No single thing probably drove the early growth of the internet as much as email did. In that way, it’s considered a driver application for internet tech, like cryptocurrency sparked interest in developing blockchain tech. Email gave us an inexpensive (sometimes free) and instant way to communicate all over the world. In addition, email lent itself to automation, collaboration, and integration, which sparked development to incorporate those ideas into other kinds of software that worked better for specific tasks.
That was OK then. But we have graduated — or at least we should have. Today, using email for more than mere communication generates avoidable problems and inefficiencies, particularly in an era when you can rely on better tools that will help improve efficiency and overcome email’s challenges. In particular, businesses that rely on email too much to share files and collaborate will certainly struggle with the many hazards of information sprawl.
Understanding and Overcoming Today’s Challenges with Email
Look at just a few problems information sprawl causes when email becomes the de facto collaboration tool. Even more, understand how smart document management systems can eliminate these kinds of inefficiencies and errors.
In a previous article on problems with using email attachments for collaboration, we brought up the specific example of a CEO who wanted input about next year’s business plan. She attached her draft to the email she sent to her five vice presidents. Each of them made some edits and forwarded their versions to their own department heads. As the day for the CEO to present the plan approached, she found her own inbox full of dozens of versions of the plan, all edited, corrected, and commented upon by different people.
In the end, that CEO found himself trying to consolidate all of these versions — a difficult and error-prone process. Even if some of the executives and directors did not make a single change, he still had to account for each of them to make sure they approved it. If not, he needed to write a follow-up email to nudge them.
Is this really the best we can do in an age with tons of easy solutions to the problem?
With an intelligent information management system, she could have simply shared the document link with each stakeholder, alerted them as their deadline for edits or approval approached, and each person would be contributing to a single authoritative document version. The CEO would then have had one version-controlled and consolidated document. Not only could he view all edits in one place, he could also easily see exactly who generated each change and exactly when they did it. This made it much simpler for the CEO to verify information, accept the right changes, and produce his final business plan.
Today’s businesses don’t just keep information in text documents. Various media may consist of graphics, videos, and sound files. If everybody relies on emailing and downloading these as email attachments, it can bog down both the performance of the email system and the capacity of storage devices. Instead, smart document management can keep track of the single storage place for these files and various versions and simply send everybody a hyperlink to access it.
Security and Compliance Problems
Even with small documents, having multiple copies stored on various cloud accounts, employee’s laptops, and of course, as email attachments generates more security vulnerabilities. Just as bad, storing private or sensitive information may create compliance breaches. With a good document management system, the owners can set rules for files that only allow the right people various types of access. Not only does this keep information secure, it also allows the company to demonstrate their compliance with regulations governing the kind of information they have.
Let’s say the CFO just had the latest version of the company’s financial report stored on his hard drive the day before he caught the flu, needed medication, and was in no shape to remember to tell other executives that he had updated the last attachment he had received from the accounting department. Even worse, let’s say that CFO suddenly left the company and had his server account deleted, along with the latest report.
Thinking she could simply bypass the CFO, the CEO asked the accounting department to email her the figures, with neither party knowing the CFO had the most current document on his own computer. Again, a central store of this information would show the most current version and a history of changes. A high-level user could also set and change ownership permissions with a few clicks, so the person who needed to take over for the CFO would take responsibility for this document.
Business Process Inefficiencies
Using the example of the business draft, the CEO wanted to ensure she gathered approvals from everybody who received her first version of the business plan. In turn, she needed to know when the draft had circulated to all stakeholders and then been returned back to her. With email, she would have the clunky process of sending out reminders and then having to check off names as replied hit her inbox. Instead, she could have set alerts within her document management system both to let the stakeholders knew she had a task for them and in turn, to let her know when they finished it.
How Enterprise-Quality Document Management Eliminates Information Sprawl
Nobody doubts the importance of email. It helped grow the internet and revolutionized communication. Still, as noted on HubSpot, many businesses still relies on email for more than its core function — simply out of habit. It’s not that surprising that even top executives still rely on the tool they’ve probably used their entire career. At the same time, once they’ve been introduced to the benefits of smart information management, these same business leaders are pleasantly surprised to find a comprehensive tool to collaborate, track versions, manage audits, automate business processes, and avoid errors.