Digital workplace solutions provider harmon.ie today released its Outlook add-on, Collage, and made it available for free in the Microsoft Office Store.  

The Collage add-on makes it possible for people to get work done in a place many of us spend large parts of our day: our email inboxes. 

If that sounds familiar, it’s because several other vendors are pursuing the same goal: Google has its Inbox, Microsoft with Clutter, and IBM with Verse.

Harmon.ie's solution is arguably unique. Rather than adding functionality to the Outlook inbox, the Collage add-on incorporates Microsoft Graph insights with machine learning technology to surface key topics in email messages and connect them with related information found in a range of business applications.

Accepting the Inevitability of the Inbox

Collage presents the information pulled from CRMs, social networks, enterprise content management systems and more within the Outlook interface, allowing workers to take action from their inbox without jumping back and forth between multiple applications.

Boston-based harmon.ie is marketing this as, "Bringing a new Outlook to your business."

“Vendors realize that email is not going anywhere and that people are going to continue to work there. So they are attempting to enrich that experience rather than the approach vendors like Slack that goes ‘You don't need email,' or other companies that say they are going to replace the interface of everything you are working on,” David Lavenda co-founder and vice president of Marketing and Product Strategy at harmon.ie told CMSWire.

“We just don't think that’s going to happen.”

By bringing all the information workers need to do their jobs directly into the email client, Collage fuses the universality — and inevitability — of email with core digital workplace principles. Lavenda explained the idea behind the tool:

“We had this idea of a single screen app that aggregates everything together. We have always been about bringing people’s work into the Outlook – that's people’s comfort zone. So we decided to make it a contextual Outlook add-in in and bring all that richness of the topic driven interface and the aggregation of all the applications into the email window."

Digging Out From Inbox Overload

The single screen approach eliminates a stumbling block of other vendor's inbox solutions.

Slack, Yammer and other information sharing and collaboration tools also propose to surface information, but require workers to download more proprietary technology, and results in the inevitable toggling between multiple screens.

For anyone who's faced a browser with 30 or more open windows, you know why this could be a problem. Adding more channels adds confusion. In a working environment already creaking under the strain of shadow IT, the problem becomes unmanageable.

“At the moment, because most applications send notification to the inbox when it is updated, along with everything else that lands there, the inbox becomes overloaded with all kinds of stuff that has no context and is impossible to work with,” Lavenda said.

“The alternative is to toggle between different interfaces of different applications. In a world where people are signing up to credit-card IT and adding cloud-based applications that IT doesn't even know about [shadow IT] everyone ends up with a different set of tools. There is no way of aggregating this in any kind of institutional way."

Planning Future Steps

For the moment the add-in is free. According to Lavenda, the company will introduce a paid enterprise version later on, but its current focus is to gather users and feedback from these users to shape the future direction of the tool.

Lavenda envisages the tool moving outside of the Microsoft environment:

"We ultimately want to go beyond the Microsoft ecosystem. What some of these vendors are trying to do with the cloud ecosystems is the next generation of vendor lock-in. Microsoft is doing it, Google is trying to do it, but the end of the day, the cloud world is a multivendor world, people want maybe an anchor cloud but be able to work with other stuff," he said.