Last week something horrible happened, and it wasn't associated with the normal Halloween Horrors. The corporate email for my company went down. When I say "down," perhaps I should be more specific. First, it started as a massive slow down. Emails were delayed 6-8 hours. The next day there was the perfect Trifecta: compete disconnections, lost email and corruptions of databases. The total impact was about three working days.
While my company learned valuable technology lessons and had the right resources to mitigate the problem, the whole three day experience allowed me to come to some interesting conclusions regarding how email has impacted our lives in the business world. Here's the revelations that took me by surprise:
- Emotional Frustrations Skyrocketed: While I've experienced email outages for brief periods of time (and certainly when I artificially create one by going on vacation), the sheer level of panic and turbulence was far greater than I had experienced before. In looking back over the years, email traffic has steadily increased in my work life. While it was easy to pick up a phone or send an Instant Message (IM), the loss of traditional email practically stopped my day.
- Multiple Devices, Multiple Problems: It was amazing to see how much I relied on the seamless integration of email for all three of the devices I use in business: laptop, iPhone and iPad. While ten years ago, this was a Palm Treo synchronizing via an old file server in my office, today, we simply ignore the massive complexity and coordination that synchronizing provides us. I think I was most frustrated when away from my laptop and I saw emails deleted elsewhere still there. What was sent? What wasn't sent? What am I missing?
- Attachments Drive Business Processes: Also a surprise was the way I took attachments for granted. Gone are the days of Journal entries, hand-written notes, faxes and snail-mail. I came to the realization that attachments were the one thing I could not substitute with another form of communication. While some IM systems allow attachments, it usually doesn't work with the outside world and only gets by in a pinch.
- Cover-Your-Ass and Document: Probably the biggest item that took me for a spin was how many people utilize email to create a documentation trail to be used later. To be fair, this is more about showing a clear pathway on a complex issue, but the real point here is that I wanted to point to a specific communication with somebody else, and when email was down - I was screwed.
With this said, it only reinforces the challenges going on in the Northeast part of the US, with Hurricane Sandy. We take so many things for granted, only when the simple things are removed do we appreciate what technology brings us. For millions of people, there is no electricity going on ten days and even longer. They are freezing cold, without food and depending on the rest of the world to survive. In the business world, email is technology that acts in the same capacity. Without the subtle distinctions of the email system, we are indeed starving.
Let's keep the candle lit.