If you are reading this, like many others, you’ve maybe been running your business using Outlook without much thought as to what benefits the alternatives might bring. The status quo is either free or has a minimal monthly cost and, OK there might be a few wobbles, but most of the time it’s working well. There are always a few challenges, for example, as the number of emails increase Outlook might not be as fast as it used to be, but so what if it’s cheap or even free? After all…
…why try to fix something if it’s not broken?
Rather than just considering the downside to a change, the chances are you will be surprised at the scale of the upside, the value that can be released. It is certainly worthwhile and costs nothing to take a closer look. Although a move to industry specific software is not for every organisation, for some it can make the difference between a good and a great year.
Definition: industry specific software is any digital solution created for a particular market or industry. It is designed to meet the needs of companies within the same industry, often having fairly unique operational needs and allowing access to often unique features whilst avoiding the expense of customised software.
For example, CompassAir develops messaging and business software for the global maritime sector. In addition to clients moving to us from other specialist providers, we have a very significant number who made the move away from Outlook. Since doing so they have seen substantial improvements, primarily from a significant reduction in time spent reading, replying to and filing emails. The informal feedback we have indicates the weekly time saved runs into hours, not surprising given McKinsey’s observations that up to 28% of our working week is spent using email.
However, probably the most important benefit has been in the way that teams have been able to collaborate. This has the obvious knock-on effect on profitability but, just as important, there are the less tangible benefits arising from more efficient, team based working, including reducing stress levels in the workplace.
By way of a very simple example, a small shipbroking company with 10 users who joined us late last year had always experienced tension around the time of the Summer vacations. With each user working within their own Outlook “silo”, a major push was always required to ensure the incoming emails of absent employees were covered in some way. This needed the foresight to forward emails, letting colleagues review them, arrangements which take time and effort to organise.
There was also the added danger that a potentially lucrative deal, where speed of response is critical, was missed. In the past, many users felt this risk was too high and considered it essential to regularly check emails whilst on holiday. This Summer, with shared mailboxes and improved collaboration, we gather the holidays were a bit more relaxed than before! Not only that, this particular client is convinced one especially valuable deal would have been missed had it not been for our watchful automatic data extraction tools.
The pros and the cons – Outlook
One can quickly see the attraction of Outlook. For most people, it will have been one of the first programs they used, familiarity making it one of the easiest to use. In addition, it is probably one of the most suitable and cost effective ways for dealing with relatively low numbers of emails in small organisations.
Given that almost everyone has used Outlook at some stage, any help and guidance is readily available from friends and colleagues without the need to consult dedicated support. With its use so widespread, Outlook is probably one of the programs with the highest number of “how to” videos available online.
Maybe the most important advantage is that software integration, from the Microsoft ecosystem, is available and easy to understand, meaning the output of one program can easily be used in conjunction with the other. That, and being inexpensive or even free to use, if you are still using pre-Office365 software, makes Outlook the natural choice for many small enterprises when starting out.
Shared mailboxes are available when using Office365, created by an administrator to allow multiple users (each needing their own Office365 licence) to send and receive emails from the same address. There are however some limitations, such as the maximum size of a free shared mailbox capped at 50GB, thereafter needing a separate licence, and it cannot be used as a primary mailbox. More importantly, in operating the shared mailbox there are some shortcomings with this generic software. Examples include individual users not being able to add personal flags to messages; when one user reads an email it marks it as read for everyone sharing the mailbox; and it is not possible to identify those users who have read a particular email.
As a business grows however, the challenges increase. If growth brings with it an ever increasing email flow, it becomes harder to keep up, update and manage – e.g., a shipbroker dealing with hundreds, increasing to thousands of emails a day will find this to be a frustrating, unproductive distraction, namely wasting time on “admin” that should be devoted to more profitable activities.
Older versions of Outlook, i.e. pre Office365, use “.pst” and “.ost” files to store information locally. The more emails sent and received the larger these files become, meaning search speeds deteriorate. Microsoft has also warned of the possibility of “application pauses“, which can occur more frequently when the size of these files exceed 10GB.
Sharing documents in Outlook can also be demanding – it can be done but needs each co-worker to have an account with, e.g. SharePoint or Microsoft OneDrive. CompassAir , on the other hand, allows documents to be filed within the application. As an example, this makes life so much easier when corresponding with colleagues about changes that a number of users need to make to a particular document, as well as ensuring that everyone has access to the latest version.
Making a change – industry specific software
The question to ask next is: does going industry specific meet my needs? To answer this we need to consider the characteristics of these solutions in more detail.
When designed for use in a specific sector, software will often make available useful features as well as eliminating those which are not necessary. Being a generic product, Outlook aims to be all things to all people and, as such, is crammed with many features that the average user is not even aware of, let alone will use. Too much functionality can sometimes obscure some of the simpler features.
This obscuring is avoided with some sector specific applications and often arises because most of us teach ourselves only the basics of Outlook. At CompassAir , we find one very simple, useful feature is the ability to delay the delivery of emails – with a shared inbox this can be used to allow colleagues to review messages before they are sent. Whilst this delay function is also available in Outlook, it is not obvious where to find it. Because we know our users make good use of it, our “send” button has a drop down menu that can determine the time when the email needs to be delivered.
Time and effort can be saved through automation: for example, in the maritime sector CompassAir understands the terms and the context of emails, it can recognise shipping parlance, understand the context and identify open positions and cargo orders from emails. Eventually, unstructured, partial or even mistyped information is automatically converted into structured data that is stored in the integrated database leaving time for brokers to focus on those decisions important to the business and which create value.
If individuals are given the tools to work together then they will find it much easier to achieve a defined and common purpose. Software designed with an industry in mind will facilitate collaboration and maximise productivity (see our article on the benefits available from using email collaboration software). Not only that, your competitors are probably already using specialised software. Embracing a change may be the only way to stay competitive in the longer term.
As it is dependent on specific circumstances, changing software is not always advisable, a possible move necessitating a detailed investigation, careful thought and planning. It can be time consuming and expensive with a hidden “soft cost” if attention is not given to implementation through a vendor that understands the needs of your employees. Soft costs are generally intangible and represent expenditure not easy to estimate. Training will probably be required in order to avoid these costs and to make best use of and extract most value from, the new software. A major consideration is those costs in terms of time and effort, in moving away from something that is already familiar and apparently inexpensive to use.
To highlight the importance of planning and the impact these soft costs have, the following chart illustrates the failure rates of CRM implementation over a period of years, as observed in various surveys (chart courtesy of skuid).
On first sight this looks fairly bleak but awareness of the reasons should help avoid the same pitfalls. These include a lack of commitment to clearly defined goals; failing to pay attention to IT implications and whether the current frameworks are appropriate; failure to appreciate the needs of end users, treating the change simply as a software project; and resistance from users.
Considerations when looking at industry specific solutions
You may already be aware of the alternative solutions available in your niche. If not, speaking to others in the industry will soon reveal those providers with the necessary experience and pedigree to make the project a success. Personal recommendations will often be the best way forward.
Bearing in mind all of the above, and having compiled a provider shortlist, you can do the following:
A few words about CompassAir
Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.
Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact us at [email protected]. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAir Shipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.