According to the 2012 McKinsey Global Institute study “The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity through Social Technologies,” knowledge workers spend approximately 28 percent of their workday sending or answering emails. That is slightly more than a quarter of each day and it adds up to about 27 total days’ worth of time per year.
VoloMetrix, a social enterprise analytics start-up venture, puts that percentage even higher—at 40 to 80 percent—and aims to turn those hours of emails into useful data.
The company logs and analyzes emails sent by workers, as well as calendar data, to see what percentage of a given department’s time is taken up by what client. “How much time are you investing in each customer?” asks Ryan Fuller, CEO of VoloMetrix.
The email logs that VoloMetrix collects are then analyzed to show where a company’s people and resources are really being used and if that is the best – or even the intended – use of those resources.
By looking at a combination of email logs and corporate calendars, VoloMetrix can find the patterns and see the connections between people, departments, and clients. In a customer service or sales department, for example, this view leads to insights about the correlations between time spent on a particular customer and how much that customer delivers in revenue. In an IT organization, this gives the CIO a high-level view of company resource allocation, which he or she can use when making decisions about staffing and support for internal clients. This kind of insight is useful, Fuller says, because “CIOs want to be strategic managers, but they’re stuck in ‘keep the lights on’ mode.”
VoloMetrix offers specific applications designed for sales teams, marketing organizations, and most recently debuted one for IT leaders.
Fuller started his professional career as a business analyst before moving to management consulting. On projects, he says he saw consultants examining ways to make organizations more efficient by conducting interviews and surveys; they spent a lot of time but did not always achieve the broad view of employee activities they sought. VoloMetrix’s approach to analyzing email and calendaring data is a way to expand that picture.
Glenn O’Donnell, the principal analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals at Forrester Research, says that VoloMetrix uses a “Facebook-style of evaluating connections and who you collaborate with.” Lots of email exchanges indicate a strong working relationship. Fewer emails show a more distant relationship. With a system built on all email interactions, O’Donnell says that VoloMetrix can “connect the dots” and get a better picture of corporate connections. Not all relationships are equal, O’Donnell says, adding “It’s the strength of those connections, not the fact that you made a connection.” O’Donnell says he believes that VoloMetrix is unique in looking at the strengths of individual relationships within a company.
Addressing the Privacy of User Data
Even though VoloMetrix’s email logging is an opt-in program for employees, the amount of data and their ability to find correlations can bring up potential privacy issues. To handle this, Fuller says, “VoloMetrix only looks at basic header-level information (that is, no message body or attachments are extracted) and automatically anonymizes, then aggregates the data.” Essentially, they control the granularity of the data by having summarized reports by department open to the manager rather than letting the manager view a specific person’s data.
There is also a measure of visibility for participants. Employees who opt-in receive their own personal logs detailing how they have spent their time in terms of the relationships they have built. This kind of view can benefit employees, for example, by enabling them to point out where certain time-consuming challenges in their work occur, Fuller says.
Dan Waber, president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions and author of People Analytics, says that aggregating the data is the safest way to keep this kind of data anonymous. This is because it is statistically unlikely that any two people would have the exact same relationships. The links between the employee’s connections’ connections become, according to Waber, like a fingerprint. Aggregate data does not have as clear a fingerprint. However, Waber claims that it is never possible to completely anonymize data.
That concern partly misses the point, says Phil Friedman, vice president of product marketing at VoloMetrix. He says that the company’s method of anonymizing and aggregating data addresses the privacy concerns, especially since, according to him, “Our customers aren’t interested in the work habits of a particular individual, they see more value in aggregating the data at the team or group level.”
While Waber praises VoloMetrix on privacy measures, he had a critique about the completeness of the data it uses. Waber, whose company looks at organizational relationships through social sensing technology, argues that looking at face-to-face interactions and phone conversations is more important than digital communications. He adds that it takes more than data on digital interactions to analyze productivity and other business indicators.
VoloMetrix’s Friedman says, “In large organizations most in-person and phone conversations (in addition to email) are captured in calendars as meetings.” Since VoloMetrix collects calendar data, that means that some phone conversations and face-to-face meetings become part of the dataset to analyze.
A ‘Missing Piece’ to Round Out Existing Metrics
Friedman agrees that more types of data in addition to email and calendar data are important in measuring productivity. However, he says, organizations tend to already have a lot of outcome-based data, but less of the data they need to contextualize and understand it. “Our data,” Friedman says, “provides this vital missing piece, which helps organizations round out their outcome-focused metrics.”
O’Donnell, the Forrester analyst, says he sees email as the “low hanging fruit” for VoloMetrix and expects it is “only a matter of time” before the company starts working with new data sources.
Fuller says the road map for VoloMetrix includes the integration of new data sources, including collaboration tools, traffic patterns, instant messages, phone logs, and workplace social media networks like Yammer, and Chatter. He also plans eventually to integrate VoloMetrix with Salesforce and other CRM tools.
Fuller says he had anticipated a need to integrate sooner, but has been finding considerable value with just email. Currently, he does not have a timeline for adding any new data sources to VoloMetrix’s product. With its focus on email and calendars, Fuller calls what they do at VoloMetrix “metrics for the unmetriced.”