Managing Emails, how hard can it be?

by Frank 22. April 2012 00:22

We produce a content management system called RecFind 6 that includes several ways to capture, classify and save emails. Like most ECM vendors, we offer a number of alternatives so as to be better able to meet the unique requirements of a variety of clients.

We offer the ‘manual’ version whereby we embed our email client into packages like Outlook and the end user can just click on our RecFind 6 Button from the Outlook toolbar to capture and classify any email.

We also offer a fully automated email management system called GEM that is rule-driven and that automatically analyses, captures and classifies all incoming and outgoing emails.

At the simplest level, an end user can just utilize the standard RecFind 6 client and click on the ‘Add Attachment’ button to capture a saved email from the local file store.

Most of our customers use the RecFind 6 Button because they prefer to have end users decide which emails to capture and because the Button is embedded into Microsoft Office, Adobe Professional, Notes and GroupWise. A much smaller percentage of our customers use GEM even though it is a much better, more complete and less labour intensive solution because there are still many people that just don’t want email to be automatically captured.

This last point is of great interest to me because I find it hard to understand why customers would choose the ‘manual’ RecFind 6 Button, small, smart and fast though it is, over the fully automated and complete solution offered by GEM, especially when GEM is a much lower cost solution for mid-size to large enterprises.

A few years ago in 2005 the Records Management Association of Australia asked me to write a paper on this topic, that is, why don’t organizations make a good job of capturing emails when there is plenty of software out there that can do the job?  I came up with six reasons why organizations don’t manage emails effectively and after re-reading that paper today, they are still valid.

In my experience, the most common protagonists are the records manager and the IT manager.  I don’t think I have ever spoke to a senior executive or application owner who didn’t think GEM was a good idea but I have only ever spoken to a tiny number of records managers who would even contemplate the idea of fully automatic email management. Most IT managers just don’t want all their emails captured.

This is despite the fact that because GEM is rule-driven any competent administrator could write rules to include or exclude any emails they want included or excluded.

Another road block is that old red herring personal emails. In ninety-percent upwards of cases where my customer has decided against GEM this is given as the ‘real’ reason. It is of course rubbish because there are many ways to handle personal emails including an effective email policy and writing GEM rules to enforce that policy. This 2004 paper explains why we need to manage emails and also talks about an effective email policy.

The absolute worst way to mismanage emails is to mandate that end users must select and print them out for the records staff to file in cardboard file folders. This method is entirely appropriate to 1900 except for the fact that we actually didn’t have emails in 1990. It is entirely inappropriate and just plain ineffective, wasteful and stupid in 2012 but, tens of thousands of records managers all around the world still mandate this as the preferred approach.

Is it because they don’t understand the technology or is it because they stubbornly refuse to even consider the technology?

It can’t be budget because the cost of expensive staff having to be part-time records managers is monumental. You would be hard pressed to find a more expensive and less effective solution. So why are we still doing it?

Back to the title of this paper, “How hard can it be?”

The answer is that it is not hard at all and that every ECM vendor has at least one flexible and configurable solution for email management. More so, these solutions have been around for at least the last ten years. So why are we still doing it the hard, ineffective, incomplete and expensive way?

The answer is that it is to do with people and attitudes; with a reluctance to embrace change and a reluctance to embrace a challenge that just might force managers to learn a lot in a short time and extend their capabilities and workload for the period necessary to implement a new generation solution. I guess it comes down to fear and a head in the sand attitude.

I once had a senior records manager tell me he wasn’t going to install any new systems because he was retiring in five years and didn’t want the worry and stress. Is this really why you aren’t managing your emails effectively and completely? Isn’t it time you asked the question of your records and IT managers?

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