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Janette Rutterford on... email

Updated Thursday, 18th November 2010

Janette reflects on business life before email

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Email, email has transformed business life.  It’s done a number of things for me.  In particular, it’s enabled me to be international in a way that I couldn’t be before.  In the old days you had to get up early at six o’clock to ring Hong Kong or you had to stay late to ring America, but now you can email and on your desk the next morning is the reply.  It’s fantastic.  The second thing is that email gives you an audit trail of the conversation, of the agreement, and it’s particularly used in court cases.  So on the one hand it’s bad if you don’t want to say something, but on the other hand it’s very good for business to check what actually has been agreed, when and by whom.  The third thing it’s done is it’s changed the way that businesses operate within themselves.

So for example the CEO can send an email to the staff with a link to a video about what’s happening to the business.  I could possibly email somebody higher up asking a question that I might not have been able to do before face-to-face, and the other thing it does is it enables you to form groups, perhaps you’ve got a creative idea, you set up an email group and you say let’s go for it and then it forms a project and you actually get it approved by management.  But the one really, really bad thing about email is just the sheer amount of it, and in the good old days there were people called secretaries, and secretaries actually fielded the phone calls, which is why email is so much better.  You can get access to people in a way that you couldn’t with phones, because there was always a barrier, the secretary would say he’s not in his office, she’s not in her office, and you would never get through, but on the other hand there’s nobody to do the filing anymore.  You’ve got no idea how to organise all this absolute mountain of emails.  And so my idea for business is, or for an email company, is to organise emails, to prioritise emails, to tell me how to group them in some way so I know who they're from, how important they are, what the timing is, in a way that current email systems just don’t do, which is why they're vulnerable to people like Facebook coming up with alternative ideas.

For example, why can't we have photographs, so I know who the email’s from immediately - I don’t have to read words.  Instead of just having a subject line, I could just see a picture.  This would be much better, that’s my idea, so join the debate with the Open University.







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