A real example from my exciting life:
* One of our consultants (Srikanth) discovers that he cannot file a support incident with a vendor. Our service contract has lapsed, and he is stuck.
* Srikanth sends me (John) email, asking me to get the service contract renewed. He is stuck, so he marks the email as “urgent”.
* My inbox is relatively empty, so I actually read the email (within an hour or so).
* I reply to Srikanth, and forward the email to my boss (Sam).
* Sam replies to me, and directs a request to the head of the group that “owns” our contract with the vendor (Amy).
* Amy sends email to the team member who works regularly with the vendor (Mary).
* Mary sends email to the vendor.
* The vendor replies to Mary with terms for renewal.
* Mary forwards the terms to Amy for purchase approval.
* Amy approves the purchase, and emails our purchasing department (to issue a purchase order).
* Our purchasing department issues the PO to the vendor.
* The vendor emails Mary the new support keys.
* Mary emails Amy, Sam, John, and Srikanth the new support keys.
* Srikanth uses the keys to file the support incident.
I’ve actually left out a few steps here, and I’ve fudged the outcome. We’re still waiting for terms on renewing the support contract (it’s been a couple of weeks so far).
The point of this example is that a business process is being conducted via email. Each message is a step within our ad-hoc “renew a support contract” process. I am certainly not bragging about the details of our process, but it should seem pretty familiar (and pretty scary). Each email is distinct and unrelated to the others except for the likely inclusion of the email thread within the body of the message. There is no easy way to track the progress of the process (except to send follow-up emails), and it doesn’t take much for the process to stall.
John also points to Roundup, an Open-Source tool that incorporates some of the concepts of meta-mail.