Move Beyond Email: Bring People to Information


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Beyond good company-customer communication, effectively serving customers requires intense internal coordination and collaboration—not just in the front office but also between front and back offices and within the back office. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Internal communication continues getting the short end of the office process stick, even in communication-intensive business sectors such as banking, which I’m about to use as an example.

Back when I was a pup, internal communication meant: a) yelling over cube tops; b) sending ubiquitous memos; c) staggering from desk to desk with piles of green bar reports; and d) just flopping down in someone’s office or cube and flapping jaws. Then, in my young adulthood, we expanded our repertoire with: e) 8 ½ X 11 reports plastered with graphs and charts; f) floppy disks (many of them infectious) and g) printed slide presentations (a handy format for those who don’t write).

Hey, it worked. Sort of. But in my wisdom years came remote workers, mobile workers, outsourced workers, unidentified flying workers—all of which required a new communication medium.

Banking Too Much on Email

Along came email, more email, and more email—business messages mixed in with baby pictures, wedding pictures, social invitations, love letters, rejection letters and lots and lots of gossip. Before long, in-boxes filled to overflowing, forcing recipient to constantly flush stuff out to make room for new stuff. You could almost imagine bursting in-boxes disgorging messages the way overfilled storm sewers blast manhole covers high in the air, leaving messages streaming down the street.

Customers were experiencing process inconsistencies, policy variances, excessive back office cycle times and mixed brand messages.

Except that overflowing email pipes aren’t funny. Critical messages drown in the flood. Coordination and collaboration go downhill. Internal tensions increase. Staff spends measurable portions of every day, some reporting 25 percent or more, deleting unread messages, reading a few, responding to even fewer and storing some to read “later” (LOL). And for the capper, time spent wrestling with email coupled with work inefficiencies caused by inadequate internal communication drives up staffing requirements, often by double-digit percentages.

If you think I’m stretching a point, let me describe a recent consulting engagement with a regional bank, which mirrors our similar experiences with other consumer financial institutions. How was our bank client handling internal communication when we arrived? Just as described above, with email, email and more email.

And while this bank provided good customer experiences at points of direct contact, problematic internal communication was more than a fly in the ointment. Customers were experiencing process inconsistencies, policy variances, excessive back office cycle times and mixed brand messages. Meanwhile, the bank was suffering from metrics issues, compliance problems and especially “over-employment” stemming from too much reliance on email.

Mapping Internal Information Flow

As customary, we dove into the snarl by assessing and mapping how customer-related work and information (synonymous in a knowledge worker environment) were moving from person to person and function to function. Here’s a high-level representation of what mapping showed.

The concept is simple. Every type of information has its own intranet “bucket,” with partitions for marketing, HR, training, process, policy, news, etc. Where necessary, buckets have precise, indexed links that allow quick access to information. Search is always an option, but inappropriate for retrieving granular content such as process and policy.

Every morning when employees boot up (and we’re all shutting down at night to be “green,” right?), a welcome screen lists all new information for the day. Employees are accountable for following appropriate links to need-to-know information for their function. Effecting that does require training plus willingness to apply consequences for non-compliance, but it’s a small price to pay for bypassing email and communicating effectively.

Oh, and by the way, in addition to greatly improving internal communication, this “fix” will allow the bank to re-purpose about 15% of employees into more value-adding work.

Not bad, eh?


  1. Dick,

    Your have brought up a critical issues that irks people yet many continue to contibute to the problem. We wonder why email is becoming ineffectual as a communication vehicle. Here are two consequences that often get overlooked. It was reported awhile back that people who frequently monitor their email in box suffer the equivalent of a 30 point loss in IQ. How can that be? Constant interruption of the thought process. A related research finding estimates that business people now waste over one quarter of their time with emails, scanning, sorting, deleting and sometime reading and then trying to find that important one later.

    I like your bucket model. I am not sure if this is what you had in mind but there is a movement afoot to use wiki technology to accomplish what you describe. In the banking application I was demo’d, email and other content was collected and organized in wikis related to projects or initiatives and all related people could access, edit, comment added to etc, the content when the needed it.

    Time for people to use technology productively rather than getting used by it.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company

  2. John – Wikis are very much in the realm of what I’m suggesting. However, a highly regulated bank environment requires more content control than wikis provide. But in lots of environments they’d work fine.


  3. Dick,

    The system of wikis I saw demo’d is being deployed in a very large banking system. They have built in security that covers their needs. It is true that their primary application is business process change and not day-to-day banking functions.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.

  4. I can’t disagree with your concerns over email and person-to-person business contacts. The same mess applies to traditional telephone voice mail tag!

    What you describe as a 2.0 solution will fit in well with what is being referred to these days as “unified communications” (UC)for business, but most particularly at the level of “business process-to-person” level, or CEBP (Communication Enabled Business Processes).

    In effect, rather than just requiring individual end users to actively monitor new information on the web site, the business process application that knows who needs to get the information will pro-actively notify such individuals about time-sensitive information. Such “notifications” will be in text message form that is practical for a data applications, but can take any form of message delivery that is appropriate for the end user recipient (who may be mobile). Once notification has been successfully been made, then the information can be retrieved and responded to in text, voice, or video.

    For a person-to-person contact, UC’s “federated presence” “click-to-contact” can be used for real-time contacts (voice calls, IM, conferencing) whenever appropriate.

    Until such time as UC, federated presence management, and CEBP-based business process applications become standardized within enterprise organizations, your procedural approach is certainly practical.

  5. Art – thanks for your comment. In fact, our Visual Workflow office process design approach analyzes and designs internal communication as a key aspect of information flow (which is tied at the hip to workflow). Failure to address poorly designed communication costs companies more than they could imagine. On your text notification schema, we’re dying to have a client equipped for it.


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