February 06, 2014

In December of 2013 Business insider published a short article about a mortgage bank titled "This Company Banned Email And Loved It." Since then, Unison, the workplace collaboration tool featured in the article, has been busy fielding calls.

As it turns out, there are a surprising number of e-mail haters actively looking for alternative solutions. Even Wall Street institutions are jumping on board. But why all the ill will towards e-mail?

The short answer points to a number of studies have that conclude internal e-mails and productivity do not mesh well:

  • Independent research by Atos Origin highlighted that the average employee spends 40 percent of the week dealing with internal emails which add no value to the business.

  • As reported in the article, "Workers spend 61 per cent of their day lost in email and information," "According to "The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technology" report, which uses IDC data, workers spend 28 percent of their time, reading, writing or responding to email, and another 19 percent tracking down information to complete their tasks. Communicating and collaborating internally accounts for another 14 percent of the average working week, with only 39 percent of the time remaining to accomplish role-specific tasks."

  • A 2012 global report by McKinsey Global Institute found wide adoption of social media technologies by businesses could cut down the time-wasting involved in emailing and improve worker productivity by 20 to 25 percent.

  • The same McKinsey study pegged the potential gain of using more social/collaborative software at $1.3 trillion -- vs traditional phone and email. The study concluded the upside is "nine times higher in banking than mining."

So what are the alternatives? Unison's approach is to use online "rooms" that users can create to pose issues that require involvement from colleagues. Like a social media site, you post and have comments underneath it. Users invite relevant members to the room discussions, see who has read messages, and when, and send reminders to those that haven't yet read. By placing everyone in the same room, and bringing awareness to their roles, it ultimately brings about quicker processing times to projects than a passive email chain.

When bringing someone new onboard they can have access to the board and see what's happened in the conversation. Time shifted staff can come in later and pick up where others left off.

Chat rooms and the traditional instant message services are available, as are conference calls. The features are all available on mobile devices as well. And because it alerts you to the "physical presence" of others in the room there's an emotional benefit to the situational awareness of who is in the quorum and who is taking action, an important element in the financial service community.

"It's like IM on steroids" says Unison CEO Manlio Carrelli. "Instant message technology has been the same for decades, and the whole premise is on people being online at the same time and being able to solve things quickly. The model falls apart when dealing with complex team issues, especially if you have a time shifted staff." Message rooms, which allow for multi-topic posts alleviate those pain points.

Does it work? In the real world Unison says a number of wealth management firms and hedge funds (that preferred not to be named) are using Unison rooms together with institutions to coordinate their joint activities on behalf of a client. And people in the technology group of a mid-sized banking firm are using Unison rooms with business-side stakeholders to talk about systems performance when urgent issues arise; and also for ongoing discussions about technology features requested/needed.

Control the communication methods, and you control the communication.

Everything in the system is logged. Who viewed what, when, and from where. In financial services this kind of data for archiving is priceless in reporting to regulators.

While e-mail itself has presented little problem in record keeping, users today are only using it as one of many communication systems, often turning to phone or text or messages, chats, social media and more to add further discussion. Indeed, A study from Microsoft found 60-70 percent of email threads end up in a phone call.

At present the industry is facing great hurdles around connecting, collecting and stitching together these disparate messaging systems from a compliance perspective. In a recent article by WS&T it was reported firms are paying billions per year on attorneys who spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to collect and tag unedited communication and recreate the relevant discussion for regulators.

In fact, regulatory scrutiny of internal messages has caused Goldman Sachs to consider banning traders from using certain chat message services. Goldman, JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank have already banned their dealers from using online chat rooms.

Carrelli explains that with traditional instant message services "it's difficult to create controls of who talks to who. In Unison you can create strict rules so, for example, the buy side can't talk to sell side. And these rooms, because they are access permissions that takes care of a lot of fear factors."

E-mail Isn't Going Anywhere

Unison's favorite statistic is the 60-70 percent reduction in internal office e-mails and 80-90 percent across companies for companies using their platform. "It's not that they're spending more time in Unison, they're getting back their day," says Carrelli. "The whole meta work of finding related information is now saved. Everything is centralized."

He adds that in the financial service sector he has seen the best pickup in hedge funds and traditional investment banks. "Financial service is a great vertical for us because time is money. They care about faster, better quality decision making. Retail banks are picking us up to optimize the back office, and we're seeing IT groups picking it up for managing infrastructure."

But with few exceptions firms looking into e-mail alternatives are still keeping e-mail on board. Many are rolling out beta tests of e-mail alternatives department by department, and the phones still remain on desks. In some cases employes are able to respond to e-mails from outside, but unable to create them for internal communication.

We are witnessing a revolution, believes Carrelli, but it will take some time to see a real change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Before joining UBM Becca served as Editor-In-Chief at Kapitall Wire, the sister site to an online brokerage firm that combines the challenges of the stock market with the thrill of ...