Email is one of those elements in an organization that is a growing issue that no one wants to acknowledge though everyone knows something should be done to better manage it — especially in today's world where information is subject to discovery, including email. The evidence is clear and can be seen in case after case where email has been a major pain point for many organizations, whether it is the inability to produce relevant emails or their inadvertent destruction, the message is clear that email needs to be managed appropriately. An AIIM 2009 Industry Watch paper titled, "Email Management: The good, the bad and the ugly," confirms that many organizations are unsure or unclear on how to approach email management. This study reported that:

  • "Sheer overload" is reported as the biggest problem with email as a business tool, followed closely by "finding and recovering past emails" and "Keeping track of actions."
  • Email archiving, legal discovery, findability and storage volumes are the biggest current concerns within organizations, with security and spam now considered less of a concern by our respondents.
  • Over half of respondents are "not confident" or only "slightly confident" that emails related to documenting commitments and obligations made by staff are recorded, complete and retrievable.
  • Only 10% of organizations have completed an enterprise-wide email management initiative, with 20% currently rolling out a project. Even in larger organizations, 17% have no plans to, although the remaining 29% are planning to start sometime in the next two years.
  • Some 45% of organizations (including the largest ones) do not have a policy on Outlook "archive settings," so most users will likely create .pst archive files on local drives.
  • Only 19% of those surveyed capture important emails to a dedicated email management system or to a general-purpose ECM system. 18% print emails and file as paper, and a worrying 45% file in non-shared personal Outlook folders.
  • A third of organizations have no policy to deal with legal discovery, 40% would likely have to search back-up tapes, and 23% feel they would have gaps from deleted emails.
  • Only 16% have retention policies that would justify deleted emails.

So what exactly should be done to capture and tame the email gorilla? In my view, you must first come to an organizational realization and agreement that a certain percentage of emails have corporate value and, as such, must be maintained in the same way records and content must be managed. There should be governance over appropriate email use with guidelines on what constitutes corporate value and procedures on how to capture and store it in the corporate repositories. This is not an easy task, but it is a much needed one. So formulate a corporate email strategy consisting of governance, tools and processes. Train your employees so they understand the importance and consequences related to email management. Leverage the appropriate technology to support your strategy and simplify its enforcement. Most of all, take some kind of action to capture and tame your email gorilla.

BOB LARRIVEE [] is director and industry advisor with AIIM International where he lectures and teaches about best practices in information and process management. Follow him on Twitter @BobLarrivee.


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