TECH NOUS All Boxed In?

In the blink of an eye, or maybe the click of mouse, enterprises of every kind have made the switch from phone, fax and ‘snail mail’, to email. Well, looking back it certainly seems to have happened that quickly.
It wasn’t so long ago that the first daily task at the office was to open the mail. Now we can’t get stuck into real work until we’ve purged our inbox. Out goes all the junk and then it’s time to acknowledge the ‘must-actions’. The problem is, that although we may have made the migration to communication by email and electronic document, we haven’t necessarily carried over the appropriate management, storage, and archiving policies. The clutter and collapse in processing our communication is putting many businesses at risk.
It’s not wise to simply regard email as somewhat informal personalised memo channel – there’s too much at stake, and so much relies on it.
Corporate subsidiaries of American parent companies for instance, shouldn’t need reminding of their obligations under the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act which essentially forces them to implement and maintain safe and effective document management solutions and policies. This, of course, extends to email management and archiving.
But even if you are not the offspring of some large American business, it is unwise to ignore our own governance obligations or the implications of the Electronic Transactions Act. This piece of homegrown legislation sets down rules for the retention of documents in electronic format but, surprisingly, does not determine which type of media or file is to be used. Technology can change an awful lot in short period of time – for example in the past seven years common storage media has moved from floppy disk to DVD.
Andrew Perrier, product marketing manager for VRetrieve at Datamail, believes the longer companies put off implementing proper document/email management and archiving solutions, the harder the migration when they eventually do.
“Let’s say you put it off for couple of years. What happens if, for example, supplier takes case against you, and you can’t locate crucial evidence? The law of ‘best evidence’ could quite simply swing the case against you.”
Perrier believes that many organisations are “out of control” when it comes to their email retention and deletion. Where should it be stored? How should it be stored? And who decides what is kept and what gets deleted? In the US fortunes have been spent retrieving information off back-up tapes, prior to going to court.
Perrier offers some helpful hints for embattled administrators who want to get on top of their document management issues.
* Put central email retention and deletion policy in place – this is critical in light of the huge amount of email correspondence now taking place. “Work with document management consultants who understand the requirements,” says Perrier.
* Train and educate staff on the policy so everyone sings from the same song-sheet.
* Ensure the retention and disposal policy for electronic documents imitates that of hard-copies – for example, email invoices must be stored for seven years just like paper invoices. And don’t rely on end users to determine what stays and what goes.
* Learn good personal email habits on your PC, such as clearing your inbox daily and not treating it as an archive. Set up proven folder structure (just as you would have done in the ‘paper days’); and empty your ‘sent’ and ‘deleted items’ folders regularly.
Perrier urges managers to imagine email security in the context of hard files that accidentally get destroyed in the company mailroom. “Proper email management is an insurance policy that eliminates the risk.”
Not surprisingly Perrier regards the best electronic document management and archiving solution as the one his company provides – off-site, but contained within completely secure environment. It needn’t be an overly expensive exercise for clients, and it saves the hassle of keeping up with storage technology, he says.
Datamail’s clients can, he reckons, seamlessly access and archive all manner of documents in real-time, and clients’ customers can access (via website) documents such as price lists, catalogues, and brochures. That’s good for customer relations.
By scanning and capturing all inbound and outbound correspondence, email or otherwise, companies can have what Perrier describes as “360-degree view of the information on customers”.
By the way, while you read this column, another 10 emails arrived in your inbox. Go manage!

Glenn Baker is regular contributor to Management.
Email: [email protected]

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