Remember that email you sent asking someone to do something? Me either. Delegating tasks are great, but follow-through to ensure the tasks get done -- in an electronic world -- can be challenging.
Therein lies one of the major pain points IBM attempts to solve with its forthcoming email social business collaboration platform, Mail Next.
"The most important problem is that of recall and prioritization," Kramer Reeves, director of product management with IBM Messaging and Collaboration Solutions, told CMSWire. "When an action comes in by email, how do we solve the problem of remembering who we assigned the action to or who we asked for help? Mail Next’s follow-up mechanisms solve this problem, using technology in place of memory, and allowing us to put our full focus on the work. The impact of this feature will be on management, executive assistants and really anybody who uses email."
Mail Next was all the rage at last week's IBM Connect 2014 conference in Orlando, Fla. The Armonk, N.Y.-based software and technology giant's announcement of Mail Next falls under its rebranding strategy of its mail, chat, meetings, office productivity and content capabilities, making them part of IBM’s Connections brand in 2014, IBM said in a release issued to CMSWire.
One comparison had Mail Next with the look and feel of Google Plus and its capabilities -- an example of the ongoing convergence of enterprise social networks, email and other communications applications -- next to Google's efforts with Google Plus/Gmail/Hangouts suite and Microsoft's with Office365 plus Yammer, SharePoint and Lync.
"IBM Connections Mail Next is a Trojan horse of sorts," said Larry Hawes, principal of Dow Brook Advisory Services in Ipswich, Mass. "Most people still do the majority of their work in email. As a result, many IBM customers have employees interacting with Connections through the Notes client. Mail Next acknowledges this and brings in even more Connections -- and other IBM collaboration services -- into a dashboard along with email."
Hawes predicted that the Mail Next dashboard will eventually be the default user interface for all IBM collaboration, messaging and content services.
"IBM just can't position and sell it that way yet," Hawes added, "hence the emphasis on the email component."
Anatomy of Mail Next
So how does IBM itself see this offering?
The evolution of Mail Next, IBM's Reeves said, is IBM's way of providing an app in the market that can "dramatically improve how customers and users process the actions that are conveyed by emails."
Email, he said, is a vehicle for two main functions: information sharing and assignments.
"If you take it one step further by prioritizing actions and work, that results in significant productivity gains," Reeves said. "At IBM, we have been considering this evolution for a number of years. We have recognized that email has not evolved in a way to empower how we prioritize mail, and therefore, work."
This vision began in January 2013, when IBM announced IBM Notes Social Edition.
"As social business adoption continued to grow," Reeves said, "we needed to upgrade mail with social business capabilities, and give mail users the ability to share with a wide audience, among other things."
So what does IBM feel is Mail Next's potential -- outside of the follow-up tasks you've assigned some peers in emails?
The first is it solves ease of use and modernization, Reeves told CMSWire.
"IBM is modernizing and improving the user experience in a dramatic fashion through an elegant design that mirrors consumer apps," he said. "When mail is easy to use, people can focus on the work that really matters."
The second is new search capabilities that provide the backbone that allow users to easily find information in their inboxes and tackle that action immediately.
Any of this unique to the industry, we asked Reeves?
"No other email system can help users focus attention, quickly find the most pertinent information and manage the actions represented in emails like Mail Next," he said. "The system has evolved to prioritize the most important work in an elegant design that allows users to work quickly and efficiently. No other system has integration points with powerful social business capabilities through Connections, where seamless linkage of actions can be managed more effectively between the social world that is evolving."
How is Lotus Notes Impacted?
Asked whether Lotus Notes mail is still going to be a brand, Reeves called IBM's branding strategy in this case twofold.
"We recognize that there is a need for a suite of capabilities to handle social business -- that's why we are including Mail Next in Connections," Reeves said. "We also recognize that some customers will want Mail Next independently, and so we intend to market it as an individual offering as well."
Reeves said pricing will be available upon general availability later this year.
On the whole, email is not dead, Reeves said when asked.
"Absolutely not. Although, the way the world communicates is certainly changing," he added. "As we study social trends and demographics from users around the world, from various countries and companies, we see all kinds of e-communication vehicles being used. But, at this point, there is no e-communication vehicle that represents the kind of firm and secure system, as far as corporate governance, that companies demand."
IBM, Reeves said, sees the evolution of mail as a "representative point of change that the market is asking vendors to embrace."
"For 20 years," Reeves added, "email has essentially remained the same -- communication that arrives in chronological order that users must manually prioritize, preventing productive work from occurring. This is an opportunity for the market, at the same time that social business is becoming a mandate around the world."
Hawes, who attended the IBM Connect, said IBM plans to integrate Connections with Notes Traveler this year. It currently is not.
"So Traveler is morphing to become the mobile dashboard for IBM collaboration, messaging and content services, just as Mail Next is doing on the desktop," Hawes said. "... Email isn't going away in organizations. For now, IBM will acknowledge that and position email clients -- Mail Next and Notes Traveler -- as integration points for all the other services that are being rebranded with the Connections name. Eventually, the emphasis on email will diminish and social, real-time communication capabilities will have more focus in the user experience of these dashboards."
Hawes sees this already happening from a branding perspective.
"Notice that 'Notes' has been dropped from the IBM Connections Mail Next offering name," he said. "I anticipate that Notes Traveler will similarly become 'IBM Connections Traveler,' or perhaps just 'IBM Traveler.'"
Title image by Mark LaMoyne (Shutterstock).