Email’s Mid-Life Crisis: Can We Tame the Killer App? Do We Really Want To?

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Thinking Inside the In-box
Most companies are only on the edge of appreciating their collection of corporate inboxes as untapped assets, but that clearly is where the industry is headed. Just as Google helped launch new business models by rendering usable data from the unstructured morass of Web content, enterprise email is just waiting to be Googlized and turned into profitable business intelligence. Some of the most interesting work occurring in email involves enterprise search and archive companies imagining the next stage, how email in fact traverses mid-life and matures into an adult, business application. "People have gravitated to the fact that email is critical to their business and they want to make it an important asset and key to their information structure," says Mirapoint's Carpenter, but we are only beginning to see where that recognition leads. "Just because you store it doesn't mean you are managing it," says Black. "They don't understand how to use the technology to mitigate risk and expand opportunities." Autonomy, which works with some of the world's largest defense and government institutions, developed pattern-matching tools that vault beyond simple keyword algorithms to find relationships among emails. Used by some clients to detect workplace harassment or improper business processes, they can also be used to help identify a company's unrealized assets. "In a large company, the only real ways to spot what 30,000 engineers are doing is to analyze their information streams," says Black, or by identifying people in different places in an organization following similar trains of thought or working on similar problems. "You have a powerful real-time tool to drive collaboration," says Black. "It is a fantastic way of drawing together strings in the enterprise that no one knows can be leveraged."

"Email is the primary vehicle to exchange corporate knowledge," says King. "Seventy-five percent of corporate intellectual property is contained in email and attachments." Fear of regulators and lawyers moved companies to archive, but the next step is mining this data to turn a productivity drain into a source of new efficiencies. For instance, email monitoring in financial institutions already detects phrases and concepts that violate rules. But these same regulatory filters can evolve into tools that extract from conversations, marketing concepts, pieces of software coding ideas, brainstorms, frequent partner queries, or sales processes that can be turned into business practices. "Concept search is a very hot topic," says Baron. Visualization tools already used by Zantaz clients to map inappropriate email use can also identify hot spots of creativity in emails. Imagine analyzing the messages, appointments, attachments, and follow-up appointments in the emails of a successful sales team compared to a weaker one. "That content could be the diamond in the rough. It could reveal why a team was successful and where the other failed," says Baron.

But in the realm of email, where habit and corporate disinterest rules, integrating email with content management solutions, policies, and management modules is a distant inbox dream. "We're not even close to this notion of archiving and searching email," says Cavanagh.

Mining the inbox more intelligently is probably a more likely evolution of email than stemming the flow. Any change in user behavior will be incremental and occur by minor changes and highly intuitive add-ons within the familiar email experience itself, say most vendors and researchers. Try as we might to throw new offloading and filtering techniques at it, our favorite killer app is not likely to find another killer app to cure all its ills. At mid-life, email may do what most of us do when pushing 50: resolve ourselves to what we can't change but identify the core strengths we can leverage for the long haul.

Companies Featured




Critical Path




The Radicati Group


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