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Next-Gen Communications Strategies

We define the next-generation communications utopia as a system that provides employees with e-mail, instant messaging, collaboration, presence, voice and video communication, and structured data integration via Web client, desktop, or mobile device. But before you get too excited, realize that most IT groups won't so much be running toward this new collaboration strategy as slinking away from siloed systems that they never quite got running correctly.

Consider these data points: Nearly half of the 479 business technology professionals responding to our InformationWeek Analytics Enterprise Messaging survey either have no e-mail archiving or let users archive as they see fit--a plan that's only marginally better than nothing. A tiny 3% have e-mail search tied into a broader enterprise search system, and synchronization with enterprise apps like ERP is faring only a bit better. When we asked about interest in combined e-mail and collaboration tools, 80% basically yawn.

"E-mail is a pain but easier to deal with than the other emerging communication technologies that are less likely to be controlled and dictated by the IT department," says one respondent, who remained anonymous--possibly so potential applicants younger than 30 won't run away screaming from his company.

Unfortunately, that respondent, while he may have a valid point, is living in denial. Not providing a service while also not having a policy banning its use is a recipe for an underground IT movement. Instant messaging is commonplace, yet only a third of respondents officially provide it. The rest should check Web and traffic logs. Users don't need third-party clients anymore; AOL, Google, Yahoo, and others have very nice Web 2.0 browser-based systems that work like champs. If you don't provide an approved system and ban and block consumer-focused clients, you have unmonitored and unlogged egress points for data.

Some organizations we spoke with did take the integration leap early, and stayed with it. "We started down the path of integrated e-mail way back in 2005," says George Hamin, director of IT for Subaru Canada. "Our teams are so geographically spread across such a large area, we wanted to begin with integrating voice." Hamin's group built on that success and jumped early to Exchange 2010, giving employees an integrated mailbox with voice, instant messaging, conferencing, and e-mail.

That's far from the norm, but even companies under financial constraints can do better with what they have now and position their communications systems for the next wave of collaborative technologies.

Original Sin: E-Mail In A Silo

Did we mention our surprise that 61% of the 479 business technology professionals responding to our survey don't integrate their e-mail systems into major enterprise applications like ERP or CRM? That's especially curious since 52% of respondents come from companies with upward of 1,000 employees--24% have more than 10,000.

It's mind-boggling that we've largely left this critical part of the information flow out of our structured data stores. Client and partner e-mails are lost in the ether, vendor notes disappear, and project details sit in one person's in-box while someone else screams for an update.

Most IT groups we work with blame a lack of resources and a fear of compliance and e-discovery issues, and of course, integration can be expensive; we discuss ROI justifications in depth in our full report. However, when CIOs don't think of their systems as an integrated whole, they tend to miss the obvious.

InformationWeek: April 26, 2010 Issue
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  • ROI breakdown of an e-mail/ CRM integration project
  • Core components of next-gen e-mail and the universal in-box
  • Analysis of the impact of spam, security, and compliance on unified messaging systems