Atos Origin moves to be email free within three years. Doable?

by | 08 February 2011

Email has become unsustainable, according to the French IT services giant. So is it possible to dump all internal email? Gary Flood finds out

Remember the thrill you had when you got your first email? I had mine when I was working for a major systems integrator in 1986; I can communicate with people instantly and send them content electronically!

That thrill lasted more or less intact until we all had email in 1996 or so - when it all went to pot with your first 'investment' scam email or Cialis ad. It's now got so bad that there are real question marks in some people's minds as to whether or not email is a viable business communication any more, given both the amount of crap and the dangers it can represent.

One company that seems to agree is Atos Origin, which has declared it wants to be a 'zero email company' inside three years.

Why? According to its CEO and chair Thierry Breton, what we are talking about is information pollution - and just as we cleaned up a lot of the older stuff when we shut down our smokestack industries, now is the time to remove the "unsustainable" load we've imposed on ourselves with all this.

What makes the move significant is that Atos Origin isn't a Mom and Pop store - it's a proper, grown up corporate, with annual turnover over the 5 billion Euro mark and with 49,000 people on the payroll. That's a lot of people across the globe moving away from email to other ways of collaborating and working together.

So why the big move? Because email is not helping any more, basically. "The volume of emails we send and receive is unsustainable for business, with managers spending between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails... We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives. [So] we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organisations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution."

The firm has also marshalled some data to back up its position. It says that by 2013, more than half of all new digital content will be the result of updates to, and editing of existing information and that corporate users already see of their average 200 emails a day that 18% is spam. Meanwhile, middle managers spend over 25% of their time searching for information, which may explain why online social networking is now more popular than email and search.

Breton argues that social media community platforms and collaboration tools are much superior ways of letting his employees share and keep track of ideas "on subjects from innovation and Lean Management through to sales".

That experience, he says, has prompted him to conclude that "Businesses need to do more of this - email is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business." Use of such replacements has already cut email use by up to 20%, claims the firm.

This is an interesting development. One of a kind? Has Atos gone out on a limb here? We don't think so. But we would also have to point out that communication technologies have a habit of sticking around, meaning email may not be so easy to get rid of as Breton would like to think.

That's why so many of us still carry business cards with fax numbers on them - and why some still have telex terminal addresses.

But we suspect his company won't be the last to try and run without email. Far from it, in fact.

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