You know the problem, keep active on your email account, or die. Well maybe not physically, but it feels like death when you grimly contemplate several hundred emails. I have to travel a great deal and these days the expectation is that I will always be available every day online to handle e mail. Its not even acceptable that I use an ‘out of office’ message, that’s just for wimps, and it gets me down after a long tiring day to face a long list of mails. What to do about it? Amongst the possible solutions I have heard there are even suggestions for email truces, such as email free Fridays, to let people get on with their real jobs. But, I started to think about why are we getting all these e mails if it’s not the real job?

I have tried asking people for their definition of ‘the real job’, their answer is generally defined in relation to operational stability using internal procedures, also that there its no longer the job, but a whole collection of jobs to do. In theory there has been an increasing use of applications to automate this, the stable and repetitive part of the job so it’s clearly not really where we all should be spending our time. Instead human flexibility should be applied to the handling of exception circumstances, using improved communication forms, principally email for its abilities to create records as well as its ‘fire and forget’ ease of use.
The technologies that are enabling this are all human centric, reversing using technology for reducing human involvement by automation and, instead accelerating the use of technologies that demand human involvement. The new things that we are using; e mail, the World Wide Web, search engines, messaging in various forms, cell phones, even blogging, all require a human to provide the interpretation. The conundrum is; are these technology forms helping us handle volatility in our businesses, or are they creating the volatility in the first place? Actually it’s an academic argument as the genie will not go back into the bottle; volatility is here to stay, so we better find a solution.
The answer starts with really understanding what is causing this so called problem, identifying it as an opportunity for doing better business through optimisation of events, then deciding how to tackle it with the new generation of technology and products that are appearing. This also means recognising how to ‘value’ decision making, and execution, capabilities at a personal level, as opposed to using ‘cost’ as a justification for a procedural transaction at the enterprise level. We are talking about a new generation of ‘collaboration’ capabilities moving far beyond the current concepts.
We need to properly integrate messaging, information and transactions together to provide personal effectiveness, this could be on the basis of cost per executed decision, or may be value created per optimised decision. It’s actually rather easier to try to reason this out by looking at the cost for not being able to make the right decision at the right time in very specific areas, such as buying, production planning, etc. May be this is the ‘killer app’ that business looks for when listening to us telling them about new technology, in this case part of it maybe the use of ‘Service Oriented Architecture. The whole principle of ‘Services’ is to be self describing and enable a computer to semantically recognise complex information, or events, in context without the need for human interaction.
So help is probably coming, but just not yet a while, unless you can figure out the root cause for significant number of e mails and make your business case accordingly!