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The Future of Enterprise Emails

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Emails are broken!

Emails make me waste my time. But I need them. Given the importance that emails have in our lives, it's incredible it's still one of the only software areas that did not evolve in the past 20 years! 

Reading my inbox is the most unproductive task I do on a daily basis. I have to spend one or two full hours a day to process my emails. All the junk flows in the same inbox; spams, information that doesn't matter, quoted answers of quoted answers, etc. At the end of the hour, only 10 emails actually requested an answer from me. With a good tool, I could have done my job in 10 minutes!

At OpenERP, we build tools to bring productivity to enterprises. As emails and information flows are one of the biggest wastes of time in companies, we have to fix this. 

OpenERP 7.0 will be our first step to disrupt emails. Here is a video of our alternative in action. 

To disrupt emails, you need more than just another user interface. We need to rethink the whole communication flow. We know it will take several milestones to disrupt emails, but we are ready to embrace the challenge for the long term.

Milestone 1: OpenERP 7.0, our proof of concept

We ported our initial ideas in OpenERP 7.0. (Check the full release note) - The OpenERP emails application brings innovative ideas:

  • Get Things Done: your inbox is a todo list. You should be able to process (not only read) the inbox and easily mark messages for future actions. Every inbox should be empty after having been processed; no more overload of information.
  • Keep control of what you want to receive or don't want to receive. People should never receive spam. You should follow/unfollow any kind of information in one click.
  • Productivity is key: our smart user interface does not require you to click on every mail to read a thread. Reading a full thread, replying, attaching documents is super fast.
  • A mix of push & pull. Today, people are victims of what others decide to push to them. OpenERP differentiates:
    1. Messages "for information": you can pull them when you need some specific information; they are not required to be read every day. You receive only what you decided to follow. This accounts for 90% of your daily emails. Use the "Inbox" menu for these.
    2. Messages "for action": they require your immediate attention and you need to process them all. This accounts for 10% of your daily emails. Use the "To: me" menu for these.
  • Focus on the Content: Everything is stripped to emphasize on the real message. No more welcome introductions, greetings, signatures and legal notes. We standardize the layout of each message. (signatures are on the profile of a contact, not in every message)
  • Folders and mailing lists are great tools but too complex in traditional email clients. In OpenERP, a group of contacts that share a discussion can be created with one click. Every group should have it's own email address.

All of this should be available in a super sexy and minimalist user interface.

Milestone 2: Fine tune the application

OpenERP 7.0 is our first iteration to replace emails. The next step if to analyze how people interact with it, in order to refine our application until all OpenERP users use our communication tool rather than their own email client to communicate. Simply because it's better.

We already have a few ideas that are in our development backlog:

  • Emails, Twitter, Real Time Chats: the future of emails is a mix between a follow/broadcast system like facebook and twitter, and an email client and communications like chats. We think one system can rule them all. 
  • Emails can contain much more than text. They are used to send files, links to websites or OpenERP objects, dates for meetings or events, etc. That information is more than just part of a discussion - they stand on their own. We want to make it easy to find and process this information by providing alternative views to the classic message thread.

                              

 

  • Be "real time" using websockets rather than http. Emails and answers should work like a chat if both the sender and the recipient are active at the same time. A small conversation is often more efficient than a series of emails back and forth to take a decision. 
  • A better pre-processing of the body of traditional emails that arrive through the email gateway.

Google Analytics and user testing are our friends for refining the application.


Milestone 3: Spread the word.

Once we get a strong adoption, with the existing 500.000 OpenERP users using OpenERP more than their traditional email client, we will widen our audience to more internet users, spreading the word, hopefully improving the way every business user sees and uses email in the future.

It won't become a reality tomorrow, and we know it's a big challenge. But, at OpenERP, we always wanted our users to be super productive in their daily operations. So, we need to fix this, even if it takes many iterations to get it right.

Date : 19th November, 2012