I recently read that product managers categorically receive the most emails in the company. Reading this brought a grin across my face – misery loves company. My email inbox gets bombarded daily with product enhancement ideas, consulting proposals, internal questions, meeting requests, and industry articles. For me, it’s an imperative that our employees have a means to organize and manage their entire volume of emails. Without these tools, we could never leverage the wealth of reference and historical data contained within the email archives.
As Product Manager at ColumbiaSoft, I speak with managers and executives from a number of industries including AEC, pharmaceutical, facilities management, legal, health and manufacturing that are inundated with emails and need solutions for managing them. It is clear that there are differing needs across an organization based on a person’s job responsibility. With employees working in a project-based environment there is tremendous value in having the capability to store and manage your emails in the same directory structure as the bulk of your project documents. For IT and corporate executives, the capability to provide fast and accurate e-Discovery, to meet regulatory compliance, and to allow employees to restore their own lost emails is exceedingly important.
Email has a number of inherent shortcomings. It is de-humanizing, riddled with unscrupulous SPAM, and seeps beyond the regular work day. Unfortunately, many of those issues are beyond my control. (My only advice is to avoid those invasive handhelds that beam email communications to you 24 hours a day. ) But, there are real world issues we can confront such as providing solutions for employees to help organize emails alongside their project documents in addition to providing IT staff tools for managing the backend email archive.
In a project-based environment, one of the most endemic problems is gaining access to emails that are siloed in a project manager’s inbox. Non-email documents associated with a project such as contracts, schedules, and specifications are typically stored on a shared file server to promote collaboration across the project team. Project-related email storage is not. A manager’s inbox will contain critical information that affects the direction of a project, yet the data is trapped on an island. Even though the information contained in these emails normally gets disseminated to the team members, when unexpected contingencies arise (and they do) the team does not receive critical information. This costs money, time, and credibility. Imagine if the project manager had automated email rules configured in MS Outlook that stored and indexed project related documents in the same directory structure as the other critical documents, thus providing the entire team access to critical information regardless of the PM’s availability.
Dealing with the volume of email in your inbox is difficult enough, but let’s not forget the struggles that your IT staff has dealing with maintaining the servers 24/7, providing for disaster recovery, and dealing with the constant requests for retrieving lost or deleted emails from backups. To lessen the load on the IT staff, I recommend migrating older emails that are bloating the MS Exchange server to an email archive solution. Leading email archive software packages offer a variety of solutions that expedite many labor intensive tasks that burden IT departments. One such task is handling e-Discovery requests. Unless you have ever been involved with an e-Discovery process, it’s difficult to imagine the complexity of aggregating all relevant data across your organization and from dispersed systems. With litigation so frequent in many industries, IT teams are too often dragged into e-Discovery without the benefit of tools that simplify gathering and distributing the data. Having an email archive tool capable of providing instant search results based on sender, recipient, body content, and attachments along with associated emails tracked through threading information can shorten e-Discovery processes significantly. Another common time drain for IT is handling requests for copies of lost or deleted emails. Imagine if all of the company’s inbound and outbound emails were stored in an email archive solution capable of providing secure access to the archive so that IT staff could enforce smaller Exchange database size limits while providing emails 24/7 access to emails they either sent or received.
Regardless of whether you view email as a blessing or curse, it’s here to stay. The question is now how best to deal with managing and archiving emails along with the myriad of other documents amassed in your organization. With the software packages being offered by several document management companies focused on integrating email management and document management into a single solution, I think they are worth investigating in more detail.