Is the Writing Finally on the Wall for Email?

26/05/2016 08:48 | Updated 26 May 2016

Phishing emails. From the enticing "We are looking for employees, click here to visit our site;" and the intimidating "Your invoice is overdue;" to the classic "Document" they slip through our anti-spam defences every day. Hackers' use of phishing scams to con their way into corporate networks has been an enduring problem for businesses over many years. We've got used to it, it's a minor inconvenience and we think we're smart enough to spot them a mile off.

Yet the 2016 report into data breaches from Verizon shows phishing emails are as big a threat today as they've always been. The report cites nearly 10,000 incidents including 916 confirmed breaches that could be traced to everyday phishing attacks. In almost every instance the breach occurred when an employee clicked on a malicious email link or attachment that directed them to where the attackers wanted.

Unproductive email

Email has other issues too. For example it is also one of the biggest drains on employee productivity. In a Smith Institute study released in March 2016 more than two-thirds of its 7,400-employee sample felt that they were working longer hours than two years ago. Yet just one-in-ten believed they were more productive and a quarter thought their productivity had actually fallen. Email plays a large part in this. Workers spend as much as 50% of their average eight hour working day dealing with emails, even though only about 14% are critical to their work.

But today there are signs that a less vulnerable and more productive successor could soon displace email as the dominant force in business communication. That successor is group chat or mobile messaging. Ever since a new generation of "tech native" employees with lives that revolve around their mobile devices started to enter the workplace they have led a subtle drift towards using group chat as the default way to communicate with one another.

Unregulated group chat

There is no doubt that mobile messaging is extremely efficient. Individuals can gain immediate access to colleagues, customers and contacts outside the company to help them arrive at decisions faster and achieve better outcomes. A combination of chat, voice and video is in the palm of their hand to help coordinate responses to issues or questions across teams working on similar tasks in separate locations. All of this extra productivity is great for businesses apart from the complete absence of any visibility or security. Meanwhile hackers are starting to target popular chat apps with malware.

According to a 2015 study by the Nielson group 97% of employees admit to an increasing reliance on group messaging tools. Yet fewer than one-in-five companies have policies in place to regulate its use. The study also found that out of the 97% who use group messaging in the workplace, 75% send important and confidential work-related documents. More alarmingly perhaps 21% admitted to sending work-related commercial information to friends outside the workplace. In most businesses group messaging is still largely unregulated which leaves them at risk of a breach of compliance or even leakage of confidential data.

What can employers do?

There really is no need to obsessively check and reply to every email as it comes in. It diverts attention away from important and more time-sensitive tasks and is counter-productive. It also actually increases the workload overall. Email productivity can be improved by adhering to some simple ground rules. Busy business executives the world over have evolved a variety of strategies. Some only log in to email occasionally while others insist on taking a break from email at specific points during the day. Personal productivity can certainly be improved by not having email constantly open on the desktop.

However there can be no doubt which way the wind is blowing. In technology terms the future looks set to be dominated by mobile messaging. And while popular consumer chat apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are not really cut out for business use it might be a good idea to think about getting a secure messaging platform like Nuro Secure Messaging that blends the convenience of those apps with the centralised administration and security requirements business IT departments need to ensure data leak prevention and compliance. Not to mention the added reassurance that messages sent this way are encrypted, ensuring confidential company information is kept safe from prying eyes.

In summary, there are things we can do today to be more secure and more productive in our business communications. From having a more disciplined approach to email to finding safer ways there is nothing to prevent businesses from being smarter about how they communicate regardless of whether email really is on the way out or whether it will be around for some time yet.

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