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Why CIOs should focus on trimming their internal email footprint

Better internal collaboration should be part of a CIO’s digitisation arsenal. But there is resistance to change, especially as email is so dominant

Most people remain wedded to dated technology such as email, even though there are more effective ways to collaborate, according to a YouGov survey of 1,000 business professionals for Avanade.

While email is arguably the most widely used application in the enterprise, its effects on productivity have been widely reported. In 2012, McKinsey warned that the average interaction worker spends an estimated 28% of their work week managing email.

In a 2013 article for Harvard Business Review, digital transformation consultant Tom Cochran, who previously worked under former US president Barack Obama’s administration as a digital leader in the White House and the Department of State, outlined the actual costs of processing emails.

By looking at a number of parameters, including analysing email volumes, average typing speeds, number of words per email and average salaries, Cochran estimated that the overall cost of processing emails across the company he was working for was “a seven-figure price tag”.

According to McKinsey, companies with a high proportion of interaction workers can achieve tremendous productivity improvements through faster internal communication and smoother collaboration.

These days, businesses have a plethora of collaboration platforms. Slack, Microsoft Team and Workplace for Facebook are among the big names in enterprise social media. Desktop teleconferencing is available via services like Zoom and Skype, while cloud-based services such as OneDrive, Box, DropBox and Google Drive are being used for document sharing.

Digital strategy must focus on employees

But reducing business’ reliance on email is just one part of a wider shift in the way companies need to operate going forward. Stanley Louw, UK and Ireland head of digital and innovation at Avanade, believes organisations need a strategy that is digital, not a digital strategy. 

“The way we have always provided IT for work is actually holding us back,” he said. “You have to apply the sample principles of customer experience to employee experience. What is the experience employees need to do their job? CIOs have to start partnering with HR.”

But in Louw’s experience, IT departments still approach desktop IT from a pure IT perspective, which makes their approach to the desktop archaic, very much based in legacy approaches to desktop management. Industry momentum around focusing on customer experience has changed the way businesses look at their customer, he said, adding: “You also need to look internally and start by modernising platforms.”

Louw recommended CIOs to identify common internal tasks that could be improved by delivering the right information to employees in an intuitive way.

“People may just need to find out an answer to a question, such as the company’s working-from-home policy,” he said. “They are literally just looking for a paragraph in the document. They should be able to look up these things and just get the answer back.”

This results in one less internal email correspondence with HR, or the employee spending a long time reading the entire staff handbook to find the answer to a work policy question.

Read more about employee experience

  • Employees aren’t afraid to challenge their employers on workplace and social issues. That kind of employee activism may challenge HR to rethink its employee experience strategy.
  • Carol Rozwell, an analyst on Gartner’s digital workplace team, discusses employee experience strategy, the bigger role ahead for IT, and the need to redesign workspaces.

Louw also believes that modernising workplace desktop IT  should not be approached as a traditional change management programme. “It starts at the design stage,” he said. “How do people want to work?”

By getting employees involved at an early stage of the project, “you get buy-in, they get involved and start to see how the new technology will benefit them”, he said.

Louw said Microsoft’s Workplace Analytics provides a way for IT departments to show employees how much time they spend on various business tasks, such as email and phone calls. “This can be used to change work behaviour and help IT to understand the behaviour of people,” he said.

But according to Chris Lloyd-Jones, emerging technology, product and engineering lead at Avanade, it only takes one individual to insist on printing out documents to break online collaboration for everyone else. “It may seem like a small thing not using the tool of choice, but if you print out documents, everyone has to do that,” he said.

As well as using the likes of Workplace Analytics to show staff how new tools can help them work more efficiently, Lloyd-Jones recommended IT departments to focus on creating “champion networks” of early adopters. “Tell the fast followers what’s coming down the line so they can tell their own peer network,” he said. “When this information comes from a peer or a friend at work, there is better adoption.”

Internally, Avanade runs an enterprise app store and encourages its own staff to rate the apps, just as people tend to download highly rated apps on Google Play or iTunes. Louw also sees this as an opportunity to encourage adoption of new collaboration platforms.

As is often the case, the shiny new tool initially has a novelty value among the first wave of users, and people posting on the new platform often receive more “likes” than posts on the older platform.

Read more on Collaboration software and productivity software

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