Controlling the Data Flow: Why the Unified Inbox May be the Answer to Information Overload

Posted on: November 10, 2016 by Mischa van Oijen

Information may be vital, but it’s fast becoming an overwhelming force that is putting even the most tech-savvy employees into a spin. Arriving from multiple sources – whether those be business systems, social systems, email, instant messenger, or any other – and in numerous formats, making sense of how this data can be used is a job in itself.

Too often this overload hinders collaboration across an organization, with employees only able to focus on their own team as they seek to interpret, analyze and act on the unmanageable volumes of information provided. The continued introduction of cloud services, Software-as-a-Service solutions, and mobile applications are also narrowing employee focus and shifting it away from wider business issues.

When looking for the source of the problem, we needn’t search much further than the rise of digital transformation. Now a priority for the majority of modern organizations, we are seeing the creation of the intelligent networked enterprise – with processes and tools now becoming increasingly digitized.

Bringing everything together as a single, coherent system seems a near impossible challenge. From shadow IT – tech investment made without the input, or even knowledge, of the CIO – to line-of-business or department specific apps, businesses are racing to give their employees the tools they need to be productive. The Intelligent Networks model is able to embrace all the tools while at the same time ensure any data they use is stored safely, securely and in compliance with local regulations. Using a cloud security broker system, the IT department can easily observe and control the cloud-based applications in use across the company; however, one other issue remains: how do we bring all this information together?

Introducing the Unified Inbox

Traditionally, aggregating information from multiple applications has had to be done manually through copy and paste. This is less than perfect; not only is it a drain on employee time but information frequently loses its context. And as information is held by a specific application, or user, rather than as a ‘pool’ that all applications can access, it is lost whenever an employee leaves a company or an app is switched off.

Take email notification as an example. Most applications will provide users with a signal that something has changed, usually through a direct email sent to the employee’s account or to a team’s distribution list. Although this mechanism works, the aggregation happens at the user's level only. All information is ‘locked’ in the email inbox. The ability to structure incoming information depends on the discipline and knowledge of the employee.

Now, using a ‘Unified Inbox’, information can be held centrally before being distributed to a person, team or community. This means notifications need to be relevant to the user, easily actionable, and delivered in the user’s desired format. New tools such as persistent chat apps like Circuit are well suited to this fast-paced environment – making it easy for notifications to be passed around individuals or teams.

Automation is also critical. Applications must be intelligent in order to decide the relevance of any incoming information based on the analyses of user data patterns. Users then simply log on to a central hub – or unified inbox – where actionable items are waiting for them.

Of course, implementing such a system is anything but simple…

Getting Ready

Rome wasn’t built in a day; your aggregation feed won’t be either! Digital transformation takes time. Firstly, make sure you have an IT infrastructure and platform that can support your ambitions. Think about how to deal with secure access to cloud applications. Prioritize flexibility and ensure your application platform is able to change quickly without disrupting your organization’s regular operations. Critically, make sure you’re aware of any and all applications you will need to support.

Perhaps most importantly, give much consideration to the work patterns of your employees. Look at how can you help them make most sense out of the data, and how you want them to interact with the information at their disposal. This will not only drive engagement with your chosen solutions, but can help to eliminate shadow IT and ensure that the IT department remains in control of all information.

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About Mischa van Oijen
Head of User Experience, Unify Product Owner Circuit, Chief Operating Officer and member of the Scientific Community
Mischa van Oijen, one of the visionaries behind Atos’ Zero Email™ project. He joined blueKiwi in 2012, where he started with the development and growth of the blueKiwi connectors, mobile and product portfolio. Mischa also drove demanding ISO 27001 and 9001 projects to turn start-ups into structured business while keeping the agility. Mischa joined Unify early 2017, to lead the User Experience and contribute to the next evolution of Circuit. Mischa teaches team dynamics and Agile software development at Cambridge University, as part of the Atos gold for Experts programme. With more than 19 years of experience in IT, a good understanding of the customer requirements and a profound business knowledge, his goal is to deliver a product that answers to real client needs and use cases. As part of the Atos Scientific Community, Mischa contributes to challenging future innovation topics.

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