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Email and All That Jazz

Having been on vacation for a week, I sat down last Monday morning facing the daunting task of sifting through and responding to, as necessary, hundreds and hundreds of emails. Email overload is the price we pay for allowing ourselves time away from the office.

While the problem with email is very much on my mind of late, this is not meant to be yet one more essay opining on its evils and the inevitability of its demise. Frankly, as much drudgery as email can bring to a workday, at this point I couldn't -- and wouldn't want to -- do without it. Yes, email is a time suck and a productivity killer, but complaining about it does nobody any good.

Of much greater interest to me is figuring out how to add a modern flair to this aging mode of enterprise communications. What the heck -- we spend so much of our day in email, why not make it serve a greater purpose than asynchronous send and receive?


This is the sort of thinking behind the click-to-call/conference/text integrations that cloud communications provider RingCentral has done for Microsoft Office 365 and Google for Work, as I wrote about in a recent No Jitter post. By embedding voice calling, conferencing, and messaging capabilities in email, the channel becomes a true communications hub -- even for real-time engagements.

The idea of doing more with tired old inboxes also is the impetus behind Front, a new team communications app I heard about a few weeks back. In particular, Front is about creating a collaborative experience within shared inboxes -- your catch-all accounts like [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected], Pamela Hobart, Front operations manager, told me in a recent conversation.

While your users may have gone gaga over team communications tools like HipChat or Slack, when they're talking to people outside the company they're mostly doing so via email. And that leads to inefficiencies -- haven't we all been the recipients of one too many emails in overly long, cumbersome conversation threads or had to wait while one team member unearths an email from an inbox-cum-sandbox so everybody can read and chime in? With Front, you can feed all external communications into one inbox that's searchable and sharable with a click for everybody in a team. In addition, Hobart said, Front enables a comments layer over email.

"Our goal is to turn email multiplayer," she told me.

And then there's the innovative thinking going on over at Microsoft as it looks to spiff up its ubiquitous enterprise email client, Outlook. With Outlook APIs announced in April, Microsoft is encouraging third-party developers to integrate their apps in its venerable email client in order to "build contextual experiences" for users while simplifying their everyday tasks and boosting their productivity. (Think of what RingCentral has done with communications, but on a more universal and you might say "sexier" scale.)

Along with the April Outlook API announcement came the news that Uber and Boomerang had committed to building email add-ins, and earlier this month Microsoft said Evernote, PayPal, Yelp, IFTTT and Wunderlist will or do have apps for Outlook, too. This stuff really changes the complexion of email. With the Uber add-in, for example, you can set up ride reminders for calendar events. The app will trigger a reminder on your phone, with the meeting destination already set. "Simply swipe the notification, confirm your Uber ride, and your car will be on its way!," as the Outlook team wrote in its blog post announcing the new Outlook partner add-ins.

More germane to enterprise communications in particular would be something like Boomerang, which lets you schedule emails at optimal delivery times and will send a reminder if an email doesn't receive a response. But the sky here is really the limit -- and enterprise communications managers who orchestrate the integration of everyday apps into email are going to win big points with users, I think.

Kudos to Microsoft and other innovators working at turning email into a happy space.

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