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Communications, Intranet, Rants

Intranet Managers: reduce the company’s reliance on email

What does your intranet do for the company, for people? We could have a good discussion around objectives and purposes I’m sure. I have an idea for you that falls somewhere between ‘strategic’ and ‘tactical’, and it’s to reduce your company’s reliance upon email as a broad distribution tool and a pseudo-collaborative environment.

Email and attachmentsI don’t mean to suggest that email is evil, as email, like mail, is fantastic for private correspondence between two (or so) people. But as a distribution channel for documents of any kind it sucks; and email is demonstrably not a collaborative space.

Yes I know people are really comfortable with email, and I know people are willing to put up with lost documents, confused version numbers and out-of-date documents just so long as they have something deep within their inbox that they can get their hands on. People will put up with a lot of dross so long as they feel somewhat in control. Email provides a sense of control as it’s a channel that is given to each individual. Intranet Managers need to empower more people to make use of the intranet – not just read it.

Email creates a lot of duplicate copies of the same document. Whenever we email attachments, we keep a copy in the original location and create another copy in our ‘Sent’ folder. The recipients each have a copy in their ‘Inbox’ and might well save it to their ‘My Documents’ as well. Now I know the copy in ‘My Documents’ doesn’t really cost anything to store, but the copies in the email do cost storage space because they will be replicated on the main email server as well. And don’t get me started on how awful things get when a reviewer changes two small paragraphs and sends that version out by email to thirty people!

This isn’t solely an IT issue, and I hereby charge the Intranet Manager with the personal objective to help the company reduce its reliance upon email.

Working with IT or the Information Security officer (if you have one), get the baseline stats for number of emails sent per week / month and size of attachments. Get the baseline stats for storage space per person and department. Now you know your starting position, it’s time to change the world.

Your challenge is to help people understand, nay, believe, the following:

Email is not an archive of life nor a filing cabinet. Personal (professional) notes should be stored in ‘My Documents’ unless such material needs sharing with colleagues.

Email is not a distribution channel for business critical information. Documents and information that colleagues need access to should be published on the intranet, using appropriate security / privacy settings.

Email is not a review environment. Text and documents that require informal or formal review by peers or managers can be shared via the intranet using built-in gated review processes, or appropriate security / privacy settings. Alternatively, the ‘Shared Area’ / ‘Network Drive’ (using appropriate security / privacy settings) can be used for the drafting of documents, and a link to the folder or document can be emailed out.

The latest version of a document is always (always) on the intranet first (or the ‘Shared Area’ / ‘Network Drive’ if in draft [your choice]). Therefore, we never have to email the document around, but we can send a link to it. Senior managers who demand documents be emailed to them because they are on their Crackberry / MyPhone would benefit from mobile access to the intranet and more plain text information (rather than fancy Word documents). However, I do accept that this habit is not going to go away.

Company information is company information – we do not ask individuals to replicate and store previous versions of documents in their Inbox Archive or My Documents. The company must have document control and information archive processes in place to maintain the company’s historical knowledge.

Email is not a collaborative environment – if working with colleagues, do so online so that everyone has access to the same information and a more dynamic conversation can be had. Security and privacy (Groups / Teams) can be made available.

Email is a dead end. If you share a link or a snippet of information via email with a dozen people, it crawls into their inbox and dies. If you share the same info with your colleagues via the intranet (informal Status Updates, blog article or via their Profile Wall) then that information can be added to, reacted to and referenced again in three week’s time. Many more people can benefit from it, rather than just the dozen people that came to mind as you composed that email. The information lives on!

Tactically and strategically, these ideas help embed the intranet into your company’s culture, helping it become useful to more than a handful of content authors. These ideas also help IT and Security with their information and storage control strategies, so Intranet Managers shouldn’t feel alone in this Herculean quest, but should feel like the hero.

Go forth and do battle!

[ Wedge ]

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About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.

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