Friday, December 9, 2011

The Ban On Internal Emails


Thierry Breton (above), the determined CEO of the information technology services company Atos has made the decision to do away with internal emails. He is the former chief executive and chairman of France Telecom, served as France's minister of economy, finance and industry for two years and lectured at Harvard Business School before joining Atos three years ago.

Executing this daring policy will be no small feat. Atos employs staff across 42 countries and offers consulting and technology services to a range of high profile customers including Boots, Fiat, Philips, Reuters and the Olympic Games.

Breton complains that emails as a communication tool is time-wasting and he even insists it is outmoded. He has claimed that only 10 percent of the 200 electronic messages his employees receive per day turn out to be useful. "The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face [in the future]. It is time to think differently," he asserts.
With the ban on internal emails, the 75,000 staff at Atos will instead use instant messaging and chat-style collaborative services inspired by social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

Mind you, Breton’s suggestion is not original. Already, young people are staying away from emails – first developed in 1971 – accordingly, email use is down 31 percent among the 12-17 age group this year with a further 21 percent decline among those aged 18-24.

Mobile Instant Messaging (IM) services such as Blackberry Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, designed to facilitate low-cost, real-time communication around each X Factor performance, have supplanted ponderous email for the tech-savvy next generation. Mobile IM users are predicted to exceed 1.3 billion worldwide by 2016.

It's a development which Mark Zuckerberg sought to capitalize on with Facebook Messages, the social network's "modern messaging system", which merges text messages, IM and email into a single interface for 750 million users. "High school kids don't use email, they use SMS a lot," the 27-year-old technology pioneer said. "People want lighter-weight things like SMS and IM to message each other." For users, IM offers the immediacy that an email, often left unread, cannot.

I cannot disagree with the above. I already know that Sunway University students are using IM and Facebook in a big way. In fact, they hardly use emails unless absolutely necessary. Even the lecturers are adopting this trend and as such we communicate with our students through these preferred methods.

Another option to consider is Yammer, a micro-blogging "Facebook for business" which allows groups of employees to share ideas through private communication. And it is now used by more than 80,000 companies.

Meanwhile, Breton has introduced the Atos Wiki, which allows all employees to communicate by contributing or modifying online content, and Office Communicator, the company's online chat system which allows video conferencing, file and application sharing.

Breton seems confident that Atos will abandon internal emails within the stipulated period. And why not? I believe it will work because Breton understands his people. After all, the average age of their employees is 35 – it reflects their young workforce.

If you have read his interview (Webpage http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16055310, published December 06, 2011) with the BBC, you will find out that Breton is very clear on his purpose at ATOS:

“When we don't have internal email anymore we will have fantastic new tools – a cloud computing environment, social networks, instant messaging, micro blogging, document sharing, knowledge community – these offer a much better approach for an information technology company.

My job as a CEO is always to try to try to see how we can learn to work differently, to use our technology better. That's my mission and that's my job as a CEO”.

Breton’s zero-email aspiration has sparked debate. The idea has been described as both "bold" and "stupid", with some writers even betting that the proposal would be ditched before the self-imposed 2014 zero-email deadline.

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