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The Surprising Future of Corporate Email

Updated: Apr 3, 2018

Email is following the rest of enterprise content toward leading content management (CCM) platforms. The result will be game changing for the enterprises of tomorrow.

A message notification appears on Amy’s laptop. It’s from Tom about the latest project’s requirements. She needs to check details of the last delivery by her team. Above the email is a link, “related content” which links this message to all related content in the company’s content management system. She follows the link and is instantly presented with a list of project relevant documents and communications. She sees a new email message from Janice, her project manager, sent to the engineers 10 minutes ago. The discussion is around an issue on one of the requirements. Amy responds to Tom, noting the status and updating Tom that there might be some delays.

Over the last five years, we have witnessed the accelerated evolution and adoption of powerful cloud content platforms (CCM), like Box, Egnyte, Microsoft One Drive, and Google Drive among others. Gartner predicts that 80% of all companies in developed markets will have CCM deployed by 2020. The advantages of having content in CCM are becoming immense as these platforms expand the art of the possible with artificial intelligence, machine learning, image recognition, regulatory compliance, workflow automation, and internal/external collaboration. Email is now a central content component as organization’s aim to secure, govern, manage and exploit enterprise content across the entire organization.

While organizations push for content strategies, there is a wide gap as it relates to email-based content. Despite email communications being among the most sensitive and most regulated content in the enterprise, email is largely “off the grid” and often viewed separate from enterprise content storage and collaboration strategies. None of the leading CCM or Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) platforms support native email (message & attachment) capture.

The fact that CCM platforms do not work natively with email is odd. If you consider that email represents around 40% of all the relevant unstructured data in an organization, it is a gigantic hole for platforms that are purpose built for unstructured data. If you consider that most of an organization’s files are being sent and received through email, the CCM platforms of today have a gaping hole when it comes to driving email-based content into the CCM platform workflow enablement engines. If you consider that email represents a significant portion of an organization’s transactional record, email content that does not reside in the CCM platform misses out on the CCM platform strengths in areas such as information governance and regulatory compliance, collaboration, workflow automation and emerging trends for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Email desperately needs greater security, better governance, and increased productivity. Hardly a day goes by without a political scandal or corporate data breach that can trace its origins to email. Inadvertent data leaks from mis-fired emails haunt organizations spanning nearly every industry vertical. The loss of employee productivity blamed on email is a universally agreed upon observation supported by scientific studies (McKinsey, ResearchGate, UC Irvine, Sanebox).

Email and modern cloud storage overlap in function. In part, this is by design. The genesis of cloud storage rests in part with the frustration of not being able to securely share large files over email. Over the years, cloud storage platform providers have positioned content collaboration as a core capability, a function which it has aimed to wrestle from the incumbent, email. However, old habits die hard and despite corporate investments in content management platforms, CIOs struggle with user adoption of the new technology. Changing work patterns ingrained over decades is a challenge even for the most technologically savvy workforce. Workers instinctively send files as attachments rather than as cloud storage links, despite the fact that cloud storage links provide far greater security, control and collaboration potential when compared to email attachments.

For organizations moving to CCM platforms, the situation of content has become increasingly complex. Two silos duplicate content, that of email and that of the CCM platform. Both silos share files. Files are routinely copied from one to another, whether as an attachment that is copied to cloud storage or a file in cloud storage sent over email as an attachment. The chaotic duplicity of content is not only inefficient in terms of hard infrastructure costs and user productivity loss, but it represents a serious and costly data sprawl risk to organizations.

MxHero routinely works with organizations looking to manage email content and attachments within their enterprise cloud content management platforms. A great example is a legal team who chooses to maintain their email correspondence in a shared cloud storage account. Organizations are finding the rich collaborative features of CCM better than email forwarding or using a shared email account. Saved in a CCM platform, messages benefit from powerful collaboration tools, flexible security and a single page of glass from which to manage both email correspondence and related content documents.

As organizations grapple with the challenges of content across email and content management systems, it is becoming apparent that we are in a transitional period. Cloud storage is increasingly overlapping the functions of traditional email. CCM, unencumbered by decades old design, overcomes many of email’s structural challenges of poor security, high cost and low productivity. Although, many attempts at developing better email applications continue to be funded, the mounting operational pressures to unify all unstructured data, whether documents or emails, will only increase. Furthermore, any attempt to build a better email solution will not close the growing functionality gap between email and CCM. No new email client or service will match the rapidly evolving capabilities of CCM nor overcome the intrinsic limitations of email.

From what we are observing in the market, from one-person companies to large Fortune 500 organizations, we believe that a convergence of email and CCM is not only inevitable, but is already underway. Email will be just another content type in the CCM universe. Messages will originate, be delivered and managed in CCM. Communication content will coexist with non-communication content, in the same way documents now share space with media files. Whether a Word doc, a video .mp4 or an email .msg, each content type will benefit from CCM security, collaboration, workflow automation, machine learning, advanced AI and much more.

convergence of email and CCM is not only inevitable, it's already underway

How exactly this convergence will manifest to the user is unclear, but a few thoughts on how we get from here to there can be outlined. The first stage is the move of email content to cloud storage systems. This is already happening. This is mxHero’s core business. Companies come to mxHero because they want to move their email content into their CCM for better management and/or security of their critical business communications. The demand comes from companies of all sizes and many different verticals within legal, finance, real estate, construction and healthcare, among others. This stage keeps existing email largely untouched but illustrates the migration of email content to cloud storage. The “data gravity” of cloud storage systems is increasing as more and more email content finds its way to the CCM platform where companies can leverage CCMs many capabilities for their email-based content.

Eventually, email and CCM will merge into a single user experience. The logic and value of maintaining separate and costly systems providing much of the same functionality will collapse in the favor of the more capable technology, that being CCM. CCM will be the central hub for free flowing, seamless exchange of ideas, outputs and discussions. Powerful search fueled by AI, meta-data, and social interaction graphs will put all communications & related documents within convenient reach. The legacy email client will eventually be challenged by an enhanced CCM user interface — an intelligent, ubiquitous single pane of glass providing a comprehensive, holistic content management and communication experience for the enterprise.

The legacy email client will eventually be challenged by an enhanced CCM user interface

The new unified content and communication hub will interface with the vast, existing email infrastructure (via SMTP and other email protocols), while substantially improving upon today’s email experience. Messages will be shared securely & directly with other parties without needlessly sending a full copy and thereby exacerbating data sprawl and security challenges. Chat tools, already supported by all major CCM platforms, will allow discussion over messages without additional messaging clutter. The email client, we know today, will be gone, along with its piles of unrelated messages. Emails will automatically be tagged by project/client/topic, and brought to attention based on some AI or machine learned priority. Gone will be the duplicity of effort of copying files from email to CCM or CCM to email. Importantly, critical email content will become accessible information that end users and the organization can easily access whether for legal compliance, business record or other reasons.

Email has served us well since its inception nearly 50 years ago, but the world has changed. Organizations need a common protocol to communicate and email has served that function well. However, email has become a victim of its own success. The original conceivers of email would never have predicted that 269 billion emails would circulate per day, that up to four hours of an employee’s day would be consumed in messages and state sponsored espionage would be a real threat (Radicati, 2017). Since its earliest beginnings, a new breed of cloud enabled content storage, born in modern times, set out to replace only a small part of email. As content storage has grown, it may very well (and should) replace all of it.


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