The reality TV series “Hoarders” provides a startling look at people with a compulsive disorder that makes it nearly impossible for them to discard anything, including items with little or no value. When it comes to email, many of us suffer from a similar affliction.
It’s been estimated that the typical office worker has thousands of items in his or her inbox and spends roughly 25 percent of the work week reading, deleting, sorting, searching and sending emails. That not only saps time and productivity, but it can also create significant business risks.
Most of us occasionally forget to delete things like old e-newsletters and LinkedIn invitations, but inboxes too often contain a great deal of extremely sensitive information about budgets, product development, sales forecasts, customers and more. By some accounts, nearly half of a typical organization’s business-critical information is stored in its email system.
Email overload becomes a liability when sensitive information mistakenly gets into the wrong hands. A variety of studies find that the vast majority of companies have suffered losses resulting from an employee sending an email with improper or unauthorized content to the wrong person.
For the past several years, time-management experts have promoted the idea of “Inbox Zero,” a rigorous approach to personal email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty, or close to it, at all times. Some have taken this theme to the extreme by simply deleting everything in the inbox every day. That’s really not quite the point.
The idea is to halt the practice of using the inbox as a “to-do” list in which emails represent tasks, actions or appointments that must be dealt with in the future. Instead, you should take one of five actions with each email: delete, delegate, respond, defer or do.
That might be a good idea for some individual users, but it isn’t an effective strategy for company-wide email management. A comprehensive approach will include an email retention policy coupled with an effective email archival solution.
The first step in developing a retention policy is to define, from a legal and regulatory perspective, what constitutes an electronic business record. This clearly written definition helps the organization distinguish messages involving business-related activities from insignificant and purely personal emails. The policy should cover all emails sent or received by your organization. It should contain the guidelines for how long emails should be kept and how they should be removed from the email archiving solution.
The retention policy is also a key element of regulatory compliance. A multitude of federal, state and industry regulations require email retention for periods ranging from one to dozens of years, depending on the industry. Some organizations may have to comply with multiple regulations with varying requirements. Archival solutions help ensure policy compliance by automating processes. Archival also preserves emails in a way that enables structured searches for rapid compliance with e-discovery and regulatory requests.
Emerging solutions are incorporating principles of artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve email management. AI features such as text and semantic analysis can automate the process of inspecting emails to identify those that involve business-related activities, and whether they must be retained based on customized parameters. AI engines can also improve security by analyzing emails against known malware and phishing signatures, and by providing warnings if sensitive data is being requested or sent.
Cluttered email inboxes aren’t just annoying, they are a business liability with operational, legal and regulatory risks. Organizations of all sizes need an email management strategy to minimize risk and streamline day-to-day business activities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Detwiler, President joined SSD Technology Partners in 2006 as Chief Marketing Officer, and in 2014 she and her two partners Woodie Bowe and Nick Ewen purchased the company. Detwiler holds an MBA in Marketing and Strategy from Carnegie Mellon University. Lisa successfully led SSD through a difficult economy in 2012, recording the company’s greatest growth record in 31 years.
Lisa believes that our foundation for success does not come from fancy business buzzwords or the latest management fads. Success comes from behaviors and commitments to basic guidelines of how we operate as individuals and as a company; do what’s best for the client, practice blameless problem solving, seek to create win/win solutions, check the ego at the door, and communicate to be understood.
Lisa serves the community as a Board Chair of both the American Red Cross and the Delaware Better Business Bureau and has been a member of Wilmington Rotary Club for 10 years.