The Big Email Opportunity


Image copyright Jane Kelly

In a storm of information technology change, email is a familiar tool. What began as a simple text messaging tool has established itself as the very hub of the typical employee’s work life. Currently, users exchange 154 billion messages a day, and this number continues to grow. We use it for document sharing, task management, collaboration and archiving. It is the center of most collaboration and our communication home, and we would be lost without it.

However, the decades-old enterprise email model to which users are so firmly wedded is cracking. Email generates a massive amount of data, and new mobile and social structures are exacerbating this issue. We need a new email platform that is optimized for these new realities.

Volume Compounded by Social Complexities

Email floods the enterprise with unstructured data. Productivity takes a major hit as workers sift through a growing volume of email looking for priority items. Meanwhile, on the back end, email servers have morphed into specialized databases to accommodate “Big Email” data. This was challenge enough to enterprise IT; now it is compounded by the blurring of email and social media communications channels. On the front end, users are demanding a better and more tailored user experience through their smartphones.

We need a next-generation email platform that will help users automatically filter, organize and enhance their email and social data. It would seamlessly connect to social networks, file sharing services and enterprise applications to provide more information at users’ fingertips more quickly. It would include “email intelligence” that can discern different types of content and act on it, prioritizing, calendaring, filing and helping the user respond more quickly and automatically. It would also be able to add context to email by filtering and pulling data from social sources and past interactions. An email platform that succeeds at this will enable greater productivity because people will be able to respond faster with better information.

The Mobile Challenge

No amount of intelligence and automation will ensure the success of a next-generation email solution if it is not optimized for mobile access. Smartphones and other mobile devices now dominate network access. Email on mobile phones has become the concentration point of knowledge workers’ attention.

The mobile disruption is creating a disconnect between users’ smartphones and on-premise Big Email data. External mobile access of these data stores is simply impractical.

We need an email platform that will enable thin mobile clients to search and access cloud-based and on-premise data. This is no easy feat, given the expanding volume of data and its disparate locations.

We Need a Platform, Not a Feature

We have been hearing about “next-generation email” for years, but what has emerged is a variety of point solutions focusing on specific next-generation features or collaboration solutions trying to replace email altogether. For example:

  • Email clients such as Postbox, ZeroMail, TipBit and Zimbra provide fast interfaces that integrate with social networks and other cloud-based applications and data.
  • Social media integration capabilities that pull contact information from social networks into email are found in products such as Xobni (owned by Yahoo), Rapportive (now owned by LinkedIn), and LinkedIn’s new mobile app, LinkedIn Intro, a feature that integrates with people’s iPhone Mail apps to display user profile information.
  • Collaboration applications that integrate with email systems or replace email to facilitate group projects, customer support, sales and other activities include GrexIt, Rizzoma and Asana.
  • Filtering and prioritization tools in such products as Alto Mail (developed by AOL), Handle and EmailTray address the volume of email by automating message prioritization and inbox organization.
  • Other interesting email enhancements include smart calendar assistants and productivity apps like Baydin’s Boomerang Calendar, and TempoAI’s smart calendar.

Many of these applications are following the same enterprise adoption pattern established by the first PCs, WiFi networks and handheld devices. They slip in the back door, doing an end-run around corporate approval and IT budgets, creating major security risks and offering themselves as inexpensive or free cloud-based productivity enhancements.

Yet many of the benefits are limited to specific email features. They don’t comprise a comprehensive new Big Email platform that can serve as a new work activity hub and replace the old email paradigm.

If these solutions won’t do, then what are the criteria? To step into the role of the traditional email hub, a new platform must intelligently combine many of the solutions mentioned above. Specifically, this platform will need:

  • A fast and lightweight mobile client functioning as a single user interface for all hub activities.
  • Better and more-automated filtering, searching and archiving capabilities.
  • Seamless integration with social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter), so users don’t have to switch constantly between interfaces.
  • Seamless integration with file sharing services (Dropbox and Box).
  • One user interface for email, calendaring and task management.
  • Integration to existing mail servers of choice is a must, and not just Gmail and Yahoo, but also Microsoft Exchange for enterprise users.
  • For the enterprise it must be secure and manageable by IT.

There is a major opportunity for the entrepreneur who dares to create a more automated, integrated and streamlined email platform. Remember: Email is our filing system, our hub for collaboration and task management and calendaring. It is the focal part of our work lives and we check into it constantly. We cling to it.

(None of the companies mentioned here are in NVP’s portfolio.)

Robert Abbott joined NVP in 1998 and is focused on a wide variety of investment categories including mobile, cloud & IT infrastructure. His current investments and board seats include Act-On Software, ClariPhy, ClearDATA, Elemental, mBlox and Zenverge. He holds a bachelor of science and a master of science in electrical engineering and an MBA, all from Stanford University.

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