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Wise up about e-mail management

I'm going to let you in on a little secret (and remember, you heard it here first): Failing to properly manage e-mail can get you in trouble.

With all the public scandals surrounding "inappropriate" e-mail content and documentation of illegal business activities, you would think that businesses have long had clear, enforceable e-mail management policies and practices in place. After all, the 21st century launched the movement toward responsible corporate governance and strict records management, right?

While that may be true, that conclusion is not supported by the findings in AIIM President John Mancini's E-Mail Management 2006 Survey, which questioned more than 1,000 users about their, and their organization's, e-mail habits. The sample size and demographic distribution qualifies the survey as statistically valid.

When asked about their organization's plan to implement a strategy involving archiving, retention, life cycle management and disposition, the responses were startling: More than a third of the respondents replied they have yet to even begin developing an e-mail management plan. Plus, a full 62 percent said that their organizations don't even have a definition for e-mail management and that the company largely leaves the task to individual employees. Further, less than 10 percent said they followed a formal e-mail management policy, which Mancini describes as "making retention and management decisions based on some combination of metadata, the actual content of the e-mail or attachment." (Results by size of organization balanced pretty evenly between 1 to 100 employees and more than 50,000 workers; 24 percent, the largest group without a definition, fell in organizations in 1,001 to 5,000 range.)

All this points to a significant liability issue regarding legal discovery and/or internal investigation--these workers live in e-mail. And although the survey found that 76 percent of small organizations (with fewer than 100 employees) never had to turn over e-mail for those reasons in the past year, 40 percent of medium-sized organizations (101 to 1,000) had to do so; and 13 percent of "giant" companies (more than 10,000 workers) had to do so more than 10 times. Surprisingly, those users who were required to turn over e-mail for litigation or audit purposes took an average of 15.8 days to supply the requested information.

Clearly, e-mail management is, at best, in its juvenile state, and, as such, buyers are looking toward retention and archiving solutions rather than richer applications that include, for example, automatic categorization or filtering. Those seeking a true solution should be thinking longer term, a notion supported by the survey--the users see a strong connection between e-mail management and managing all the content in their organization. In fact, the survey points out, more than 70 percent believe an e-mail management solution should be integrated in a broader records and/or content management system, and 42 percent of them say a "first look" for a solution should be directed toward a content management provider.

Mancini's E-Mail Management 2006 Survey should be viewed as an early warning for organizations. It is so very clear that the need for robust e-mail management will continue to grow daily. Wouldn't it be nice if the AIIM study prompted a pro-active response to a potential crisis rather than one driven by damage control?

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