When you think of email management, you probably envision a pristine, organized inbox and an unshakable faith that the IT team has back-ups of your old emails in case you need them again. But when you consider that email is the primary form of correspondence in almost every organization, it stands to reason that some of those emails might actually be pretty important, and therefore, require diligence to counter inadvertent loss.
Information professionals see emails not just as a form of communication but as potential records, with the same organizational value as information created by corporate applications (such as Word, Excel or Powerpoint). Likewise, it makes us uneasy to think of emails that have no business value gobbling up expensive storage and network space.
While valiant efforts are often made to ensure that important emails are protected by printing, scanning and storing them, these efforts can be in vain when you read the email and wonder where the audio or video file attachment they refer to within the email has disappeared to. Then there is the question of context, which is not always apparent when not physically linked to other supporting documents.
With this in mind we’ve come up with three starting points to help organizations get well on their way to better email management.
1. Find the Right Storage Medium
Persuade users to store their emails of business value centrally in an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS) and not in uncontrollable shared drives, email folders, network drives and computer hard drives. When captured within an EDRMS, records are protected, easily retrievable and subject to retention and disposition. Choosing software which automatically captures and indexes emails based on their content and subject takes a lot of the end user involvement out of the equation, which should really be the focus of any technology enablement.
The right technical solutions allow users to keep attachments with their message in their native format, with linkages to other related content. This allows for retention and disposition to be applied consistently to the entire business record, while at the same time preserving important metadata elements.
2. Develop an Email Policy
Simply introducing software into the corporate environment will not get the job done. Consult with experts in legal, IT, information management, and most importantly the business lines, to create rules around what triggers an email from transitory correspondence status to record status. Provide clear guidance about who should declare the record (the person who sends the last email internally for example) to avoid duplication, and also clarity as to when a record should be declared (such as once the thread of conversation is finished). As with every project, management support, communication and monitoring is a fundamental underpinning for success. Everyone should be aware of why and how to correctly handle emails, including the potential organizational risk if these valuable pieces of corporate information are lost.
3. Ensure Staff are Trained and Supported
Long term, sustainable end user engagement is often an obstacle for these types of initiatives. People are inspired by management’s enthusiasm. They’ve read the policy, heard the eDiscovery and litigation horror stories and they are on board. But after the initial hype of the software roll out, when they are left with a task which they feel is overly complicated and time consuming, they are likely to give up, or simply find workarounds. Ensure that people are trained on the software, that they understand how to title emails for easy and meaningful classification and that they have support, both during and post-implementation.
Depending on the size and type of your organization, the email problem is worse now than it was before you sat down to read this article. And it will be compounded tomorrow, and the next day. Take the time to initiate an email management program now. You will not only be reducing corporate risk and exposure, but also saving the organization money and time down the road.