It is widely acknowledged that email is one of the greatest business tools ever invented – but is it really? The ability to send a message to an individual anywhere in the world at a click of a button was a revelation – and it turned business communication on its head.

However, in today's connected business environment, people are struggling to cope with the amount of email they receive on a daily basis.

The chaos

From customer requests to point-to-point colleague communication to industry newsletters, the volume has become unmanageable for many; and that's not even considering the emails that people are copied into or sent as an FYI.

Modern business culture and attitude has moved away from paper-based communication, however we still use the same conversational behaviour over email.

The same processes are being applied to managing email as were previously used to manage the daily post, and it is this point-to-point nature, which is one of the biggest problems of email.

By corresponding point-to-point, the visibility of commitments made is immediately restricted. Something as simple as 'OK' in an email can be classed as a business commitment, but without the rest of the team or other departments being aware of the entire conversation it becomes difficult to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands what has been agreed.

The second issue in managing email is that people are dependent on filing emails themselves – both on the network and in their own email accounts. It is not surprising that when dealing with a significant volume of email that has to be manually processed, archived and filed, mistakes are made and 'email house-keeping' tasks that are flagged to be dealt with later are regularly forgotten.

Email archiving is often championed as being the solution to this problem and whilst it may solve some issues, it is certainly not the 'holy grail'. The simple truth is that there is no complete solution to the problem. However, by taking a different approach to email management and accepting a few necessary compromises, businesses can make very positive improvements.

The order

Integrating critical email into a document management system can help to reduce some of the manual filing processes and ensure that any business commitments made via email are automatically stored correctly and safely. This makes it quick and easy for users to find communications and refer back to any commitments made.

It also has benefits from a physical storage point, as the automated filing system removes the need for employees to store all emails in their own accounts, pleasing both frustrated users and busy IT support teams.

Moving forward, the prediction is that transactional communication – such as an accountant requesting approval for a tax return form – will stop being made via email altogether.

The growing popularity of business web portals is one such area that has the potential to become the medium of choice for business critical content rather than email. Shared access to web portals brings an array of advantages including full visibility, security, formal interactions such as "approval" and a coherent audit trail.

Email has dramatically improved the way organisations conduct business, but it has brought a number of challenges too. Email today is chaos, but there are ways and means to move from chaos to order – it's just knowing where to focus.

  • Stuart Evans is Chief Technical Officer at Invu and has been instrumental in developing the company's suite of products that can automate processes, provide real-time information and offer security and compliance of critical data.