Any enterprise collaboration or social media evangelist will tell you email and email attachments are no way to share information or collaborate on projects. And yet email refuses to die, because it's still the mode of corporate interaction employees fall back on as what's most familiar.
Maybe instead of trying to lure people away from corporate email, technology managers should be looking for ways of leveraging email. That's the philosophy behind the collaboration suite from Harmon.ie, one of four firms honored in an innovation showcase at the Enterprise Connect conference earlier this month (see the video interview with TechWeb's David Berlind). While not as oriented toward the telephony aspects of unified communications as many other products at the show, the Harmon.ie brings together multiple modes of communication and collaboration using the Outlook or the Notes client as a sort of dashboard.
Rather than trying to push users to visit a Web portal regularly, "we're embracing the email client as a de facto portal," Yaacov Cohen, Harmon.ie co-founder and CEO, said in an interview. "Sharepoint, Google Docs, and all these cloud applications require a substantial change in people's behavior. The whole email attachment routine is so familiar to what we do with snail mail. Our approach to collaboration is bringing it to the email environment where people are spending most of their day."
Harmon.ie, previously known as Mainsoft, introduced its first enterprise collaboration product, SharePoint Integrator for Lotus Notes, in 2008. Last year, it followed up with its Harmon.ie product line, broadening its reach to include Microsoft Outlook and Google Docs, and began promoting the concept of "social email."
The Harmon.ie email client plug-ins display sidebars and tabs for viewing enterprise collaboration content, such as new documents or articles posted to SharePoint or Google Docs. Cohen argued that one factor that tends to torpedo productivity is the amount of time employees spend switching between all the different applications that are supposed to make them more productive -- and often they just can't be bothered when email will suffice. Harmon.ie can be set to prompt users who are about to send an attachment to consider sending a link instead -- and provides an integrated way for them to post a shared document and obtain a link to it without leaving the email client.
"It's a very simple way, where people don't need to change their behavior, to get them to do the right things," Cohen said.
Sandy Harvey, senior analyst for messaging and collaboration at Amway, said in an interview that she has seen a 42% reduction in email attachments since deploying Harmon.ie to 4,000 to 5,000 employees in North America. "It used to be if I sent a spreadsheet to 500 people, we would end up with 500 copies of that spreadsheet across the company," she said.
Even though Amway had more sophisticated means of collaboration available, where documents could be checked in and out for consistent versioning, they didn't get used as often as they are now, when users can drag and drop attachments to or from Sharepoint without ever leaving the Lotus Notes client, she said.
"I can save myself all that flip-flopping between applications," Harvey said. While Amway has not tried to formally measure the productivity improvements, the Harmon.ie software is paying for itself with the savings in digital storage for duplicate email content, she said.
As part of an enterprise social networking strategy, Harmon.ie also helps users connect with each other and see each other's Sharepoint "mysite" profiles, also from within the Notes client. She can enter appointments in the Notes calendar and have them show up in the company Sharepoint calendar.
Amway is moving ahead with plans for a global deployment of the product later this year.