10 Reasons Information Governance Makes Sense: Reason #9 – Email

Email: Reason Enough

“Workers distracted by phone calls, e-mails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana, a British study shows.”

Emails ‘hurt IQ more than pot,’ CNN.com[1. Emails ‘hurt IQ more than pot,’ CNN.com, April 22, 2005.]

IN BRIEF. IG makes sense because it helps organizations take control of email. Solving email should be a top priority for every organization.

According to the study quoted above, using email can be hazardous to your intelligence. Sometimes I think that the same IQ deficit sets in when companies try to manage email. Everything they have learned about information management seems to be forgotten, and they end up with policies that indiscriminately keep every email message, or throw away every message, regardless of what the message contains. Or, they impose volume limitations without the support of a policy that tells employees that some messages have legal implications and cannot be tossed simply because they violate an arbitrary storage limitation. Or, they just do nothing.

Email is how we do business today. Our email systems are full of “a significant number of important emails involving the organization in obligations, agreements, contracts, regulations and discussion.”[2. AIIM International, “AIIM Industry Watch: Email Management, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” AIIM International, May 2009.] At the same time, email mismanagement causes so many problems that it’s amazing we use it at all.

IG helps us take control of the email management problem. IG policies provide rules on how email is managed. Retention schedules guide the retention and disposition of email. Information technology helps us implement and enforce the policies. IG training ensures that everyone understand their responsibilities.

Apply IG to your email system – it’s reason enough to invest in an IG program. When doing so, keep the following in mind:

1)    Develop defensible policies that align with your approach to information management in other systems

2)    Consider turning off the ability for users to export email to local files

3)    Ensure that your Legal Hold process covers email

4)    Look at email archiving to reduce volume, duplication, and improve centralized management capabilities


  1. Adam Blackie

    I agree that email is an issue, but I believe we are at the end of the email lifecycle. Collaboration and networking tools increasingly have messaging systems built into the core of the application. As an example, look at LinkedIn. We can use the internal messaging tool as a communication channel. Increasingly this is what we are doing.

    Preventing staff from using these tools on a business network is an obvious option, but that will also increasingly disadvantage your business. There are major benefits to be gained from leveraging the professional networks that you staff have developed, it will soon become a major part of our route to market and to the accessing useful knowledge.

    Most big organisations do not realise this yet and ban the use of these on-line tools. Their smaller competitors may not have such a view.

    Adam Blackie

    • Barclay

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Adam – great insight.

      Here’s what I think:

      1. We may be at the end of the email lifecycle, but only in the same way that we are at the end of the lifecycle of the petroleum powered automobile: a next generation of products (i.e., electric, hybrids) are available and have a small market share, but it will be a long time before the gas-powered car goes away. In fact, we will likely see continued expansion in sales for many years to come, and more and better versions of the gas powered car will continue to come to market for many years. I see email as the same: there may be better options, but they won’t displace email for many years, and I would expect the number of mailboxes worldwide and the volume of email generated to continue to grow for a long time (even if only as a result of economic and population growth). As such, we will need to solve the IG email problem before it solves itself by obsolescence.

      2. Alternative messaging platforms that replace email don’t eliminate all the IG problems associated with email. The fundamental issues is that asynchronous messaging platforms generate recorded information as an inherent part of their function, and we have to do something with those recorded messages. We have the same problem regardless of the environment that these messages are created in, and arguably more of a problem in newer web and enterprise 2.0 environments that are early in their lifecycles and thus have even less capabilities in this area than email.

      3. Banning cool tools is clearly not the solution. I recently wrote that, “successful IG programs exert the right amount of control over the information environment without stifling collaboration and creativity.” (hey, look I worked in a plug: check out the piece here: https://barclaytblair.com/information-governance-briefs/). In fact, I believe that IG provides the platform for collaboration and creativity by clearly establishing the ground rules so people can function freely without worrying about doing or writing the wrong thing.

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