Email promised so much, such as 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.
According to a report by Osterman Research and Legato Systems, 38 per cent of North American respondents have experienced an increase in email volume of more than half since 2001, and a further 30 per cent saw growth between 26 per cent and 50 per cent.
It is also interesting to note that 52 per cent said 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 and/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 effectively collaborate, reuse valuable resources or confidently share information with partners, suppliers and customers.
Much of 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 the process of information retrieval at a later date extremely difficult, and virtually impossible for 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 easily lead to inappropriate actions or information provision to colleagues or customers.
Black holes were once thought to be an infrequent phenomenon, yet scientists now believe there is one in every galaxy. There is also one in every email-using organisation, and it is rapidly draining valuable intellectual resources.
Instead of sending information to the corporate black hole, organisations can begin to regain control over information and maximise their intellectual assets by creating a knowledge framework that effectively manages and controls corporate information.
Les Paul is managing director of Datum Consulting.
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