Computers and Internet

e-mail – illness or cure

The following are some thoughts drawn from a discussion during the Information managers breakfast meeting in mid June

There has been a transformation in e-mail use since the early days. Some of this is due to the fact that originally tools were just text (e.g. MS Mail). Now tools like MS Outlook with MS exchange are incredibly feature rich. Also e-mail was much slower back in the day with the time for messages to be delivered from servers often an hour or more. Now if e-mail isn’t instant…..users complain.  The tendency to use email as an instant messaging system is partly responsible for the degradation of the quality of writing – as noted, it has become a conversatoin rather than a letter, with ‘chat’-grade grammar and phrasing.

When looking at the collaboration profile of e-mail it has become increasingly permanent, with our email stores being used as a file store. It is not uncommon for users to have 1000+ unsorted emails in their inbox – hardly a well planned information system.

While email can sometimes be a planned collaboration between two parties, more often it’s not. Email is a asynchronous, ‘different-time’ tool, however users are often using it as a real-time tool expecting an instant response.

e-mail is perceived as cheap by users however the cost of maintaining the infrastructure (hardware,software and people)is substantial.

e-mails sent from mobile devices are often more succinct than those sent from PCs.

Policies need to reflect e-mail is the same as an external letter and how to use it in the organisation.

Email has become the user’s all in one communciation tool, people e-mailing colleagues across the office from them, transferring huge files in and out of the organisation. In some cases people may desire to avoid Face to Face confrontation and so they use email, even when it is far from the best tool for the job.

Email has largely replaced the letter and this has raised a number of issues. One is the fact that an email can be produced swiftly and distributed widely; the agility of the medium leads to a lack of ‘damping’ – no time to reflect on the right thing to say; and almost no opportunity to pull the outgoing, hasty response from outbox (or mail room – or even to call the recipient’s secretary and ask them to remove it, as I ahve done in my more hotheaded youth). Since email represents the organisation and can impact on personal and organisational reputation, this is a risk,

.Historically letter writing skills for business communication were part of training professionals in an organisation, nobody appears to train people in e-mail writing in a similar way.

The storage of email needs to be tackled as it represents important business correspondence that needs to be filed and easily searchable. Businesses are using: document management tools like SharePoint, INVU, case management software, archiving tools like enterprise vault and also bespoke systems. Individualks may save emails to a local drive, have a message store set up in theior inbox or (like me) transfer important infomration to OneNote. But there tends to be a lack of coordination.

Policies need to reflect e-mail is the same as an external letter and how to use it in the organisation.

As an indicator of the value – and the problem – of email,  note that personal email quotas have increased to around 400MB from about 50MB. The use of archiving tools is helping to reduce the need for large quotas. Outlook .pst files have a 2GB limit.

That people use email in this way is not a ‘bad’ thing, it simply highlights the need, demand and utility for an instant messaging type tool; however the trend is for all email to be treated as IM and that leaves us without a considered communication medium (as letters were).

I am torn between whether I want my email application to include IM facilities (OCS goes someway towards this) or whether to keep them seperate and make email become more formal again – but for that to happen we need to see a general decline in email volume.

Finally, it is worth noting the recent press announcments about Google Wave – touted as the successor to email.

Simon Hudson

Director at Cloud2


By Simon Hudson

Simon Hudson is an entrepreneur, health sector specialist and founder of Cloud2 Ltd. and Kinata Ltd. and, most recently, Novia Works Ltd. He has an abiding, evangelical interest in information, knowledge management and has a lot to say on best practice use of Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and cloud technologies, the health sector, sustainability and more. He has had articles and editorials published in a variety of knowledge management, clinical benchmarking and health journals. He is a co-facilitator of the M365 North User Group Leeds and is Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Hull.

Simon is passionate about rather too many things, including science, music (he writes and plays guitar & mandola), skiing, classic cars, technology and, by no means least, his family.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s