Email Is Not the Collaboration Tool We Think It Is - Here’s Why
Updated: Jun 27
That’s not a typo. If you can believe it, what you see above is a replica of the first
email ever sent by Ray Tomlinson in 1971. He was sending a test message to himself
to see if two computers could exchange a message. Initially, email was conceived as a speedy way for ARPANET (precursor to the internet) to keep in touch with each
other. It was the technological equivalent of leaving a note on somebody’s desk - the recipient would only see the message when they logged in (or when they returned to their desk, in IRL terms).
Since its inception and the introduction of ARPANET’s more sophisticated sibling, the
Internet, email has become one of the most widely used communication media
online with approximately 4.37 billion users in the world. Email has an illustrious
history and a promising future.
So it’s a real shame that, as a collaboration tool, it sucks.
Look, email has its uses. It’s fast, it’s cheap, and it’s the cornerstone of communication in most corporate workplaces. But when it comes to managing
payments and orders in the CPG wholesale space, email really starts to show its age.
It’s simply not sophisticated enough to facilitate the level of collaboration that CPG
wholesalers need to run their business efficiently.
If anything, it’s unfair to put email under so much pressure. What started as a way to
exchange desk notes electronically was somehow forced into becoming an
all-encompassing back-office solution. But it’s simply too finicky and asynchronous
to be the all-singing, all-dancing solution that everybody keeps treating it as.
Look at it this way. The average supply chain entails at least twenty steps from farm
to shelf. Harvesting, processing, distribution, the works. Even if we were only to look at
the part of the supply chain that involves you (the CPG wholesaler) and the client (a
reseller, for example), we’re dealing with a whole lot of emails: purchase orders,
invoices, confirmation of payment, confirmation of shipping, shipping updates,
delivery confirmation…you know the drill.
Now think about this: using email adds a 1-2 delay to every step of this process.
It sounds absurd, but it is absolutely true. The average employee alone spends 28%
of their work week on email - that’s more than 11 hours a week. When you consider
the sheer volume of emails that somebody working on the logistics side of CPG
wholesale is dealing with, it’s easy to imagine that number ballooning.
But the time suck is not just in the number of hours spent reading and responding to
emails. The real delay comes in waiting for responses. The supply chain simply
cannot move forward until you have confirmation from the other side - anyone who’s ever suffered the consequences of overlooking an email with crucial order or delivery information knows that firsthand.
That’s what I’m talking about when I say that email is not the collaboration tool that we think it is. A communication tool? Sure, in certain contexts. But a collaboration tool? Nope. Certainly not in the CPG wholesale space.
Here’s an example (from a true story). Once, an extra zero snuck into the purchase
order number sent by a CPG brand to one of their suppliers. And, because of the
nature of email, that typo proliferated through multiple, disparate emails all the way
down the supply chain until the brand landed up with a huge amount of excess
product that they had to shift onto the market.
Now, if the purchase order had just come from a single, streamlined source of truth,
the likelihood of sending a slight oversight like that one rippling through an entire
organization is much, much smaller.
But that’s just not possible with email. Orchestrating just one order between suppliers and clients can result in countless emails, which results in a scattershot spread of data that becomes near-impossible to track down. As we learned from the story above, it also becomes much harder to catch tiny but potentially catastrophic errors before they multiply like a virus. Managing your supply chain via email is like herding cats.
I want to take us back to the contents of the first email ever sent: QWERTYUIOP. It’s an
extremely simple message - a note, really. Email was never designed for complex
communication and supply chain management. It was created for one-to-one
asynchronous communication - and it should stay that way.
The CPG space is overdue for a modern, comprehensive back-office solution -
preferably one which can also be leveraged to access alternative financing tailored to CPG brands and wholesale business models. Spoiler alert: it’s not your accounting software or a monolithic ERP system. The CPG industry is worth USD 3 trillion - don’t you think it’s time we adopted a back-office solution that wasn’t invented half a century ago?