Creating Microsoft Planner tasks from email using Microsoft Flow

Work is pretty hectic at the moment. To be honest, that’s not unusual but scanning through tweets at lunchtime or at the start/end of the day is not really happening. I tend to take a look in bed (a bad habit, I know) and often think “that looks interesting, I’ll read it tomorrow” or “I’ll retweet that, but in the daytime when my followers will see it”.  At the moment, my standard approach is to email the tweets to myself at work but, 9 times out of 10, they just sit in my Inbox and go no further.

So, I thought I’d set up a Kanban board in Microsoft Planner for interesting tweets (I already have one for future blog posts). That’s pretty straightforward but one of the drawbacks with Planner is that you can’t email tasks to the plan. That’s a pretty big omission in my view (and it seems I’m not alone) as I believe it’s something that can be done in Trello (which is the service that Planner is trying to compete with).

I got thinking though, one of the other services that might help is Microsoft Flow. What if I could create a flow to receive an email (in my own mailbox) and then create an item in a plan, then delete the email?

The first challenge was receiving the email. I set up a new email alias for my account but my interestingtweets@markwilson.it wouldn’t trigger the flow, because it’s a secondary address.

So, I switched to looking for a particular string in the subject of the email. That worked. But creating an item in the plan was failing with a “Bad Request” error. I took a look at the advice for troubleshooting a flow and, digging a little deeper showed the failure message of Schema error for field Assignments in entity Task: Field failed schema validation. That was because I was using dynamic content to assign the task to myself (so I removed that setting).

This left me with a different message: Schema error for field Title in entity Task: Field failed schema validation. That turned out to be because I was using the message body as the title of the email and Planner was only happy if I sent it as plain text (not as HTML). I can convert the HTML to plain text in Flow, but the multi-line content still fails validation…

So far, I’ve been able to successfully create tasks from single-line emails in one of my Plans but not in the one I created for this purpose (it’s not appearing as a target and if I enter the name manually the flow fails with a message of Schema error for field PlanId in entity Task: Field failed schema validation“)… I’ve made the plan publicly visible, so I’ll wait and see if that makes a difference (it hasn’t so far). If not, I may need to remove and recreate the Plan.

So near, yet so far. And ideally, I’d be able to do something more intelligent with the task items (like to read links from the email and add them as links to the task in Planner) – maybe what I want is too much for Flow and I need to use a Logic App instead.

At the moment, this is what my Flow looks like:

Microsoft Flow to create a task in Microsoft Planner from an email

When I have it working with marking the email as read, I’ll change it over to deleting the email instead – after all, I don’t need an email and a task in Planner!

Using Mail Users/Contacts to redirect email in Exchange Online

Being a geek, I have a few domain names registered, including one that I use for my family’s email. I don’t pay for Exchange Online mailboxes for us all though. Instead, I have a full Office 365 subscription, my wife has Exchange Online and the children (and some other family members) use a variety of free accounts from Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.

Earlier this evening, my son asked me to switch his family email from iCloud to GMail (he has an Android phone, and was getting annoyed with winmail.dat files in iCloud), so I had to unpick my email redirection method… which seemed like a good time to blog about it…

Obviously, my wife and I have full mailboxes in Exchange Online but other family members are set up as contacts. In the Office 365 Admin Center they show up as unlicenced users but if I drill down into the Exchange Admin Center I have some more control.

Each family member is set up as a contact/Mail User. Each contact has been set up with at least two email addresses:

  • user@myfamilydomain.com (that’s not the real name but it will do for this example);
  • user@externalmailprovider.com (i.e. user@icloud.com, user@gmail.com, user@hotmail.com).

By setting the primary email (the one prefixed with upper case SMTP: rather than lower case smtp:) to the user@gmail.com (or wherever), mail will be received at user@myfamilydomain.com but is redirected to their “real” email address.

Exchange Online shows them as type Mail User and lists their external email address as the primary.

Short takes: pairing my headphones, firewalls and Exchange SMTP communications, tethered photos with a Mac

Some more snippets that don’t quite make a blog post…

Because I always forget how to do this: how to pair a Plantronics BackBeat PRO headset with a mobile device.

And a little tip whilst troubleshooting connectivity to an Exchange Server server for hybrid connectivity with Office 365… if telnet ipaddress 25 gives a banner response from the SMTP server then that’s a good thing – if the firewall is interrupting transmission then I’ll get nothing back, or asterisks ********. Joe Palarchio (@JoePalarchio) writes about this (see issue 7) in his post on Common Exchange Online Hybrid Mail Flow Issues. Note that firewalls doing any form of blocking between Exchange servers are unsupported but that doesn’t stop customers from putting them between their email servers and anything running in the cloud (e.g. Hybrid server in Azure).  If you need to do this, then you should have any ANY/ANY rule (i.e. allow free flow of traffic) between the Exchange Server servers.

Take photos with OS X Image CaptureFinally, back in 2009, I  wrote about tethering a DLSR to a computer and taking pictures using Windows PowerShell (I think I’ve also written about using software to do this). Well, it turns out that the OS X Image Capture utility can also take a photo on a supported camera – either on a timed basis or by pressing a key.  Could be useful to know if setting up a time-lapse, or for studio work…

Short takes: @ in DNS records; are ‘ and & legal in an email address?; changing the search base for IDfix

A few short items that don’t quite warrant their own blog post…

@ in DNS records

Whilst working with a customer on their Office 365 integration recently, we had a requirement to add various DNS records, including the TXT record for domain verification which included an @ symbol. The DNS provider’s systems didn’t allow us to do this, or to use a space instead to denote the origin of the domain. Try googling for @ and you’ll have some challenges too…

One support call later and we had the answer… use a *.  It seemed to do the trick as soon after that the Microsoft servers were able to recognise our record and we continues with the domain configuration.

Are ‘ and & “legal” in an email address?

Another interesting item that came up was from running the IDfix domain synchronisation error remediation tool to check the on-premises directory before synchronisation.  Some of the objects it flagged as requiring remediation were distribution groups with apostrophes (‘) or ampersands (&) in their SMTP addresses. Fair enough, but that got me wondering how/why those addresses ever worked at all (I once had an argument with someone who alleged that the hyphen in my wife’s domain name was an “illegal” character). Well, it seems that, technically, they are allowable in SMTP (I struggled reading the RFCs, but Wikipedia makes it clearer) but certainly not good practice… and definitely not for synchronisation with Azure AD.

Changing the search base for IDfix

I mentioned the IDfix tool above and, sometimes, running it against a whole domain can be difficult to cope with the results.  As we planned to filter directory synchronisation on certain organizational units (OUs), it made sense to query the domain for issues on those same OUs. This is possible in the settings for IDfix, where the LDAP query for the search base can be changed.

A manifesto for improved use of email

Email. A critical business communication tool: ubiquitous in its use; with global reach – it’s clear to see how the benefits of improved, anytime, anywhere communication have broken down barriers and created efficiencies. But has email reached a tipping point – where the volume of messages and the need to respond have changed the focus from email as a tool that helps us to perform our work to one where email has become the work itself?

The problem of email overload has led some people to call for “no email days”, or to consider the “email rapture” (i.e. what would we do if email suddenly didn’t exist) and some organisations (most famously Atos) have initiated programmes to reduce or remove the use of internal email, using evocative terms like “information pollution”. (Forrester Analyst Philipp Karcher has an interesting view on this too.)  Others have targeted other drains on productivity (e.g. Coca Cola’s crackdown on voicemail) but it’s clear that there is a huge hidden cost associated with unproductivity in the way we communicate in the workplace.

I became an “email bankrupt” recently where, on return from the Christmas holidays, I processed the new items in my Inbox and moved everything else to an archive – starting a new year fresh with a new (empty) Inbox and vowing to stay on top of it (tidy Inbox… tidy mind).  Many of the archived messages were over a year old and whilst I intended to take action on them, there just wasn’t enough time in the day.  Mine is not an isolated case though – there are many stories on the Internet of those who have found it cathartic to start afresh – and many more with suggestions for keeping on top of things. Some ideas have gained traction, like the Inbox Zero approach evangelised by Merlin Mann or Scott Hanselman’s Outlook rules for processing email but the problem was perfectly summed up for me late in 2014 when I saw Matthew Inman’s cartoon depicting email as a monster that craves attention.

A cultural issue?

Many of the issues associated with email are cultural – in that it’s not the technology that’s at fault, but the way that people use it. For example, email is an asynchronous communication mechanism – i.e. the sender and recipient do not both need to be online at the same time for the message to be sent and received; however many email users seem to expect an immediate, or at least rapid response to email.  Multiply this by many tens or hundreds of emails sent/received a day – and their replies (possibly in various threads as people are copied or dropped from the distribution) – the resulting volumes of email become significant, as does the effort required to process it.  Consider the cost of this email mountain and the numbers are staggering (one infographic estimates the cost of processing email in North America alone to be around $1.7 trillion) – so anything that can be done to reduce the volume of email has to be positive.

In an age of smartphones and mobile communications, out of office messages may seem a little quaint (although we all need to take holidays – and that should include a break from business communications – although that’s a topic worthy of its own discussion) but the need to say “I’m travelling so my response may be delayed” is indicative of an organisation whose culture expects emails to be answered quickly – and where email is used as a task manager, rather than an information-sharing and collaboration tool. Not that there’s anything wrong with using email as a task manager within a workflow system – that’s a perfectly valid use of the technology – but when knowledge workers send an email asking someone to do something (often without context) as if it somehow absolves them of responsibility for a task and passes the baton to another, email becomes a giant “to do list” over which the owner has no control!

Paradoxically, the rapid response to email (fuelled by notifications each time a new one arrives) is feeding the email habits of others – if your colleagues are used to receiving rapid responses, late night replies, etc. to their emails then you make the problem worse by continuing to respond in that manner – a conditioned reflex which could be thought of as “Pavlov’s Inbox” (credit is due to Matt Ballantine for that observation).

Time for change – an email manifesto

In the 1990s, as email was rolled out to large populations in government and commercial organisations, it was common practice to include training on email etiquette. Back then, the focus was on use of informal language for business communication and the implications of emailing other organisations, forwarding/replying/replying to all/copying, capital letters (shouting), emoticons, etc. but maybe we’ve reached a point where we need another round of cultural change – a new email etiquette for 2015 – an email manifesto?

  1. Email should only be used where appropriate. If an immediate/rapid response is required, consider alternatives such as instant messaging, or a phone call. Save email for communications that are not time-sensitive. Use other systems (e.g. enterprise social media platforms and RSS-based newsfeeds) for collaboration/knowledge sharing.
  2. Emails should include a clear call to action. If it’s not clear what is being asked, you’re unlikely to achieve the desired outcome.
  3. Email sent does not equal action taken. Consider that emails may not be received, may not be read, or may be ignored. Just because something is a priority to one person, department, or company doesn’t mean it is to another and, if you need someone to do something, make sure they are on-board and ready to work with you. If you don’t hear back, follow up later – but consider using another method of communication.
  4. Carbon copy (CC) or blind carbon copy (BCC) means “for information”. If you expect someone to take action (see previous point), make sure they are on the “To” line.
  5. The subject heading must be relevant to the content of the email. Topics sometimes branch off in new directions as the conversation develops and if someone new is brought in to the discussion then it really helps to have a relevant subject line!
  6. Keep it brief (but not too brief). Emails should be concise – a couple of paragraphs – any more and it won’t be read. If you have to spell things out in more detail use bullets, etc. but consider the reader – they might be reading the message on a mobile device and if you make it easy to understand you’re more likely to get a positive response.
  7. Check your email before you send it. Brevity is good but does your message make sense? All too often one line responses require the recipient to decipher ambiguity or read through pages and pages of message history to understand the context.
  8. Check calendars when scheduling meetings. This is only tangentially related but, if the email system includes calendar functionality, take the time to check availability before sending a meeting request. It may be the best time for you – but is everyone else free? On a related note, emails to groups of people asking “when’s best for a meeting” are a waste of everyone’s time – use the calendar scheduling tools!
  9. Consider the cost of email. Not the cost of running the systems but of continually checking email. Multitasking is a myth. Turn off email notifications and try to get out of the habit of glancing at your smartphone in meetings. Focus on one thing at a time and do that thing well. Think before you send email and consider that every email costs money and time!

iOS Mail app lost its settings? Try this…

Over the weekend, my iPhone suddenly “forgot” how to access my email. I hadn’t changed the configuration (just left it on the kitchen counter for a while!) so I was pretty confused.

I tried to add an Exchange account for my Office 365 connection but it said I already had one and, sure enough… it was still there in Settings. So I turned to Twitter, where @TheoCarpenter came back with a suggestion:

Sure enough, that did the trick (if you don’t know how to kill tasks on iOS 7, this post will help) and within a few seconds I was reading email again. Thanks Theo!

My email SLA

Returning to work this week after almost two weeks with my family was not pleasant. In particular, I knew that I had over 1500 items in my three inboxes (direct, copied, external) and I’d long since abandoned Inbox Zero (despite loving my mental state when I do get it working for me).  I’d intended to use the last couple of days before Christmas to fix this, but found myself working on various crises until I finally logged off for the holidays (and afterwards too…)

This week, I’ve tweeted a couple of times on what might be called “productivity tips” or teaching others how you expect to engage.  It started out with an excellent email 101 post from Wes Miller (@getwired) which looks at something many organisations suffer with – too many meetings, and too much email. For me, the last paragraph says it all:

Then, last night, I saw that Alan Berkson (@berkson0) wrote an article for Social Media Today aimed at setting expectations for customer service. Even if you don’t interact directly with customers, it’s highly likely that you have “internal customers” – people in your organisation who rely on you to respond to their requests. So, I’ve taken his tip to update my email signature to set expectations re: replies – call it an “email SLA” if you like – after all, email is an asynchronous communication mechanism:

“Please note that, whilst I generally try to respond to emails sent directly to me within 24 hours, this is not always possible. If your message is urgent (i.e. requires same-day or next-day action), please feel free to call me and, if necessary, leave a message on my mobile phone.  My Calendar is also open to view. Messages on which I’m copied (CC or BCC) are assumed to be for information only and it may be longer before they are read/acted upon.”

Added to that, my out of office message is frequently set, even when I’m in the office, just to say “I’m really, really busy and these are the people who might be able to help whilst I can’t”.

One final point, whilst you’re setting expectations around email, share your calendar too… getting others to look at it before booking meetings/calling you – well, that’s another issue entirely…

Some thoughts on modern technology: email, gadgets (and how children view them)

I haven’t found much time to blog recently, but this post pulls together a few loosely related streams of consciousness on technology – how we use it (or does it use us?), how it’s sold to us, and how the next generation view the current generation’s tech.

on Email…

Driving up to and back from Manchester last Friday night gave me a great opportunity to catch up on my podcast backlog – including listening to an entire series of Aleks Krotoski’s The Digital Human (#digihuman). The “Influence” and “Augment” episodes are particularly interesting but I also found that some parts of “Intent” sparked some thoughts in my mind. That episode featured comments by Douglas Rushkoff (@rushkoff) of Program or be Programmed fame, which I’ve paraphrased here.

Email can be seen as a [broken] game with many unintended consequences coded into it. For many of us, our working life is a game called “empty the inbox” (in the process, filling the inboxes of others). Email has a bias to generate more email – even when we’re away we auto-generate messages. In effect, all problems become a “nail” for which email is the “hammer”.

We’re almost entirely reactive – and we need to understand that it’s a person on the other side, not a computer – someone who is expecting something of some other person. So, standing up to your Blackberry is really standing up to your boss/colleague/whoever, not to the technology. It takes a brave person to send an out of office response that says something to the effect of “I’m deleting your message, if it was urgent, send it again after I’m back”. But that is starting to happen, as people realise that they are the humans here, with finite lifespans, and that a line needs to be drawn “in the digital sand” to show their limits.

I was also fascinated to learn that the average US teenager sends 3000 texts (SMS messages) a month – a stark contrast with ten years ago, when I had to explain to American colleagues what SMS was. At that time, the USA still seemed to be hooked on pagers, whilst SMS was really taking off over here in Europe.

on gadgets…

I spent a chunk of this weekend shopping for a (smart) television and a smart phone [why does everything have to be “smart” – what next, “neat”?].

The experience confirmed to me that a) I’m officially “a grumpy old man” who doesn’t appreciate the ambient noise in John Lewis’ audio visual department (nor, I suspect, do many others in the department store’s target demographic) b) John Lewis’ TV sales guys do not deliver the “well-trained and knowledgeable” confidence I associate with other departments in the store (i.e. they don’t really know their stuff) c) Samsung reps attached to consumer electronics stores are trained to up-sell (no surprise) d) Even John Lewis’ under-trained TV sales guys are better than Carphone Warehouse’s staff (who told my wife that the difference between the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5 starts off with the operating system… at which point I bit my tongue and left the conversation).

Incidentally, Stephen Fry’s new series, Gadget Man, starts tonight on Channel 4 – might be worth a look…

on the way children see gadgets…

Of course, the shopping experience had another angle introduced by my kids, who decided that it would be a good idea to change the channel on as many TVs as possible to show CBeebies (it kept them amused whilst we talked about the merits of different models with the Samsung rep who was in store) but I was fascinated to see how my boys (aged 6 and 8) reacted in Carphone Warehouse:

  • The switch from “oh phone shopping – that will be boooooring” to “oh, look, shiny things with touch screens” was rapid.
  • They liked using a stylus to write on a Galaxy Note.
  • All tablets are “iPads” (in fairness, my wife pointed out that that’s all they’ve ever known in our house).
  • An e-ink Kindle is a “proper Kindle” and the Kindle HD (which they had been happily playing games on – it took my six-year-old about 30 seconds to find “Cut The Rope”) was “the iPad Kindle”.

The irony…

After slating email as a “broken game”, I posted this by email using the new post by email functionality in the WordPress Jetpack plugin. I guess it still has its uses then…

Last Orders at The Fantastic Tavern (#TFTLondon)

About a year ago, I wrote about a fantastic concept called The Fantastic Tavern (TFT), started by Matt Bagwell (@mattbagwell) of EMC Consulting (ex-Conchango – where I also have some history). Since then I’ve been to a few more TFTs (and written about them here) and they’ve got bigger, and bigger. What was a few people in a pub is now a major logistical challenge and Matt’s decided to call it a day. But boy did it go out with a bang?!

Last night’s TFT was at Ravensbourne (@RavensbourneUK) – a fantastic mixture of education and business innovation hub on London’s Greenwich peninsula. I was blown away by what Chris Thompson and the team at Ravensbourne have achieved, so I’ll write about that another day. Suffice to say, I wish my university had worked like that…

Last night’s topic was 2012 trends. Personally, I thought the Top Gear-style cool wall (“sooo last year, tepid, cool, sub-zero”) was way off the mark (in terms of placing the trends) but that doesn’t really matter – there were some great pitches from the Ravensbourne students and other invited speakers – more than I can do justice to in a single blog post so I’ll come back and edit this later as the presentations go online (assuming that they will!)

The evening was introduced by Mike Short, VP of Innovation and R&D at O2/Telefonica who also sits on the board of governors at Ravensbourne and so is intimately involved in taking an institution with its rooms in Bromley College of Art (of David Bowie fame) from Chiselhurst to provide art, design, fashion, Internet and multimedia education on Greenwich Peninsular, next to the most visited entertainment venue in the world (The O2 – or North Greenwich Arena). Mike spoke about O2’s plans for an new business incubator project that O2 is bringing to London in the next 3 months as O2 looks at taking the world’s 6bn mobile device subscribers (not just phones, but broadband, payment systems, etc.) to connect education, healthcare, transport and more. In an industry that’s barely 25 years old, by the end of the year there will be more devices than people (the UK passed this point in 2006) and the market is expected to grow to more than 20bn customers by 2020.

Matt then spoke about the omni-channel world in which we live (beyond multi-channel) – simultaneously interacting on all channels and fuelling a desire “to do things faster”.

Moving on to the 2012 trends, we saw:

  • A. Craddock talking about smart tags – RFID and NFC tokens that can interact with our mobile devices and change their behaviour (e.g. switch to/from silent mode).  These can be used to simplify our daily routine to simply enable/disable functionality, share information, make payments, etc. but we also need to consider privacy (location tracking, etc. – opt in/out), openness (may be a benefit for some), ecology (printable tags using biodegradable materials) and device functionality (i.e. will they work with all phones – or just a subset of smartphones).
  • Riccie Audrie-Janus (@_riccie) talking about how, in order to make good use of technology, we need to look at the people element first.  I was unconvinced – successful technology implementation is about people, process and technology and I don’t think it matters that kids don’t understand the significance of a floppy disk icon when saving a document – but she had some interesting points to make about our need to adapt to ever-more-rapidly developing technology as we progress towards an ever-more complex world where computing and biology combine.
  • @asenasen speaking about using DIY healthcare to help focus resources and address issues of population growth, economics and cost. Technology can’t replace surgeons but it can help people make better healthcare decisions with examples including: WebMD for self-diagnosis; PatientsLikeMe providing a social network; apps to interact with our environment and translate into health benefits (e.g. Daily Burn); peripheral devices like FitBit [Nike+, etc.] that interact with apps and present challenges. It’s not just in the consumer space either with Airstrip Technologies creating apps for healthcare professionals. Meanwhile, in the developing world SMS can be used (ChildCount), whilst in Japan new toilets are being developed that can, erhum, analyse our “output”.  Technology has the potential to transform personal health and enable the smart distribution of healthcare.
  • Matt Fox (@mattrfox) talked about 2012 becoming the year of the artist-entrepreneur, citing Louis CK as an example, talking about dangerous legislation like SOPA, YCombinator’s plans to “Kill Hollywood”, Megabox (foiled by the MegaUpload takedown) and Pirate Bay’s evolution of file sharing to include rapid prototype designs. Matt’s final point was that industry is curtaining innovation – and we need to innovate past this problem.
  • Chris Hall (@chrisrhall) spoke about “Grannies being the future” – using examples of early retirement leaving pensioners with money and an opportunity to become entrepreneurs (given life expectancy of 81 years for a man in the UK, and citing Trevor Baylis as an example). I think hit onto something here – we need to embrace experience to create new opportunities for the young, but I’m not sure how many more people will enjoy early retirement, or that there will be much money sloshing around from property as we increasingly find it necessary to have 35 year and even multi-generation mortgages.
  • James Greenaway (@jvgreenaway) talked about social accreditation – taking qualifications online, alongside our social personas. We gain achievements on our games consoles, casual games (Farmville), social media (Foursquare), crowdsourcing (Stack Overflow) etc. – so why not integrate that with education (P2PU, eHow and iTunes U) and open all of our achievements to the web. James showed more examples to help with reputation management (spider  graphs showing what we’re good at [maybe combined with a future of results-oriented working?]) and really sees a future for new ways of assessing and proving skills becoming accepted.
  • Ashley Pollak from ETIO spoke about the return of craft, as we turn off and tune out. Having only listened to Radio 4’s adaptation of Susan Maushart’s Winter of Our Disconnect the same day, I could relate to the need to step back from the always connected world and find a more relevant, less consuming experience. And as I struggle to balance work and this blog post this morning I see advantages in reducing the frequency of social media conversations but increasing the quality!
  • Ravensbourne’s Chris Thompson spoke about virtual innovation – how Cisco is creating a British Innovation Gateway to connect incubators and research centres of excellence – and how incubation projects can now be based in the cloud and are no longer predicated on where a university is located, but where ideas start and end.
  • The next pitch was about new perspectives – as traditional photography dies (er… not on my watch) in favour of new visual experiences. More than just 3D but plenoptic (or light field) cameras, time of flight cameras, depth sensors, LIDAR and 3D scanning and printing. There are certainly some exciting things happening (like Tesco Augmented Reality) – and the London 2012 Olympics will e filmed in 3D and presented in interactive 360 format.
  • Augment and Mix was a quick talk about how RSA Animate talks use a technique called scribing to take content that is great, but maybe not that well presented, and make it entertaining by re-interpreting/illustrating. Scribing may be “sooo last year” but there are other examples too – such as “Shakespeare in 90 seconds” and “Potted Potter”.
  • Lee Morgenroth’s (@leemailme‘s) pitch was for Leemail – a system that allows private addresses to be used for web sign-ups (one per site) and then turned on/off at will. My more-technically minded friends say “I’ve been doing that for years with different aliases” – personally I just use a single address and a decent spam filter (actually, not quite as good since switching from GMail to Office 365) – but I think Lee may be on to something for non-geeks… let’s see!
  • Finally, we saw a film from LS:N profiling some key trends from the last 10 years, as predicted and in reality (actually, I missed most of that for a tour of Ravensbourne!)

There were some amazing talks and some great ideas – I certainly took a lot away from last night in terms of inspiration so thank you to all the speakers. Thanks also to Matt, Michelle (@michelleflynn) and everyone else involved in making last night’s TFT (and all the previous events) happen. It’s been a blast – and I look forward to seeing what happens next…

[I rushed this post out this morning but fully intend to come back and add more links, videos, presentations, etc. later – so please check back next week!]

Could this be the ultimate unified messaging client?

Much has been made of the slow death of email and the rise of enterprise social software so I was interested to read a recent paper in which Benno Zollner, Fujitsu’s global CIO, commented on the need to balance email usage with other communications mechanisms.

In the paper, Benno posits a view that we’re entering not just a post-PC era but a post-email era where we use a plethora of devices and protocols. This is driven by a convergence of voice and data (not just on smartphones, but on the “desktop” too – Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype shows how seriously they are taking this) but also the enterprise social software that’s extending our traditional collaboration platforms to offer what was once referred to as a “web 2.0” experience, only inside the corporate network.  Actually, I’m slightly uncomfortable with that last sentence – not just because as I find the terms “web 2.0” and “enterprise 2.0” to be cringe-worthy but, also, the concept of the corporate network is becoming less and less relevant as we transact more and more business in the cloud, using the mobile Internet, Wi-Fi hotspots and home broadband. Even so, it illustrates my point, that social networking is very much a part of the modern business environment, alongside traditional communications mechanisms including the telephone and email.

A few months ago, I wrote about the need to prioritise communications but I can see us taking a step further in the not-too-distant future.  Why do I need an email client (Microsoft Outlook), multiple instant messaging/presence/voice over IP (VoIP) clients (Microsoft Office Communicator/Lync/Skype) a Twitter client (TweetDeck), Enterprise social software (Microsoft SharePoint/Newsgator Social Sites/Salesforce Chatter) and a combination of mobile and desk-based phones (don’t forget SMS on that mobile too!)? Plenty has been made of the ability to use VoIP to ring several phones simultaneously, to call the phone that best matches my presence or to divert the call to a unified messaging inbox but why limit this to telephony?

I can envisage a time when we each have a consolidated communications client – one that recognises who we’re trying to communicate with and picks the appropriate channel to contact them.  If I’m sending a message to my wife and she’s at her desk, then email is fine but if I can tell she’s on the school run then why not route it to her mobile phone by SMS?  Similarly, advanced presence information can be used to route communications over a variety of channels to favour that which each of my contacts tends to use in a given scenario.  Perhaps the software knows that a contact is not available via instant messaging but is signed in to Twitter and can be contacted with a direct message.  Maybe I can receive a précis of an urgent report on my smartphone but the full version is available at my desk. The possibilities are vast but the main point is that the sender shouldn’t need to pick and choose the medium; instead, software can take into account the preferences of the recipient and route the communication accordingly (taking into account that some transport mechanisms may not guarantee delivery). Could this be the ultimate unified messaging client?

Email isn’t dead – but soon we won’t care whether our messages are sent via SMTP, SIP, SMS or semaphore – just as long as they arrive in a manner that ensures an efficient communication process and lets us focus on the task at hand, rather than spending the day working our way through our inboxes.

This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and is based on a concept proposed by Ian Mitchell.