How important is email continuity?

Danny Bradbury

We still live and breathe email at work. In many cases, it's a vital way to tie together workers who are otherwise remote and disconnected. But if email is an organization’s oxygen supply, what happens when it gets cut off?

Osterman Research said in 2011 that companies experienced an average of 53% of email downtime each month. That figure will vary considerably based on what system you use, and what timeframe we’re talking about. Occasionally, you’re just on the wrong system at the wrong time. Office365 users suffered a whopping nine consecutive hours of email downtime in June 2014, for example. Yahoo Mail was out for four days in December 2013, while Gmail went down for 12 hours that September.

The effects of losing email continuity can be notable. Workers use email for 149 minutes a day on average, which is over a quarter of the average workday, according to a report from Osterman Research.

“Despite email issues – and the emergence of newer digital communications methods (social networking, activity streams, text messages, IM, etc.) touted as email replacements – email is still very much alive and well,” argues Laurie McCabe, partner at SMB Group. “While newer methods are making some headway (and, in fact, reducing email use in our personal lives), email remains the top form of business communication.”

Not all email is equal

We could argue that not all email is important – indeed, some of it is probably a time drain, and detracts from productivity – but a significant amount of it is necessary, and many companies would suffer financial losses if mail continuity was affected. A 2012 survey of 500 professional email users by UK-based Loudhouse Research found that almost one in four emails was either essential or critical to the job.

For example, a proportion of email comes not from people, but from automated systems that are informing us of some critical workflow event. Employees may still rely on these machine-generated emails to alert them to key events. And if a company uses email for processing customer orders, unavailability becomes very serious indeed. Native American Services Corp worried that a mail outage cost it a $75m sale, for example.

Then, there are emails from colleagues with urgent deadlines, customers with urgent questions, and perhaps sales queries. If email goes down at the wrong time, then meetings could be missed, processes disrupted, and stakeholders frustrated.

The Shadow IT problem

Aside from lost productivity and perhaps missed opportunities, there are other dangers associated with email continuity. If email is unavailable, then employees addicted to it may seek alternatives elsewhere. This could take the form of consumer-grade cloud email (perhaps their personal accounts), or maybe even public file sharing services that haven’t been approved by the IT department, which could in turn create potential security risks.

In short, a disruption in mail continuity could open the door to shadow IT, which is a problem that many IT departments dread. Three quarters of IT managers are seriously worried about employees resorting to consumer-grade file sharing services for their workflow.

Email continuity is therefore more important than people may realize. Some might argue that it’s the single most important application in many companies’ portfolios. So ensuring that it stays up – ideally on a 24x7 basis – should be a priority for IT departments. Thinking about an email continuity service now could save countless headaches later.