Is there any chance that Hillary Clinton did what she was supposed to do with her emails after her time at the US State Department? Most assuredly not. What she did probably didn’t violate a law, which is more an indication of how bad the laws are then how good her behaviour is. In any case, that’s not really the point here. The reality is that email really was/is the killer app. There is no other application used by most businesses that causes so many problems. Speak to any eDiscovery professional and listen to war stories or witness scars about the kind of information they have found sitting in email, in an email archive, or on an email back-up tape. And it’s not just risk; it’s cost. The servers and storage required to give us speedy access to our email is the most expensive storage there is.
Email Back-Ups and Back-Ups and back-Ups of your Information
To start, let’s back up our email regularly for Disaster Recovery purposes, because we want to be back online quickly if the system goes down. It is after all, pretty much the one application whose failure guarantees the staff get up from their desks and actually communicate with each other. Also, in case there’s a virus, let’s back the email up separately. Next, because there might be a real problem in the one mission critical site, let’s have off-site storage. And then, let’s store, and put away this version for now. And then, because it’s too much bother to retrieve, clean, and reuse on a future occasion, let’s use another disc or drive or tape for the next back-up. So, how many back-ups of that email are there? That’s just the official backing up. I haven’t even started on how many copies we keep individually of any given email nor how many copies we have of any deleted emails. So, how many copies of each and every email are we paying to store? And how many copies before one of the copies gets edited differently than the others? Which version will I be looking at when I use my search tool?
Managing your Email Information Assets
Why do we struggle so with email management? What is it about our email that makes us think we can manage those information assets differently than any other information asset? Why should you care? Over the years, I’ve worked on all sorts of email projects for various public and private sector organizations: introducing email for the first time, using email as a transport for other systems (i.e., SAP), connecting email to a document management solution (i.e., SharePoint), and managing the lifecycle of email (i.e., LiveLink), to name a few. The response from users is always the same. When I arrive to make their lives more convenient, I am welcomed. And as soon as I mention email management, well, I am less than welcomed. Of course, email and email management really isn’t convenient. There was a time where email was the information that auto-magically appeared on the screen just above our keyboard. Consider also that most of us who have email at work, have email at home. Where the sense of convenience goes off the rails, is when we behave the same way at work with our email as we do at home.
Work or Home Email? It really does matter.
At home, we use our email program (online or offline) as our main source of storage. The search functionality is generally acceptable for our use, and most important, when we look back through OUR email program for a specific piece of information that was sent to us, or sent by us, we generally find the SPECIFIC piece of information we were looking for. At home, email still is the killer app. At the office, email is the app that kills us. Repeat: the problem is that we take our home email management assumptions to the office. Mistake Number 1: Like at home, we think work email is a piece of information. It isn’t. At work, email is the application that we use to transfer information artifacts between recipients. Mistake Number 2: Again, like at home, we think it’s convenient to treat our email program like a storage service. It isn’t. Our home storage, or online (cloud) storage, with only one instance is relatively cheap. Enterprise storage is very expensive, even if it has come down in price. Further, email search is generally inadequate at the office, predominantly because the person who may be looking through the email system for a specific piece of information was neither the sender nor the receiver.
Changing our Approach to Work Email: It is Part of IM
So, how do we fix it? First, stop thinking of these information assets that you, or someone else thought of as important enough to share, as email. Period. It’s a corporate information asset. How it got where it got is irrelevant. What it is is all that matters. So, as with any information asset, you need to check and ensure a few elements:
- Is this the original?
- Is it the copy?
- Have I put it where someone can find it?
- Have I given it a name that someone, other than myself, can read and understand?
And there you go. Full circle. It isn’t that Clinton used her private email. She was creating, saving, changing, responding, modifying, sharing, and saving again assorted information assets. Those assets were and should be part of history. They’re records. That’s why there is very little chance that the American public, or history, will ever be able to view the full historical record. That’s the problem. This should be something that’s in official records. These assets should have become part of history. Now they’re lost. And lastly, ask yourself. Are you using your home approach to email at work? Think about the answer. If yes, then it’s time to make a change…