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Is email an endangered species? IBM Verse and other alternatives

Vendors and analysts at Enterprise Connect 2015 discuss the possible end of email and what UC tools might replace it.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- UC vendors are championing their collaboration apps as the next email replacement, and enterprise messaging startups are making waves within the business communications market, but that doesn't mean email is joining the endangered species list.

At Enterprise Connect, a panel of vendors and analysts discussed whether there exists a next-gen email option today. The consensus was: kind of, in theory, maybe soon.

It's fair to say that email isn't the most efficient method of communicating. Remote employees, home workers and mobile device enthusiasts are challenging their companies to adapt, and they don't need to spend part of their day inside just another tool. During Enterprise Connect, Rowan Trollope, the decidedly cool kid of collaboration for Cisco, claimed to spend 75% less time in email now that he uses Cisco Spark (formerly Project Squared) for communicating with his team.

John Boutross, general manager of Circuit for Unify, mirrored the sentiment: "If email could go away, my life would be much easier."

But enterprise UC tools aren't exactly the white knights that will save business communications.

When end users are asked what they want -- which doesn't happen often -- they say they want to be able to communicate easily. But many UC platforms don't easily allow for communication with anyone outside of the organization. These tools also often require at least some degree of IT support and are expensive.

Tools like Cisco Spark are great for internal team collaboration, "but people outside still need to communicate with you," said Melanie Turek, analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

IBM may be onto something with its IBM Verse platform. The social email tool combines email, calendaring and social networking. It also has built-in intelligence that helps the platform learn the user's behavior in order to "self-organize" emails based on senders, content and context. The result is a familiar interface and a tool that won't demand employees live outside of their tried-and-true inbox.

Breaking habits is hard. Not forcing users to make the change from email to UC, or to any platform in between, might be the answer to next-gen email. Unify has seen better luck with selling to a line of business, or to a small group of users with a particular communication problem they need solved, rather than trying to sell to an entire company, Boutross said.

“The days of IT determining the platform is coming to an end,” said Turek.

Next Steps

Why email isn't joining the endangered species list quite yet.

Get even more details on IBM's Verse.

Results from beta tests of Verse.

The latest on other possible email replacements.

Dig Deeper on Communication Integration with Enterprise Applications

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I doubt email will be going away any time soon. It's far too entrenched in the workplace. It's too well supported. And it does the job, mostly as intended. Not always perfectly, but it does work.

Few workers have the time to learn a new system, when the system they're using works well enough. That's a tough problem to defeat. Perhaps the next time the system crashes, the next time Outlook shreds its files, the next time your search turns up empty (when you know its not), it might be time to introduce a new system and deal with its inherent down time and learning curve.

I feel like my communication needs are met by a combination of email (Outlook) and an internal messaging application (we have used Outlook Communicator and now currently use Cisco Jabber).

Both of these tools have their drawbacks, but that comes mostly from the applications not working properly or not having very usable features. I would expect any tool to have similar issues.

The fact is that it will always be a bit more of a hassle to communicate with remote employees, regardless of the tool used. And there will always be some need for something like email, that will create documented communications (for those who unfortunately have to live in a workplace of CYA philosophy)
Anything that can help me manage spam, organize emails, and most important prioritize emails based on their importance to my interest, would be very interesting.