Over the years, enterprise email systems have added an ever-increasing number of sophisticated organizational tools, but "users still have to train the system, which is where it breaks down," Radicati explains. "Users forget how they set it up a certain way, and why. Somebody who is highly organized and structured will do well with these tools, and someone who is naturally chaotic will be chaotic."
Adam Glick, Microsoft product manager for Exchange and Outlook, acknowledges, "You can change the tools, but you can't change the people." Just one example -- the current version of Office 2013 includes an option that lets users ignore any email with a particular subject line if that thread has become irrelevant to the recipient. On a grander scale, Exchange and Outlook are becoming more of a communication hub, with greater integration of chat and unified communications, Glick says.
But no matter what gets integrated or how communications evolves, IT needs to help users make the most of the new platforms, and users need to turn that assistance into action.
"IT needs to explain how and when to use these features in email," says Radicati, "and people need to learn to improve their efficiency."
Over the years developers have tried to break through users' dependence on email with software that's more sophisticated and better suited to the enterprise task at hand -- often with only narrow success.
Knowledge management systems, touted in the 1990s as the next big thing, failed to catch on, while collaboration systems such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint have been variously successful; the inclusion of Chatter into Salesforce works in the sales arena for specific needs.
But typically these systems have failed to attain email's level of ubiquity because they offered a solution that may indeed be superior to email, but only for a narrow population of enterprise users.
"There's a high correlation in the success of these tools when they're aligned with recognizable business value," says Koplowitz. Unfortunately, he adds, there's frequently an organizational mismatch. The tools that work for one department (e.g., sales) may not suffice for another (e.g., customer service).
Even when new communications tools like Yammer and Chatter do take hold throughout the enterprise, what happens? Users route their notifications to the one place they're most likely to see them first -- the ubiquitous email inbox.
IT's email burden
For IT, email is an ongoing headache. Niraj Jetly, CIO at EdenredUSA, the U.S. division of a global developer of employee benefits and incentive solutions in Newton, Mass., cites a quartet of hassles: the volume of data; compliance and security; corporate email on user devices; and international routing.