Is Your Organization Chasing Its Tail in E-Mail Hell?

I hope I live long enough to see the demise of e-mail. What makes me think it’s going to die? Because it sucks! For those of us who are ‘Digital Immigrants’, folks old enough to remember the world without e-mail, how did we ever get by without it? E-mail hasn’t really been around that long, maybe 20 years?

Let’s face the facts: Working asynchronously through e-mail is appealing and easy. You can fire off a smoker any time you like, recipient present or not. That alone has ballooned the volume of messages by orders of magnitude. Then you add the ability to attach files and web links and we’re off to the races!

Albert Einstein may have had future e-mail in mind when he defined, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Our notion of work has shifted – we are tethered to our inbox all day. We feel pretty busy and productive initiating and responding to messages all day long. But are we?

There are typically things better left out of e-mail. Any message that is contentious, controversial or challenging. No good is going to come of hitting ‘send’. Tempers are going to flare, misunderstandings galore, and feelings can be hurt. Then more messages are sent to try and undo the damage. And yet, now, social media communication is starting to eat e-mail alive. It takes many of the challenges of e-mail and squeezes them into 140 characters or less.

What about all of the e-mail strings currently in your inbox that could belong in systems? Threads that include requests, responses to requests and updates to the responses. These are all business processes executed in the realm of communications. Any time a thread starts repeating itself, it is a prime candidate to be captured in a workflow to structure, define and manage the service relationship.


Message repositories like inboxes are opaque. You have no idea what’s going on in there. There are lots of trees, but no forest. You’re not managing services just merely trying to deliver them. We don’t know how long it takes, how well it was done, what it costs, or how many of this type have been and are currently in progress.

Why are we even doing this? We are chasing our collective tails, feeling amazingly busy, with no idea how well we’re doing. We can’t scale, optimize and manage very well without systems. What options do we have to eliminate this traffic altogether?

IT organizations, by way of that 1990’s notion of a help desk, have some history running a service model with defined workflows. HR? Facilities? Procurement? E-mail them, and pray your message doesn’t land in a junk folder. Often, they barely think of themselves as service domains – but therein lies an opportunity: The ability to deliver much better service at reduced cost.

As employees, we request and provide services all day. Just have a look at your mailbox. Providing services typically is considered ‘our job’ whereas we request services to help us do our jobs. Moving the requesting and delivery of services from e-mail to systems changes everything overnight. Systems don’t forget…people do forget. Service delays are auto-escalated. Poor service performance shows up on reports. Sub-par service quality is alerted. Analytics highlight where we’re spending our collective time and resources. And with analytics we can easily plan and justify budgets. An opportunity to start managing services rather than just delivering them.

Next time you hit ‘send’, think about whether there might be a better, easier and cheaper way of accomplishing your goal for the message. What comes to mind?

Frank Slootman
Frank Slootman joined in May 2011 and currently serves as ServiceNow’s President and Chief Executive Officer and as a director. Prior to this, Slootman served as a partner with Greylock Partners from January 2011 to April 2011, and served as an advisor to EMC Corporation from January 2011 to February 2012. From July 2009 to January 2011, he served as President of the Backup Recovery Systems Division at EMC. From July 2003 to July 2009, Slootman served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Data Domain, Inc., which was acquired by EMC in 2009. Prior to joining Data Domain, Slootman served as an executive at Borland Software Corporation from June 2000 to June 2003. From March 1993 to June 2000, Slootman held consecutive general management positions for two enterprise software divisions of Compuware Corporation. Slootman holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics from the Netherlands School of Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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