The future of the email (2)

March 31, 2021

Future of the Email

In the first part of this blog post, I tried to describe how deeply the medium of email is embedded in our daily digital communication and what challenges this can cause. The second part is more about making it superficially clear for non-technical people how strongly data is networked, branched, fragmented and connected and what this might mean for the future of email.

Who cares about background processes?

No doubt you are aware that while you are using software, an incredible number of processes take place in the background that you neither see nor notice. Where you do consciously notice it is mostly when the operating system says that an update has to be carried out and that you should please shut down the computer for this. Or when the settings icon on your mobile phone shows a red dot that also announces an update. As a technical amateur, I’m not really interested in the background processes, to be honest – I’m a user and don’t want to be bothered in my actual work. If I’m really curious and want to know why the fan on my notebook is starting up, I look in the task manager to see which programme is currently consuming the most resources.

An overwhelming network of connections

I suspect that many end-users feel the same way, especially in a professional context. The CRM software comes from a third party that uses an open interface to the address database of our groupware? So what? The important thing is that a window opens with customer details when I click on the customer’s name. Save the text document as a pdf? Routine. Send the pdf as an e-mail attachment to external colleagues who use other e-mail programmes? Maintain a permanent inventory in the ERP programme or process orders just-in-sequence automatically? Synchronise contact data and appointments across different devices? Create invoices in the accounting programme and send them (automated or not) by e-mail to customers? The list of connections between the different programmes could be extended endlessly and branched out even further. And in principle, it is a positive thing if different software can communicate with each other and make my everyday work easier – strictly speaking, this is a cornerstone of digital sovereignty. It becomes critical when the connections and integrations are considered in the context of digital dependency.

Do I have a choice? No.

An example: SaaS solutions are becoming increasingly popular, i.e. the chosen software no longer needs to be installed locally, but is available as a service via web application. This saves IT resources on one’s own server and it is (usually) guaranteed that the service also includes regular updates. Salesforce, for example, is one of the leading SaaS companies worldwide. Salesforce’s CRM solution has Microsoft Outlook integration. So far so handy. So one might assume that data storage takes place exclusively between these two companies. This is not the case, as the Salesforce website states: “…some data is stored on Salesforce’s Amazon Web Service servers.” As a customer, I have to accept this procedure, i.e. I cannot choose whether data is stored at Amazon or not.

Interdependence and unilateral market power

This is not good news for decision-makers in companies dealing with digital sovereignty. It seems to be like the head of a hydra: if I cut off one head, another one grows back. If I start at one point and replace the proprietary software solution with an open source solution, it must be taken into account that the corresponding software has a multitude of connections to other clients that are conversely dependent on the “main software”. Third-party suppliers in the IT environment can be understood in a similar way to suppliers in the automotive industry – a mutual dependency, with market power on the side of the automotive industry. For Germany, the math looks like this: Microsoft has a market share of 78.8% with Windows (source: Statista; as of 2021) and Microsoft Office is the most used office software with 85% (source: Statista; as of 2020). The question of who has the market power in the IT sector in this country thus seems to become superfluous. The use of cloud services is also increasing worldwide. The market leader here is Amazon with a market share of about 30%; the AWS cloud now accounts for more than 50% of the company’s operating profit.

Separate infrastructure and data

Not to be too pessimistic – there are alternatives, but they require a rethink of the previous structures. Kopano has a vision for this: if you take the current situation and realise that e-mail will remain the leading communication medium in and outside of companies for the next few years, then it is also worth considering how the infrastructure could be separated from the data storage. Kopano has already developed a building block on how this could be achieved: Kopano Kraph – a RestAPI that works with Microsoft Graph’s RestAPI (third-party software access to MS 365). This API can be connected to the OpenID Connect Service (Kopano Konnect) and allows access to one’s own data only by changing the access point.

The email of the future will evolve and look different than we know it at the moment. It makes sense to recognise it now and today as the leading digital medium and identity element and to design it correspondingly sovereign and flexible – and of course as an open source solution.