available from a broad range of suppliers, including giants such as Cisco, IBM and smaller, more specialized firms. Locally-hosted products and cloud-based services are plentiful. Typical collaboration products include a broad range of functionality, from centrally-managed file sharing and synchronization to messaging and videoconferencing.

The advent of collaboration- based email is far from the endgame.

Combining the capabilities of email and collaboration software has a number of benefits that address the challenges around email. With a cloud-based collaboration system, IT can improve content archiving and backup. Plus, IT can enact a gateway function that puts restrictions on any corporate content shared outside of the collaboration software.

Expect email functionality to disappear into collaboration software in many organizations as the tools continue to gain utility, influence and popularity. With mobile apps for many of the common collaboration tools, users can even communicate and share documents from their mobile devices. The expense and management overhead may increase when organizations adopt collaboration software, but the range of functions and other valuable benefits will be worth it.

Adding social media and unified communications to the pot

Collaboration-based email is far from the endgame. There are two other key developments underway that will also come into play with new communications tools in the enterprise.

First is social media. Unlike more common, public and advertising-oriented services such as Facebook and Twitter, organizational social networks are based on the concept of a closed user group with authorized membership. Local IT policies centrally manage and tightly control permissions and data flow within the network. These tools can include email and file-sharing capabilities, along with real-time videoconferencing, shared applications, workflow management and other necessities such as archiving and search -- all with the appropriate IT-enforced security policies.

The second enhancement, which many organizations already deploy, completes the picture. It is unified communications, which puts voice, messaging, video, applications, shared spaces, and of course, email, under a single management umbrella with a gateway for external email communications. This gateway can include email filtering and logging, which further enforces enterprise security and addresses archiving requirements.

No single collaborative, social or unified communications capability today can do everything. But over time, being able to deliver collaborative communication tools on both desktops and mobile devices will become the standard for organizations everywhere. Yes, email functionality survives; how could it not? But email in the future will live inside a larger and far more capable context than it does in the majority of enterprises today.

Next Steps

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This was last published in October 2015

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