Wikis as alternatives to email – find the ROI

There’s a really interesting article on with Ross Mayfield, the co-founder of Socialtext. In it, he talks about how wikis can end ‘Reply-All’ email threads.

Luis Suarez of IBM has taken it a step further, and on 15th February gave up on work related email. The idea would be that he would refuse to respond or initiate email communication and would instead communicate via social networking tools such as those provided internally by IBM. If you read a little closer, he doesn’t completely give up on email, and recognises that for certain private conversations where sensitive information is exchanged, email is still a must. I see nothing wrong with this exception – no-one ever said email was fundamentally bad, just that it wasn’t always used for the right purpose. Also, I am guessing that Luis is internally facing, or that this applies to internal email only. I can’t really see a brand sales rep at IBM stopping using email to communicate with customers (although am happy to be proved wrong!)

Another interesting point is that he claims to receive, on a busy day, 30-45 emails. I personally think this is somewhat on the low side, I was always suspicious of people who claimed to go away for 5 days and come back to 2,000 unread emails (average of 400 per day), but I have certainly gone through periods of my life where 100 (on a busy day) was not unusual.

However, the results are still interesting, even if we take the case study as a low-volume email user who communicates mainly internally. It appears as if people took the hint and stopped sending Luis email. The results were most dramatic at the beginning, where the volume dropped from 35/day (175 per week) to 45 in the first week. The drop off has continued, but at a slower pace as shown here:

So we have a drop from 175-45 (75%) at the start and then a further 45-35 (22%) in the subsequent weeks. This has a significant impact for those who are looking for an ROI for internal Web 2.0 projects:

Time saved = 140 * 5 mins per email = 700 mins / 5 day week = 11h:40m.
In a 40 hour working week lets say thats 25% to keep things easy (estimates that 25% of employees time is spent on email is not unfounded)
Take a 30-man company with a £1,000,000 payroll, that’s a saving of £250,000 (ok, so I know it doesn’t quite work like that, but the point is that signifcant savings are available and this technology is effective even for small organisations)

Not only that, but give each individual an extra 10 hours in their week and that’s more time sellers can sell, more time consultants can charge and more time R&D can innovate. You’ll gain much more than £250,000 on your top line than you’ll squeeze off the bottom line! Luis claims to be productive from the moment he starts work, rather than the inevitable drop in productivity as we all catch-up with emails that have come in overnight or after a day away from the office.

I’ll be posting more on Wiki ROI in the upcoming days…

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11 Responses to Wikis as alternatives to email – find the ROI

  1. Luis Suarez says:

    Hi John! Thanks very much for putting together such a lovely blog post on what I am currently doing and the experiences I am going through and also for commenting on one of the blog posts I have put together myself on the topic. Good stuff!

    W.r.t. your comments on “Also, I am guessing that Luis is internally facing, or that this applies to internal email only. I can’t really see a brand sales rep at IBM stopping using email to communicate with customers (although am happy to be proved wrong!)“, yes, I am internally facing, although I do have plenty of contacts with various customers and funny thing we use everything else but e-mail to connect with one another. Mostly it is IM, Facebook or Twitter, amongst several others.

    However, your question on a brand sales rep at IBM stopping using e-mail is a great one, because I am getting lots of people to comment on that in my internal blog on how it may be difficult for them to give up on e-mail since they feel there are no tools available out there for such interactions. And as soon as I show them the potential of what’s available out there with a bunch of options, tools both from IBM and non IBM, it’s like an eye opener. In a way, it is happening already. People are starting to question the validity of using e-mail if there are other tools out there that help collaborate much easier sharing knowledge across much faster. In an upcoming blog post I will mention how I would handle it if I were customer facing 100% of my time. Yes, I know and realise it would require a massive learning curve, but it is one of those curves that will be worth while going for! For sure! But stay tuned for that upcoming blog post…

    The amount of e-mails I received initially, that 30 to 45 a day was actually pretty much what I was already getting while I have been working with social computing. Remember, I have been doing social computing, knowledge sharing and collaboration for over 8 years, the last 5 of those on social computing mostly, and have been rather heavy on collaborating online, so that is why that number was low already. But the tipping point to be most drastic about it, was the fact I was replying to every single incoming e-mail that was coming through to me, and that generated that constant flow. Ever since I gave up on it, people know now they get a much faster and accurate response from me through social software tools than through e-mail. In fact, I cannot think which week it was the last time I replied to an e-mail!

    WOW!! I am *very* impressed with the business case you have put together in such a short couple of paragraphs and thinking about re-using it myself to share it internally with the folks who are a bit skeptic of what I am doing. I think it would be an eye opener, for sure, if I provide those figures and a link to your blog to read some more about it. Would that be ok with you, if I re-use the info and give you due credit for doing the math. Obviously, you have been much much better than me! Let me know what you think. Thanks!

    Oh, and since you are interested in sharing some more further thoughts on Wiki ROI, you may want to check out this articular blog post from Wikinomics on the kind of impact e-mail and wikis can have within an organisation: I bet you will enjoy it.

    And, finally, I just commented in the blog post I put together where you share a few comments as well, and it would be my pleasure to perhaps get together with you in Skype and record a 20 to 25 minute podcast where we can conduct that interview on how I actually get things done with social software vs. e-mail and where I would explain as well how much time I spend hanging out in the area of social computing tools. Let touch base offline through Skype, if you would be ok with this, Jon.

    Thanks much, once again, for the lovely blog post and for the additional feedback comments! Greatly appreciated!

  2. Jon Mell says:

    Hi Luis – many thanks for your comment – of course you’re more than welcome to take the math (might want to get it checked first though!)

    Will be in touch via Skype – might not be until week after next though as I am presenting at the two Lotusphere UK events this week.

  3. Luis Suarez says:

    Hi Jon! Thanks for following up on the commentary. I have taken a look into the business case details and it comes pretty close to the approx. figure I was thinking myself, so it would be my pleasure commenting about in an upcoming blog post… Stay tuned! (Later on tonight may share the next progress report from this week about to finish… some more interesting tidbits in there!).

    And about getting together in Skype, no problem, whenever you would want to. Really. I am sure you would be rather busy with the LTCY events, so good luck with them and will keep watching your blog and interact through Skype whenever it is the right time for both of us.

    Looking forward to it!

  4. Chris says:

    Jon, Luis:

    Great stuff. I’m keeping an eye on the conversation, and will be trying to incorporate what you guys are doing into our approach here at PBwiki.

    Would love to get your thoughts on our product and how to enhance it to meet your particular needs. Thanks!

    Chris Yeh (

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  8. Qinhan says:

    I don’t understand what you said ‘time saved’ means. Do u mean communicating via social networking tools instead of email will take no time ?

  9. Jon Mell says:

    Hi Qinhan – you are right, many ROI cases fail to realise that time spent on social networking is still time spent! I think there are two points here though:

    1) As Luis uses social software rather than email, the number of emails *sent to him* reduces dramatically. A lot of time is spent weeding out important email from corporate spam, and this is definitely time saved.

    2) I think I discuss in my podcast with Luis though, that even if he spent the same amount of time on social software as he did on email, it would still be a benefit as his answers are placed in the public domain, not hidden in private email. Therefore, people who have questions find the answers without having to send Luis an email to bother him.

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