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MailScout: Modern communication without e-mail madness

12.09.2014 - (idw) Fraunhofer-Institut für Umwelt-, Sicherheits- und Energietechnik UMSICHT

Companies often have guidelines for using e-mail. For example, they define how the content of e-mails should be formatted, how to properly write a subject line and what to keep in mind when choosing the recipients. But all this usually does nothing about an inbox that is filled to bursting. Fraunhofer UMSICHT with the support of Qlago GmbH has developed a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook® that achieves a lasting improvement in e-mail communication within companies. In 2013 the number of e-mails sent worldwide[1] was 182 billion per day with a rising trend. When you consider how long it takes to write an e-mail, the time wasted on e-mail communication becomes clear. Especially also in everyday work. The MailScout software is intended for companies who want to effectively and permanently anchor e-mail guidelines in their organization.

Many companies face the challenge of making their e-mail guidelines known within the organization and establishing it more effectively, explains Dipl.-Phys. Thorsten Wack, Head of Information Technology at Fraunhofer UMSICHT. While rules for using e-mail in the company often exist and are also published, the contents nevertheless are not known to many employees, nor are they implemented. This can be caused by inadequate rollouts, failing to provide recurring training and also employee turnover.

Boosting efficiency in companies

MailScout works directly at the source of e-mails, the sender. Embedded in Microsoft Outlook®, the software indicates the length of the e-mail and the presence of attachments to the author by means of an information bar in the Outlook e-mail editor. A long e-mail also has to be read. This in turn demands time and attention. MailScout converts the length of e-mails into reading time and optionally into cost, indicating the reading time using color codes based on traffic light colors, Wack adds. The software also alerts the sender when there is a large number of contacts in the address field or Cc. E-mails are often forwarded frivolously. People send an e-mail to several colleagues for information without much thought, often also to the direct superior. This means the colleagues have to slog through a long e-mail in order to understand the meaning, especially since an explanatory sentence is usually lacking.

Training on the job

The author is not forced to shorten the e-mail, nor to remove recipients, but merely informed and sensitized. Context-specific recommendations to optimize the e-mail are provided in parallel, encouraging the author to comply with desired guidelines. The customer defines the guidelines and the intended communication in the company. Configuring the software is flexible and individual, Wack says. Through this type of e-learning, employees casually learn how to use e-mail properly. The need for extra training aimed at drumming e-mail guidelines into employees heads is eliminated by MailScout.

The MailScout software solution was recognized by the state of Baden-Württemberg with an innovation bonus and has won the IT innovation prize of the Initiative Mittelstand in the category Best of E-Learning.

Various companies from midsize consulting firms to DAX enterprises are using the Microsoft Outlook® plug-in in the meantime, with very good results: According to a recent study of 150 MailScout users, around 20 percent of all e-mails were optimized before sending based on the MailScout recommendations. The quality of e-mail communication was noticeably improved as a result.

[1] Radicati-Group: Email-Statistics-Report-2013-2017-Executive-Summary.pdf: Forecast of worldwide e-mail use 2013 2017, 2013. Weitere Informationen:
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