According to VCs and the tech blahgs, enterprise is so hot right now. So why is no one building for it?
It's funny--if I had a nickle for every time I heard the phrase "I hate email," I'd ... well, you know the drill. But until I started actively trying to solve the problem I never recognized how bad it really was. When I first started working here, I surveyed past co-workers about how they used & managed their email, and some of the trends were startling. For example many people never delete their email nor remove it from their inbox. The winner from my survey was my next door neighbor, the CEO of a small company.
He had 52,000 emails in his inbox.
I've heard of other people who have even more, including one executive for whom IT had to buy a special $6,000 dollar laptop because his inbox was so large it brought his normal laptop to a crawl.
As you start to learn about the toll email takes on people you realize what a productivity hit our economy is taking. After a year of sisyphean email treadmilling, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh created a pretty sophisticated process he feels allows him to be more efficient. Part of his process is to block 3 hours on his calendar every morning to deal with email. This doesn’t include dealing with emails that cover longer tasks, for which he creates specific blocks on his calendar. Can you imagine getting in everyday and working only on email until lunch time?
A July 2012 survey out of McKinsey Global Institute determined that email is the second most time consuming activity for workers, taking up 28% of their time. Computer chip giant Intel has estimated that e-mail overload can cost large companies as much as $1 billion a year in lost employee productivity.
Now, it's not like nobody's doing anything about this problem. Indeed, recently there has been a significant increase in email solutions for the iPhone. The most successful to date is Mailbox, which was acquired by Dropbox for $100 million a month after launching. Mailbox uses an intuitive interface to speed the user through triaging their email. Most people use their phones to triage their inbox and with Mailbox you can do it even faster.
The problem with Mailbox is that it only works with Gmail--which, despite what Google might tell you, most enterprises don’t use. The mail service the majority of enterprises use is Microsoft Exchange with Outlook. Currently, Exchange's market share is about 53%; email research firm Radicati estimates it'll be at around 68% by 2016.
Some of the other new mail apps have really cool social features or even better triage features. Some of these support Exchange via IMAP which is the same protocol used to access Gmail, so it is pretty easy for developers to add Exchange without much effort.
The problem is most companies don’t open their IMAP ports to applications outside of their firewall.
You could use these apps when at work, but as soon as you left you would have to connect with a VPN or switch to a different solution. I hate using VPNs on my laptop; and am definitely averse to using them on my phone--their UIs are clunky and they slow your connection speeds. Point being, the mail apps that market Exchange support are really just doing it for marketing purposes. They are not expecting users to actually use it, at least at large corporations.
What's an enterprise user to do? The solution for Exchange is something that meets the demands of two distinct groups:
- The end users who want a sophisticated, easy to use, and fast app for triaging their email, and
- The IT department who will demand security and control.
Presently, the two most popular enterprise mobile email solutions are the native iOS client and Good Technology. The Apple client has tools that allow IT departments to enforce a degree of security and it uses ActiveSync. Good Technology, which tends to be the app of choice among companies with large amounts of sensitive data, requires a server be installed on premise for its solution to work. It's secure, but its interface isn't exactly beloved. To quote one app store reviewer: "better than carrier pigeons, just not much faster."
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