Over the past year, many organizations I have spoken with are pondering the idea of eliminating email completely form their organizational communications toolset. They are challenged with the ever-growing amount of email to manage, governance over its use and archival policy as to what is required to save and what is not. When faced with these and other challenges in email use, eliminating it all together seems somewhat attractive, but it is really?
First things first, organizations have to recognize, document and understand how email is used and to what purpose. Is it used primarily as a communication tool internally, externally or both? What is the primary purpose of email, and more importantly, what is the value of the content or information contained in those emails? Is it promotional? Is it business focused, as in sealing a contract with a client? Is it social, in that 85% of email content is focused on what happened to the contestants of last night's hottest reality TV show? Until you fully understand these and many more aspects of how email is used and by whom, you cannot fully understand if and how to eliminate it.
For example, if your organization can use email as a form of acceptance in sales and sales contracts, legally, you may want to take this into consideration when trying to eliminate it. How will you conduct this task digitally going forward? What would the new process be and what legally accepted tools could you use in place of email? Perhaps you would have your clients access the PDF file via an FTP site and digitally sign that document there. In this case, the real question is would they? Internally, if you eliminate email use, what would replace it? If email is used as a collaboration tool today, would you then turn to wikis and shared teams sites to collaborate? Makes sense, but how would you notify users that these new tools are now available?
In my view, email elimination is a tempting vision that requires a significant amount of time to assess, analyze, plan and implement. A thorough investigation and analysis is needed in order to develop a sound strategy not only to assess how to eliminate or dramatically reduce email use but also address compliance issues that may result. Email elimination or reduction will also change the way an organization works. As an example, an email used to move attachments internally and externally will now be replaced by team sites and shared workplaces going forward. This simple change in process, by itself, will upend the user community. As part of the change aspect, you will need to communicate the driver for it, implications related to regulatory compliance and the value, which might be consistency and the formation of a single source of information.
No matter how you look at it, eliminating email or drastically reducing email use will take a lot of work to get to where you should be. Learn what is being done today, and develop a plan on what it should be tomorrow.
BOB LARRIVEE is director and industry advisor with AIIM International where he lectures and teaches about best practices in information and process management. Follow Mr. Larrivee on Twitter @BobLarrivee.