Enterprises: how can IM replace email?

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ABC reported this week that the French company Atos will be aggressively moving to a "zero email" policy, at least for internal communications. The rationales appear to be:

  • People in the real world are replacing much of their email communications with IM, SMS and platform-specific messaging, like Facebook
  • Only 10% of email messages in the company have value, while an additional 18% are pure spam.

I agree that many people are switching from email to platform-specific, IM or mobile communications (roughly including SMS and iMessage in the latter). However, it is more than likely a choice of convenience than specific preference. When much of your communications already occurs inside a social network like Facebook, then it is natural to have one-on-one communication inside that platform.

However, it is extremely unlikely (actually absurd) that an enterprise will simply turn over all of their communications to a social network - US-based Facebook or any French one - and have everyone friend everyone else and communicate there. So what Atos is planning is replacing their well-known and well-defined email-based messaging system with... another messaging system. The other system may have better IM tools, like presence or real-time short message streams, like IM products, or may have chat channels, but these tools have long been available to enterprises. Switching from one messaging platform to another may make for great press releases - "look, we enterprise are killing email!" - but fundamentally, nothing much has changed, except for a huge expense.

Additionally, the justifications around spam and useful messages, are not email-specific they are messages-specific. Only 10% of messages are useful. Today, those happen to be email. Switch to any other platform, however good, and those messages will simply switch to the other platform.

This reminds me of the old joke about the kid at camp who got a letter from his parents saying, "you know how 75% of all accidents occur within 1 mile of your home? We are much safer now, we moved 2 miles away!"