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Is Email Dead, Dying Or Neither?

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Is email doomed?

If Atos, an international IT services company, has its way, it will be - by 2014, anyway.

Atos is convinced that while email's dominance in office communication is currently huge, it isn't inevitable. Or irreplaceable. Atos believes email is a burden on its employees, and has committed to axing the communication tool from its offices - for internal communication only - entirely within three years.

But not everyone is so sure - and with companies like Sparrow innovating with the form and with email forming a key part of the cloud products offered by Google, Microsoft and Apple, it's an open question about how ambitious - and desirable - Atos's 2014 goal really is.

In terms of statistics, there is some evidence that email has become more of a burden than ever: corporate users now receive more than 200 mails per day, 18% of which is spam, according to 2010 stats. And anecdotally, almost every office worker wishes they could cut the time spent dealing with their inbox.

Atos CEO and Chairman, Thierry Breton, likens email to "pollution" and said that new communication tools have to be built to replace it.

He said in February: "We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives.

"At Atos we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organisations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution."

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According to Breton, managers can spend up to 20 hours a week writing and reading emails - time better spent actually, you know - making things. Like... money.

"We have set up collaboration tools and social community platforms, to share and keep track of ideas on subjects from innovation and Lean Management through to sales," he said.

"Businesses need to do more of this - email is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business."

So if email is on the way out, what's coming to replace it?

Atos cites Microsoft Communicator - a more advanced version of instant messaging with office tools built in.

Others look to established social media platforms like Twitter and even Facebook - despite some seeing those tools as time-wasters rather than time-savers.

But on the other side of the argument, for companies like Microsoft - whose Hotmail, Windows Phone and Outlook email products recently received big revisions - email isn't going anywhere.

Dave Coplin, director of search at Microsoft UK, argues that the ascent of social media doesn't mean email is dead. And the growth of new technology doesn't always mean the death of the old.

“I tend to think of the ‘is email dead?’ conversation as being a case in point of the shiny penny syndrome: a bright shiny new technology enters stage right, so we take it as a given that the old boring technology must exit stage left," he said.

"The tendency is to think that the ascent of social media has signalled the end for email in the same way that ‘snail mail’ was written off in favour of email 15 years ago, or that television meant the end of radio 60 years ago. In reality it never happens that way".

Coplin argues that "when something is particularly important or formal, when you need a simple, common means for attaching content" email is the right tool.

Indeed, others have argued that the simple genius of email is that everyone already uses it. Parallels are made to the constant announcement of the 'death of the business card' by companies promoting an app or device to share contact details. The problem they all run into, sooner or later, is that everyone has a card but not everyone has the app supposed to replace it.

Ultimately, he said - and on this Microsoft and Atos clearly agree - it's communication itself that's important. The tool is secondary.

"We must not become too reliant on any one means of contained communication," he said.

"You shouldn’t underestimate the value of colleagues finding the spark for a new idea by ‘chance’ – by bumping into one another in a stairwell, or by speaking to people they otherwise wouldn’t in their day-to-day roles.

"So, while technology is an important factor in helping us be more communicative, so too are those of people and place, and how an organisation empowers its employees to interact with one another in the most productive fashion."