Friendly Spam and Hidden Costs

By Pehong Chen CEO on January 10, 2011

In the battlefield, getting hit by your own comrades, the so-called “friendly fire”, is very common; actually it’s much more common than most people think.  In business, sending loads of superfluous email to your colleagues is called “friendly spam”, which happens every minute, every day — much more frequently than you realize, because it’s so natural to us that we do it almost subconsciously.

In economics, the underground economy represents trade, goods, and services that are not captured in the official calculation of the economic output.220-802 In business, there is a lot of such underground economy, especially in the form of “hidden costs”.  Experts estimate that a typical white-collar worker spends about 3 hours per day handling email messages (60 messages @ 3 mins each), which represents 37.5% of a workday, i.e., corresponding to a significant portion of a worker’s fully loaded cost.  None of this time, cost, or productivity is specifically accounted for in any financial reporting, other than being part of a lumpsum in people costs.  No doubt it must be a primary culprit in “hidden costs”.

These days, companies spend a lot of money blocking external, i.e., unfriendly or unwanted, spam, yet they pay literally zero attention to internal, a.k.a., friendly, spam.  In reality, friendly spam are worse.  Whether important/relevant or not,CompTIA 220-802 all messages multiply geometrically at an incredible speed, thereby burning up tremendous amounts of our collective time to process them.  For instance, if I send out an inquiry/discussion message to 10 of my direct reports first thing in the morning, each of whom, in turn, either responds or forwards it to 10 more (same or different) people, two more iterations later, that one single message quickly multiplies into 1,000 messages by the end of the day.  These messages could cost the group a total of 3,000 minutes (500 hours) to process (assuming average handling time of 3 mins per message), or $50,000 (assuming $100 per hour).  While actual numbers may vary, these are staggering hidden costs no matter how you look at it.

Once we understand the correlation between friendly spam and hidden costs, it should be immdiately obvious where a big opportunity exists in boosting enterprise performance — reduce friendly spam, you eliminate a lot of hidden costs.  How to reduce friendly spam?  Simple — divert messages that are collaborative in nature (i.e., one-to-many or many-to-many, instead of one-to-one) away from your email inbox and put them in a shared workspace over cloud, as in Clearvale.  How much of our messages are collaborative in nature?  Hard to pin down a precise percentage, and it can vary by person.  My unscientific estimate is that’s it’s at least 60~70% in my case.

In the previous example, instead of sending out the same email message to 10 direct reports in the morning that winds up exploding into 1,000 friendly spam, I put up a piece of content — tweet, blog, forum topic, Wiki page, poll, audio, video, photo, PPT, PDF, XSL, DOC, whatever — and share it with the same 10 direct reports.  A notification email is automatically generated, pointing all participants back to the same piece of content in a collaborative space.  Practically zero time is required to parse or process that email message since it’s nothing more than just a content-free pointer.  If others are required to join this collaboration, they can be added to share and participate.  This way, hundreds of spam as derivatives from the original message are avoided, plus all the incremental knowledge stays in one place, as oppsoed to scattering into numerous email inboxes and silos, allowing any new comer to easily catch up at any time.

In the past, email is the only option available in the enterprise to engage with other people.  Now, our engagement platform shifts to Clearvale, which can be integrated with any existing email servers or any sytems of record.  However, in this case email serves as a transport vehicle for alert or notifcation purposes for the most part.  As such, much of the friendly spam are gone, eliminating much of those hidden costs.  More importantly, the engagement work itself — collaboration or task assignments — becomes more effective and higher performance becuase knowledge flows more deeply and rapidly, contributing to more innovative problem solving, faster and higher quality decision making, and greater customer satisfaction.