Email Management: Challenges and Solutions

We usually define correspondence as communication by exchanging letters. By extension, the term ‘correspondence’ covers official letters, as well as emails, faxes and memos.

 

Although managing correspondence is not typically under the scope of Document Controllers (usually focused on technical documents, drawings, management documents), more and more Document Control professionals are faced with new challenges linked to correspondence management and tracking.

 

Fewer letters, more emails

 

The first challenge comes from the rampant use of emails. We used to formalize any official discussion by an official letter. This was a clear and traceable way of discussing or officially clarifying a point.

 

Managing letters was not different from managing a document, from the Document Control stand-point: ensuring that the letter had a unique number, that it contained the relevant identification information, that it was registered and filed.

 

Nowadays, we can see that a trend is emerging for using more emails, and fewer letters. Important topics are sometimes discussed endlessly by exchange of emails and are rarely formalised officially in letters.

 

Although in many companies email have been declared « not official » and unfit to discuss contractual, financial or legal matters, the reality is here: we observe a surge in the use of emails to discuss official topics.

 

Traceability requirements

 

If official matters are discussed by email, including decisions made, legal and contractual agreements, technical comments, etc., then we need to have a way to track and archive those important emails.

 

Traceability is key in Document Control: one of the functions of Document Control professionals is to ensure that there is traceability in projects /departments / companies: traceability of documents, comments, decisions, transmittals, etc.

If an incident happens, or if the company is investigated or audited, we have to be able to provide evidence of what was done, why, when, by whom, etc.

 

It means that ‘important’ emails have to be tracked, traceable, retrievable, recorded.

 

Challenges of emails management

 

Number of emails: Everyone can send an email and does it daily countless times. Same goes for the replies to emails. This means that there can be thousands of emails exchanged every day in a single project or department.

 

Numerous replies: While with official letters, the number of letters and replies on the same subject was limited, with  emails you can have dozens of emails exchanged to discuss the same topic.

 

User resistance: tracking of emails is sometimes perceived by users as interference, or prying. This implies resistance of some users to formal email management.

 

Tackling emails

 

To tackle the challenges lying with emails management, even before thinking about a technical solution, the first thing to do is to issue corporate policy / guidelines about emails.

 

Are there any subjects that should not be discussed by email? Any requirement to formalise by letter or in documents when it comes to certain topics? 

 

Email management is also far easier when emails follow a certain convention in terms of subject line (for example « Contract XXX - Accurate description of the subject matter »).

 

Along with these guidelines, there should also be clear rules about which emails need recording and which ones do not.

Indeed, there is no need to record all emails, just those containing ‘important’ information (what is considered as ‘important’ has to be defined by the company).

 

The next step is about technical solutions to email tracking and recording. Some EDMS integrate a feature to record emails automatically. For example each folder in the EDMS is allocated an email address. When the user sends an important email that needs recording, he/she will just have to copy this address and the EDMS will  do the rest: record the email, the information (from, to, date, etc), as well as the attachments.

 

When no such solution is available in the company, Document Controllers usually use a dedicated mailbox, that users copy when email needs recording. Then, they either archive emails in the mailbox, or make a PDF of the email at the end of the conversation and register them.

 

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