Email promised so much: instant communication with colleagues, partners and customers around the globe, and the opportunity to attach information from Word documents to PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets to enable immediate collaboration.
Yet the result of this powerful tool has been information anarchy; email overload is severely constraining business communication.
According to a report from Osterman Research and Legato, 38 per cent of North American respondents have experienced an increase in email volume by more than half since 2001.
A further 30 per cent experienced growth of between 26 per cent and 50 per cent, while 52 per cent indicated that their internal email volume had increased by more than half since 2001.
With many people now receiving up to 200 emails a day, the implications for productivity are severe. Not only is the process of reading or deleting mails time-consuming, but very few organisations have efficient processes for storing email attachments.
The result is information richness, but knowledge poverty. The information explosion has undermined organisations' ability to collaborate, reuse valuable corporate resources or share information with partners, suppliers and customers.
The problem lies with the processes that have grown up with email. Information arrives from multiple sources, with numerous attachments, often automatically copied to a long list of people without thought, creating multiple copies of each document.
These are then stored, generally in a haphazard fashion, in folders or on the network server. For many this makes information retrieval extremely difficult, and virtually impossible for their colleagues, who can only guess at the location of the information.
But this information is not just something that may come in handy one day. It is vital corporate intellectual property that needs to be leveraged to attain commercial advantage.
Instead, it is reduced either to lost documentation that has to be expensively recreated, or information with non-existent version control that can lead easily to inappropriate actions or information provision to colleagues or customers.
Until recently black holes were thought to be an infrequent phenomenon, but scientists now believe there is one in every galaxy. There is also one within every email-using organisation and it is draining valuable intellectual resources rapidly.
Instead of sending information to the corporate black hole, organisations can regain control of it and maximise their intellectual assets by creating a knowledge framework that controls corporate information.
Les Paul is managing director of Datum Consulting.
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