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Email: Don't Kill the Messenger

No doubt, by now many of you have heard the news that Atos, a French tech firm, is banning the use of email within the organization. According to the article, Atos CEO Thierry Breton said that 18% of the 200 emails employees receive daily are spam, and only 10% are useful. His response is to "force" the company's nearly 75,000 employees to use IM, social networking and other non-email forms of communications, so that by the middle of 2013, the firm will have eradicated all internal messages.

I'm pretty sure we can all get behind the idea of reducing email, on both a personal and an IT level. But I think most of us can also agree that eliminating email completely sounds like one of those misguided dictates from on high that dies a quiet, unremarked-upon death. (Although, to be fair, Breton is quoted as saying Atos has already reduced the volume of email by 20% in the past six months, when the policy was first announced.)

Let's start with Breton's assessment that only 10% of email his employees receive is "useful." The article doesn't say how he came to that opinion, but it begs a number of questions, including the definition of "useful" (I first received knowledge of the news itself via email, but my CEO might not think that very "useful"); whether he made that evaluation himself, or asked the recipients to; and what, exactly, qualifies him to make such an assessment in the first place, since he admits he hasn't used email himself in the three years he's been CEO (I'm guessing his admin, on the other hand, has been relatively buried by it).

Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that eliminating email wouldn't seem to address Breton's primary complaint about the tool: "We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives," he said in February, and middle managers spend more than 25 percent of their time searching for information, according to the company. It's hard to see how moving people off email and onto IM and social media will change either the amount of data they receive, or the rate at which they produce it; and, of course, the need to search for information won't go away just because it resides on a wiki rather than an email store.

My colleagues and I had a long discussion about this when it hit the wires (and I've relied on a lot of their thoughts for this post). Rob Arnold has captured our off-the-cuff thoughts here. Naturally, the exchange was conducted over email. Please feel free to send me yours, or post them in the comments section at NoJitter or