19 Jan 2012

The Real Cost of Email

2017-05-16T12:33:27+00:00 January 19th, 2012|Collaboration, Email, Knowledge Management, Social|Comments Off on The Real Cost of Email

The biggest cost of Email is the cost of lost opportunity.  Using email for much of our collaboration, idea sharing and decision making is costing organizations dearly in lost knowledge capture.

Imagine we had to buy everything directly from manufacturers – that we had no stores from which to buy items we wanted, not even online stores.  How would that work?  We would have to figure out if the product we wanted even existed and then who made it.  We’d have to contact manufacturers asking if they made the product we wanted or if they could refer us to the right manufacturer.  We’d then have to keep track of who made what and hopefully, they were still the right manufacturers later on.  Finding the best product or price would be even more daunting.

Crazy, right?  Guess what.  That’s pretty much how knowledge is distributed and managed via email today.  When Joe needs some info, he has to figure out…often guess who has it, or interrupt others to find out who might.  He may remember next time or have to go through the same process again next time.  A great deal (most?) of business discussions, debates, background information and ultimately decisions happen in email today.  And most of it is lost to the organization…

Non Discoverable

When sending an email, the sender must know who needs that information and who needs it right now.  Maybe the sender has no idea that someone else could really benefit from inclusion.  And tomorrow, if someone else could benefit from it, they will never find it.  Unless, of course, they start asking various people, often interrupting people from their own work who cannot help anyway.


To ensure anyone who might benefit from an email, the sender may over distribute it.  In which case, recipients not wanting it may feel “spammed”.  After all, we’re all overflowing in email already, right?  When you do receive clearly useful or targeted info, great.  But what about when it might be useful later?  You keep a copy in case you need it [see “Delete Dilemma”]…as does everyone who received it.  Now you’ve got numerous copies of the same thing floating around.  If one person updates it (this can be a document or just a discussion update), how can you be sure they’ll  a) send the updated version to all people who got the previous version?  and b) those recipients will save that updated copy (and ideally delete the older one).  This gets complex when you think about it!

Lost Context

Another shortcoming that we just seem accept and live with is the “context bottleneck” effect of email.  When I send someone an email, I already have some context about the email – e.g., subject, categories, pertinent accounts, orders or in fact, any associated business process or object.  But the poor recipient has to figure out for herself all of the relevant context.  Granted, her context may be different than mine, but more than likely most of the time, much of the context would be relevant and useful, but it’s lost unless I somehow recreate it.

Solution: Social Collaboration

Social collaboration provides a familiar experience (a la Facebook) that, if done well, integrates well with email and solves many of these knowledge management problems.  Once social collaboration liberates knowledge from email silos the growth of the organization’s collective knowledge will compound rapidly.  Good search and proper contextual social collaboration (like Qontext.com) actually makes finding relevant information easier (see my post on “Context Collaboration”) than in email.  And this collective knowledge benefits individual workers with productivity gains and the organization with greater creativity (see my post on “ROI of Social Collaboration”).

It’s surprising what shortcomings we get used to living with.  That’s why often important changes can only occur with generational change.  I sincerely hope, for all of our sakes, that it won’t take that long for people to wake up to the various shortcomings of email (see my post “Email Sucks”).