Email Is Dead …

But communication isn't. Reuters, Capital One, and Union Bank reclaim productivity by rethinking the inbox.

Remember when a new email in your inbox was as exciting as the postman dropping off a card from grandma with a $5 bill in it? Those days are over. Now email is a crushing tsunami. The average corporate email account receives 18 MB of mail and attachments each business day, according to the analyst firm Radicati Group; the figure is projected to grow to 28 MB a day by 2011. No wonder there's a fledgling movement afoot to periodically declare "email bankruptcy"—delete all your saved emails and start over. Never fear; less extreme solutions are being implemented by corporations fed up with wasted resources. The results are surprisingly good. Our guide to three models:


Capital One's Email Class

"People thought email was something you couldn't control," says Matt Koch, human resources director at Capital One, where employees average 40 to 50 incoming emails a day. Refusing surrender, Capital One has put 3,000 staffers through a specially developed workshop over the past three years that teaches how to reduce email strain by writing better messages. It turns out that stronger subject lines help recipients better understand why they received an email and make it easier to search for in the future. (Instead of "Here's what you asked for" as a heading, the class encourages specifics such as "Delivery: 2008 staffing model for small-business unit.") Sculpting the body text matters, too: Using bullet points and underlining or bolding text make messages more clear and concise. Capital One estimates that it saves the equivalent of 11 workdays per employee per year thanks to the program. "When associates see good messages coming across, they want to emulate those," Koch says. "Even cynical people."

Union Bank's RSS Solution

Not all of Union Bank of California's more than 10,000 employees need to see the information that goes out in countless email broadcasts every day. "They are crucial for some people but irrelevant to the majority," says James Penn, the bank's VP of marketing. So Union Bank is replacing broadcast emails with targeted RSS Web feeds. If power goes out at the Fresno branch, for instance, only those staffers in nearby branches—and specific managers—will get the memo. The new system (from a company called KnowNow) will send RSS feeds based on job description and location. Employees can also unsubscribe from lists. Penn estimates that they will get back 30 minutes a week in the first year, which the company conservatively figures will save in excess of $750,000.

Reuters's IM Conversion

The simple act of reserving a conference room shouldn't require a string of seven or eight emails over several hours. "If you use email to conduct business transactions in a conversational way, you'll end up with a full inbox," says Reuters executive VP David Gurle. That's why Reuters augments email with instant messaging. The system is a convenient way to initiate a dialogue because it includes information about who's available at their desk and offers the benefits of real-time communication. The system is more rugged than free IM offerings, with security and management features from a company called Akonix built in, but Reuters Messaging does work with popular IM apps from AIM, MSN, and Yahoo. "A communications tool is only as good as the number of people it can reach," Gurle says. He cautions that companies who follow his model need to make sure their networks can handle the increase in traffic that IM creates, which can be more taxing than email. "IM complements email," he says. "It doesn't replace it."

Correction: Akonix is a security and compliance solution that Reuters recommends to its customers; it is not built into Reuters messaging.

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