This blog is part of our ongoing series, IPsoft’s 2019 AI Trends, detailing what we believe will be the dominant developments and movements in the Enterprise AI market next year. These blogs will be published regularly through the end of the year.

New Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies will mark the beginning of the end for traditional enterprise email systems starting in 2019. This might sound like a strange prediction considering the central role that email plays in our work and professional lives. However, one should never lose sight of the fact that technology evolves quickly and it can make long-standing institutions obsolete seemingly without warning (see Blockbuster’s monumental and swift decline in the video rental market, to cite just one example). Keeping that potential for disruption in mind, there are some definite signs that email, in its current form, is heading down a similar path.

AI-powered solutions are increasingly automating many routine enterprise functions that previously required email communications between colleagues. On the backend, increasingly independent and self-managing platforms such as 1Desk are able to automate high-volume business processes; while on the front-end, intuitive conversational cognitive interfaces such as Amelia provide easy access to these automations. Combine these changes with the introduction of a younger tech-savvy workforce who will come to expect conversational experiences over traditional ones, and enterprise email is poised to begin losing its prominence.

Email is Losing its Luster

Just to be clear: Email is obviously still important for businesses. A report from the McKinsey Global Institute states that the average worker spends 28% of their work week on email — although studies show that this isn’t necessarily the most productive use of workers’ time.

However, email was created in a different technological era and, while still popular, has been surpassed by many newer technologies from a functionality standpoint. Notably email has inherent lag and doesn’t support robust or efficient collaboration. History has shown that as new technologies open new possibilities, users evolve their digital behaviors accordingly.

In fact, we have already seen new technologies impact email usage. While total emails are on the rise (a number which includes spam and auto-generated messages such as calendar reminders), some studies show emails sent by actual human consumers have declined since 2011, a shift which most attribute to the rise of more convenient and/or specialized communication channels such as social media, collaboration platforms and messaging apps.

Another sign of email’s impending demise: Younger people aren’t nearly as reliant on the medium compared to previous generations. According to a 2012 Pew Research study, teens were highly reliant on texting and messaging apps for everyday communications, but only 6% of digital communications were through email (this is among the so-called “Generation Z” who are now entering the workforce). What’s more, the biggest strike against email’s future in the workplace might come when conversational AI goes mainstream and provides easy access to powerful automations, and new ways to communicate without email.

The New Possibilities

Conversational AI enables people to reinvent how they work and make them more productive. For a preview of how it will affect the workplace, one need only look at how conversational AI is already impacting behavior in the consumer space.

Smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home have been one of the most popular new consumer tech categories in the past several years. For owners, these speakers have become the go-to avenue for friction-free access to music, shopping and information. According to “The Smart Audio Report” from NPR and Edison Research, 42% of current users say smart speakers are essential to their everyday lives, with 65% saying they wouldn’t want to go back to their lives pre-smart speaker. Activities that were previously handled by tapping on a smart phone are now happening through conversation.

This is notable because smart speakers are one of the first mainstream use cases of conversational AI. They combine AI-powered backends (in these cases, Amazon or Google’s AI underpinnings which span their digital offerings) with a conversational frontend (Alexa and the Google Assistant respectively). As these AI functions begin to become part of how enterprises function, they are affecting behaviors there as well.

Case in point: Global finance company Credit Suisse hired Amelia to be the first line of contact for internal IT issues. Previously, executing simple IT requests (e.g., password resets, Wi-Fi issues, network issues, etc.) might have included sending an email, and potentially a follow-up email, to the IT department. With Amelia, these issues are now handled through a conversational interface that makes sending emails unnecessary — just the kind of experience that younger workers will come to expect.

Other companies have used conversational interfaces to automate shared services such as IT, HR and payroll, and we believe many others will begin investigating these scenarios next year. When a conversational interface is connected to an automated backend, workers will no longer be dependent on email, and its inherent shortcomings, as a means to do routine things like schedule appointments (“Please schedule an appointment with Roger to talk about Project X at any available time on Tuesday.”), execute basic internal tasks (“Please schedule time off for the week of June 3.”) and collaborate (“Please assign the new account to Sarah.”).

Not only will conversational technology mitigate the reliance on email for internal functions, it will handle many email engagements between customers and enterprises. Advanced cognitive AI platforms – which are driven by conversational inputs and not email — will allow customers to discover information and independently resolve issues. When a customer has an issue or question, why would they contact a business via email when they can receive information more quickly and virtually instantaneously through a conversational AI interface?

Conversational AI allows individual users to forgo email and accomplish more by lowering the bar of access to automations powered by AI — a paradigm that will be particularly useful as workplaces become more dispersed. We acknowledge that email is not going away in the workplace any time soon. However, starting in 2019, more enterprises, employees and customers will see the value of relying less on email to handle routine tasks and instead begin to embrace the conversational future.

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