E-mail floats amid social comms wave

Social increasingly permeating enterprise communications, but e-mail--"basic" and "necessary"--remains top form of interaction, analysts say.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Analysts agree that enterprise communications today are increasingly becoming socially-driven, such as the use of instant messaging (IM) and social networks, but they also note that e-mail remains a staple, if not the top, mode of communication in organizations.

There is "increasing interest" in "social technologies" being used as communication forms among enterprises, which include social media, instant messaging, Web conferencing and video conferencing, said John Brand, Forrester Research's vice president and principal analyst for CIO group.

"Business communication has always been social", he said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia. Outside the organization, companies are always "driving conversations with their customers", which in today's context, would be via social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

But "social is [being] applied" to organizations' internal communications as well, noted Brand, pointing to the emergence of digitally-enabled social activities within the business and how more companies try to create their own "Facebook for the enterprise". It is about creating "a richer employee directory with the ability for users to contribute [and share] their own content", whether via social networking tools, blogs or wikis, he added.

Social communication within business has the ability to democratize decision making and increase visibility and accountability, Brand said.

Sherrie Huang, research manager for communications and collaboration at IDC Asia-Pacific, concurred that social is a growing trend in enterprise communications both internally and externally. Enterprise social networking is adopted by more companies just as more are using social media as a tool to communicate with external parties, she said via e-mail.

E-mail not dead
Even though enterprise communications may be increasingly social, e-mail is not about to be replaced or become redundant, and in fact remains essential and most widely-used communication form, analysts observed.

E-mail, Huang said, is a "basic and necessary communication tool" for enterprises. While the use of e-mail may see "slower" growth in markets where communications are mature and new media prevail, there is still "strong growth" in emerging markets such as those in Southeast Asia, she highlighted.

According to Huang, e-mail and Internet protocol (IP) telephony as the "most common and necessary" communication tools for most enterprises; they are also the foundations that most other major unified communications (UC) features are built on or integrated with.

Even if enterprises adopt other communication tools, they are more of "complementary usage instead of substitution" to e-mail, she added.

Brand from Forrester similarly argued that besides the telephone, e-mail remains the "most popular form" of communication, and there is "definitely [no] mass migration" away from e-mail as a general communication tool.

He stressed that IM, Web conferencing, blogs, wikis and other social technologies have all had an impact on e-mail's evolution as it "morphs into something entirely different", becoming extended and integrated with other systems in a way that makes the lines between the two "extremely blurred" and "harder to distinguish". For instance, e-mail may be used as a notification platform when updates on social media are being made.

Unified communications & unified communication policy
Asked about enterprise uptake of unified communications (UC) solutions, IDC's Huang noted that new optimizations and new features integrated in UC have made the technology more "mature" and "appealing" to a greater number of enterprises. Firms now see the "true value of UC" and try to deploy UC offerings to improve productivity, serve clients better and reduce cost, she said.

Brand also observed that as UC continues to "evolve", more businesses are using converged communications, although typically from their personal computer (PC), laptop or tablet--"generic" technology platforms as opposed to UC vendor-specific hardware devices.

Whether communication refers to an online social conversation or a face-to-face meeting, ultimately "what we are now witnessing is an era where people can and do adopt their communication tool of choice, [which] may change based on what they're communicating about", Brand emphasized.

Part of the reason is also due to the influx of younger workers from the Generation Y demographic, who prefer using "asynchronous channels", he pointed out. He also cautioned that with enterprise communications increasingly incorporating social elements, organizations also need to be aware that social can also pose "significant" risk to security, in the form of information leakage, for example.

Hence, it is crucial for organizations to ensure all staff are "trained on the right way to communicate" through any electronic means, from e-mail to social networks, and the company's communication policies and expectations are clearly set and known to employees, Brand stressed.

The challenge of coming up with acceptable codes of conduct, however, is finding the "happy medium" or middle ground that allows employees to "leverage electronic tools to better communicate but not drown them in the bureaucracy of managing how they actually use the tools" or using the very same tools to lock down access rights and privileges, he noted.

IDC's Huang recommended that enterprises define a "robust" and unified corporate communications strategy, that covers all major communications--from IP telephony and e-mail to instant messaging.

The organization needs to "clearly understand what it wants", and take into account their business natures, needs, required security levels and employee demands, she added.

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