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Is it Time to Get Rid of E-Mail?

From a McKinsey Interview with Luis Suarez, social computing evangelist, IBM, May 28, 2012.

Returning from an offsite event in February 2008, IBM Software Group’s knowledge management consultant, Luis Suarez, opened his e-mail inbox and saw more than 200 messages. This was his tipping point. An in-house expert on social software (he had been working on knowledge and sharing tools since 2001), Suarez knew that communicating on a social platform could allow him to eliminate e-mail from his life—or at least reduce his use of e-mail to the minimum.

Four years later, Suarez has reduced his use of e-mail by 98 percent; he now receives about 16 e-mails per week and uses IBM’s internal social networks to extol the benefits of social technology–based communications. His first rule: stop responding to e-mail with e-mail. He estimates that an interaction worker can reduce e-mail volume by 80 percent simply by posting responses to queries on a social site, thereby eliminating all the follow-up questions, copying, and forwarding that multiplies e-mail traffic.

More importantly, Suarez notes, social communication does many things that e-mail cannot. Social platforms integrate multiple work routines and activities: he communicates easily with dozens of colleagues, posts entries to a wiki that consolidates important group knowledge, monitors ongoing discussions on topics of interest, shares files and pertinent content, adds to his blog, and reads colleagues’ blogs. “The social platform allows our work to become observable; it provides more space to allow knowledge to spread freely and a richer room for interaction,” he says.

Suarez sees two challenges in gaining the full benefit of social technologies for communication collaboration. First, more sophisticated and robust search engines are necessary for finding content and connections on social networks. Second, most organizations lack the top-down leadership to drive creation and use of collaborative, open, and transparent networks and communities.




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