In the Briefing Room: Liaise

Think carefully about the last action item you sent someone.  It was in an e-mail and it’s been several days and there’s been no acknowledgement.  In fact, you are not sure that the recipient is even aware of its existence.  So you send another e-mail and wait.

Your last action item is now with umpteen others that have not seen the light of day.

How many action items and requests fall through the cracks?  Some tasks, due to the nebulous nature of how they are communicated, may not even appear to the recipient as a task at all.  Some tasks are unimportant, busy work that is not critical and should never make it on to a task list.  However, others may be extremely important, yet these may not be recognized for what they are: steps that need to be undertaken as part of a process.

It is simply not possible for knowledge workers to recall on their own everything that has been done and what has not yet been addressed.

In a sense, e-mail is a pit that we tend to throw requests into, hoping that they will resurface, completed.  The problem is that the content of e-mail is static: once sent, it is locked into the e-mail and not linked to other content or systems in any meaningful way.

However, there are some potential solutions looming on the horizon.

One, the eponymously-named Liaise, is a new inbox add-on (currently only available for Outlook) that scans e-mail messages as they are being composed and creates a task list based on any action items it finds in the e-mail.  The underlying technology, called KeyPoint Intelligence, automatically finds, identifies and captures key points in a message.  Over time, the system learns and adapts to a user’s writing style in order to improve performance.

Liaise differentiates between issues (the report is late), and action items (review the report), and compiles all of these into a separate task list.  The tasks are scanned to determine the nature of the task, who is involved, and when it is due.   When an e-mail is sent, any new tasks are automatically added to the user’s list.  If the recipient does not have Liaise, the e-mail is delivered as usual and when it is replied to, the system scans the message and updates the task list accordingly.  If both users have Liaise, then both see the new tasks in their respective the task lists and any changes or progress made is automatically updated without further e-mail being sent around a team.

Additionally, Liaise allows a knowledge worker who is about to go into a meeting to automatically see information such as all e-mail, tasks, and issues associated with the attendees.  This provides context to the knowledge worker and gives a quick overview of where people stand on projects they have been assigned.  Liaise shows the people in the meeting, the level of interaction that they all have, and relevant open matters.

Liaise is an exciting new tool for e-mail and task management that has great potential to reduce Information Overload by cutting down on the overall amount of e-mail in the inbox.  More significantly, Liaise has the potential to illuminate the dark pit that often is the knowledge worker’s inbox by extracting the important tasks, issues, and action items that otherwise would be lost in a sea of noise.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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