Are you really managing your emails?

by Frank 5. August 2012 06:00

It was a long time ago that we all realized that emails were about eighty-percent plus of business correspondence and little has changed today. Hopefully, we also realised that most of us weren’t managing emails and that this left a potentially lethal compliance and legal hole to plug.

I wrote some white papers on the need to manage emails back in 2004 and 2005 (“The need to manage emails” and “Six reasons why organizations don’t manage emails effectively”) and when I review them today they are just as relevant as they were eight years ago. That is to say, despite the plethora of email management tools now available most organizations I deal with still do not manage their emails effectively or completely.

As an recent example  we had an inquiry from the records manager at a US law firm who said she needed an email management solution but it had to be a ‘manual’ one where each worker would decide if and when and how to capture and save important emails into the records management system.  She went on to state emphatically that under no circumstances would she consider any kind of automatic email management solution.

This is the most common request we get. Luckily, we have several ways to capture and manage emails including a ‘manual’ one as requested as well as a fully automatic one called GEM that analyses all incoming and outgoing emails according to business rules and then automatically captures and classifies them within our electronic records and document management system RecFind 6.

We have to provide multiple options because that is what the market demands but it is common sense that any manual system cannot be a complete solution. That is, if you leave it up to the discretion of the operator to decide which emails to capture and how to capture them then you will inevitably have an incomplete and inconsistent solution.  Worse still, you will have no safeguards against fraudulent or dishonest behaviour.

Human beings are, by definition, ‘human’ and not perfect. We are by nature inconsistent in our behaviour on a day to day basis. We also forget things and sometimes make mistakes. We are not robots or cyborgs and consistent, perfect behaviour all controlled by Asimov’s three laws of robotics is a long, long way off for most of us.

This means dear reader that we cannot be trusted to always analyse, capture and classify emails in a one-hundred percent consistent manner. Our excuse is that we are in fact, just human.

The problem is exacerbated when we have hundreds or even thousands of inconsistent humans (your staff) all being relied upon to behave in an entirely uniform and consistent manner. It is in fact ludicrous to expect entirely uniform and consistent behaviour from your staff and it is bad practice and just plain foolish to roll out an email management system based on this false premise. It will never meet expectations. It will never plug all the compliance and legal holes and you will remain exposed no matter how much money you throw at the problem (e.g., training, training and re-training).

The only complete solution is one based on a fully-automatic model whereby all incoming and outgoing emails are analysed according to a set of business rules tailored to your specific needs. This is the only way to ensure that nothing gets missed. It is the only way to ensure that you are in fact plugging all the compliance and legal holes and removing exposure.

The fully automatic option is also the most cost-effective by a huge margin.

The manual approach requires each and every staff member to spend (waste?) valuable time every single day trying to decide which emails to capture and then actually going through the process time and time again. It also requires some form of a licence per employee or per desktop. This licence has a cost and it also has to be maintained, again at a cost.

The automatic approach doesn’t require the employee to do anything. It also doesn’t require a licence per employee or desktop because the software runs in the background talking directly to your email server. It is what we call a low cost, low impact and asynchronous solution.

The automatic model increases productivity and lowers costs. It therefore provides a complete and entirely consistent email management solution and at a significantly lower cost than any ‘manual’ model. So, why is it so hard to convince records managers to go with the fully automatic solution? This is the million dollar question though in some large organizations, it is a multi-million dollar question.

My response is that you should not be leaving this decision up to the records manager. Emails are the business of all parts of any organization; they don’t just ‘belong’ to the records management department. Emails are an important part of most business processes particularly those involving clients and suppliers and regulators. That is, the most sensitive parts of your business. The duty to manage emails transects all vertical boundaries within any organization. The need is there in accounts and marketing and engineering and in support and in every department.

The decision on how to manage emails should be taken by the CEO or at the very least, the CIO with full cognizance of the risks to the enterprise of not managing emails in a one-hundred percent consistent and complete manner.

In the end email management isn’t in fact about email management, it is about risk management. If you don’t understand that and if you don’t make the necessary decisions at the top of your organization you are bound to suffer the consequences in the future.

Are you going to wait for the first law suit or punitive fine before taking action?

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