Many organizations are beginning to explore ways of moving away from email or, at minimum, reducing email dependencies to correspond with one another. Tools like instant messaging and social media applications are being considered for internal use in an effort to minimize the growing amount of email and the costs in managing it. Face it, many of the emails sent today are for simple things like questions on a budget, logistics and other topics that were in the past handled by phone. Folks I have talked with tell me that they choose to use email for several reasons, one of which is not to disturb the other person for things that are not mission critical or in need of immediate attention. While this is admirable, the use of and management of email becomes a challenge, as many employees do not clear their inbox, sent box or folders on a regular basis, meaning the company now has to deal with it.

The use of social media, like Yammer and Skype, for example, as internal communications tools is gaining in acceptance and use. In fact, I have had many people tell me that they use Skype internally and are now pushing it for use with customers and external partners with great success, as they can not only talk with and see the other party, but they can also share files and simultaneously view and collaborate on information regardless of time and location. This means they are moving from an asynchronous mode of operation to one that is more synchronous or in real time. The concept here is not new, as in the 1980s to early 1990s, we used tools that would dial up and connect one PC to another for the purpose of collaborating and sharing in real time, but it was greatly limited in capability compared to the tools available today.

Email has become the tool of choice for communication, collaboration and even simple workflow, but is it really the best tool? In many cases, the answer is no it is not. When looking at email management practices, you should assess the current use of email and the impact it is having on your organization from an operations and cost perspective. How much impact is email having on your operational efficiency and what is the cost associated with managing all of that information? Could email be replaced with other tools like instant messaging or some social media applications that would enhance operations while at the same time perhaps lower your costs? Where once email was used, could you now use a tool like Skype that allows instant one-to-one and group collaboration where conversation and file sharing is accomplished simultaneously? Best of all, in this scenario, the group is looking at a single file residing in the corporate repository rather than each person having their own copy.

Email certainly has a place and is now recognized in some sectors as being a legal and binding element of acceptance under the right conditions. It is also still an excellent tool for asynchronous communications and simple workflow. So yes, keep email in-house and in use, but use it wisely. Like many technologies, it has been viewed and used as the total solution to communications when, in fact, it is but one tool available and not always the best tool in the box. Take time to understand how it is being used and assess the benefits gained, but also assess when something else might be a better fit. You may be surprised at the difference it can make.

BOB LARRIVEE [] is director and industry advisor with AIIM International where he lectures and teaches about best practices in information and process management. Follow him on Twitter @BobLarrivee.