So what's IT supposed to do? Certainly, cloud is one of several ways to view email differently. Radicati is highly optimistic about email in the cloud. "It's absolutely the way to go," she says. "A lot of cloud-based email providers have archiving and compliance capabilities in place, and if you want more features, you can purchase them as an additional capability."
In Oakland County, Bertolini is investigating using Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud. "There's still a cost associated with storage, but part of our ROI analysis will be comparing the cost of storage in the cloud versus letting people keep more email," he says, adding that he's worried that if "you give them more storage, they will fill it up."
But he also sees other advantages. "If I can host email externally and still have the safety and security the county government needs, I can save millions in the long term. We'd need two to three people to manage Microsoft Exchange, but if I go to the cloud, I don't need those people. And in three or four years, I'm not replacing my mail servers."
Still, questions remain. "A lot of IT departments are investigating moving email to the cloud," Radicati says, "but there is still concern about whether it will be private enough, secure enough, and reliable enough."
Merging communications tools
Like many technologies IT has to deal with, email's boundaries are expanding, which means IT needs to begin thinking about email less as a silo and more as one component of a multi-modal communications system.
Bertolini notes that the new generation of employees clamors for instant messaging -- and he's not against it. "They use it to collaborate more. When they have chat, they can get things done in realtime." He's also looking at more videoconferencing, first on a one-to-one basis from desktop to desktop, and then from conference room to conference room, and then into a multipoint video arraignment system for the public safety team, because it saves having to transport the county's prisoners among facilities.
Fortunately, these communication mechanisms will start to merge together, analysts predict. Radicati believes that email in the next two to five years won't look tremendously different, but we won't talk about email so much as a stand-alone tool. Instead, we'll have a communications dashboard that includes email, instant messaging and social media.
These hubs will all come about thanks to new open APIs, not only for social media applications like Facebook and LinkedIn, but also for unified communications protocols like Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP).