In my job I have seen many, many RFI's and Tender documents for email and communication systems and almost universally, they are all based around the same feature / function compliance tables.
E-mail as a communication media has been around for 30 plus years, and by now all vendors provide similar features and functions. All have mobile access. All have browser based and rich clients. All send, receive and create electronic communications, allow people to schedule meetings and resources and provide personal productivity tools.
So why do people follow the 'check list' mentality in RFI's, with various weightings on mandatory, required and desirable feature components?
Why don't they, instead, stipulate what they are actually trying to achieve from a business perspective, and then let vendors earn their right to engage by actually addressing business needs, rather than feature check boxes?
Let me explain.
Email today is a basic capability available in every business and every person in their private life.
Consequently it is often considered a commodity item; an operational requirement, and by default, a business overhead. As an 'overhead' I see many treating email as a basic requirement that is best served through approaching its use as a necessary cost to business that, in turn, needs to be managed, and minimised.
For many the provision of an email system translates to the provision of basic capabilities at the lowest possible cost per user.
Enter the promise of cloud computing, which through the provision of generic, software as a service capabilities, holds promise for those Enterprises following this fundamental premise.
But is that really the best approach?
Is email actually a generic commodity that can be focused upon in this way?
Changing the Focus on email for 2013
Email is a commodity item.
Definitely. As I have often said in my blog posts, by definition it is simply the electronic equivalent of the traditional mail system, but with the benefits of speed in distribution.
That said, email never was or is a media for collaboration. It is not a mechanism for distributing time critical information such as project updates. Nor is it a mechanism to facilitate collaboration in document creation and the like.
The problem is in 2013, is that is exactly what email is being used for. Worse still, following a commodity based, email cost reduction strategy alone will not do anything to change that.
How big is the problem in the inappropriate use of email today?
Good question. I'm glad you asked.
According to independent (that is, non Vendor sponsored studies) like those of McKinsey Global Consulting in 2012, the inappropriate use of email can reduce the productivity of knowledge workers by as much as 25%!
That is a huge impact, and I would put forward, one with a much larger financial impact on any enterprise than the simple savings possible by simply shifting the problem 'off premise' and ' to the cloud”.
The Problem with Traditional Technology Evaluations
If the focus then turns towards questions relating to, “how do I move my personnel beyond email towards more productive forms of collaboration” we have a completely different scenario. Instead of merely a 'cost reduction' focus, which admittedly may deliver an initial 6-9% gain, how can we, as business leaders, capitalise upon the findings of McKinsey Global Consulting and many many others, and achieve as much as a 25% improvement in productivity?
Moreover, how is it possible to evaluate through traditional feature/function rankings and quantitatively comparisons such highly subjective area of transformational change?
In a word, you can't!
You need to take a more holistic, system oriented approach to the evaluation process and delve into the underlying strategies and directions being taken by vendors towards their strategies for email capabilities and towards collaboration in general.
The Importance of Understanding Vendor Platform Strategies, Approaches and Roadmaps
Let me reiterate again that the basic features and functions of email capabilities from vendors such as Google, Microsoft, IBM, Zimbra and a multitude of Open Source vendors, differ little.
Sure with one vendor components of their offerings in their rich client are highlighted in one colour and with another it is something different, yet the capabilities are the basically same. And with cloud offerings the only real difference is in regards to the ability to enhance and modify the experiences of users as cloud based offerings are, by nature, generic.
So where are the differentiators that make the difference?
Where should informed, educated leaders also focus?
I put forward the notion that if “moving beyond inappropriate use of email” is your strategy as well as cost reduction, then a basic understanding of each vendors email / collaboration platform strategy is of paramount importance,
I put forward that this form of evaluation provides much greater benefit to the traditional feature / function attempts as qualitative evaluations that exists today.