What You Can Learn From Atos's Zero Email Initiative

Atos created a stir in 2011 when it announced its Zero Email program — an initiative to completely eliminate the use of email for internal communications and use enterprise social instead. Many scoffed it wasn’t practical or that it couldn’t be done. Some others — myself included — thought getting rid of email completely isn’t the right objective. Yes, there are many statistics showing we spend a lot of time on email. But if you accept that . . .
 
  1. Composing and reading messages is an important part of communicating for work;
  2. Specifying the recipient(s) without exposing the message to others unless you intend to (i.e. email) has its place;
  3. Other collaboration tools are more efficient than email for some types of interactions;
 
I think it makes more sense to make the objective optimizing messaging and collaboration in the enterprise, which involves a combination of tools — rather than get rid of email altogether.
 
The problem is that most enterprise social initiatives actually add to the overall number of messages employees have to check on during the day (see blog post Reality Check: Enterprise Social Does Not Stem Email Overload).
 
I don’t think we need to get to zero email, but to some middle ground.
 
Whether Atos gets to zero email or not, the concept underlying its enterprise social program is powerful because it focuses on reducing the overall messaging load for employees.
 
So where is Atos now? Three years into the program next February, Atos has more work to do before it can show a significant reduction in email use at the companywide level. Employee onboarding and manager training are still in process, which is understandable considering they have 76,000 employees. However, Atos has collected success stories of individual business units and teams achieving benefits like faster response times in the SAP help community and greater reuse of collateral between consultants in different regions — in addition to reducing the amount of email being sent around. Here’s what I think other organizations can learn about deploying enterprise social from Atos’s Zero Email program:
 
  • Design for business processes. The best collaboration technology success stories show how the technology is engrained in specific business processes, resulting in specific business outcomes. Atos actually has a certification process that has resulted in 65 business processes being redesigned "email free”.
  • Get executive support. Not that your CEO needs to make a public statement about your enterprise social initiative. But the best programs succeed because they are executive-driven and reinforced by managers using the tools themselves and communicating their importance to the organization.
  • Be programmatic about adoption. Atos has thousands of ambassadors and champions training their peers and socializing the tools internally. We see more and more organizations creating a dedicated social analyst role or tasking an end user computing or collaboration applications group with driving adoption.
  • Collect stories. Atos has made a point to collect case studies — formally, and informally when individuals gush about how they’re using the tools. Forrester recommends you target high value, high viability opportunities; use them to show the value early and get others interested.
  • Be patient. You’re not going to turn into a social business overnight. Atos set a three year timetable to get to zero email, and it will still take more time before they get close to that goal enterprise-wide. Set expectations that this is a journey to change the way your organization collaborates and focus on showing continuous improvement.