Email is NOT a Document Management System Part III: Fallacy 2- Email Easily Searchable Docs

Posted by Romeo Elias on Fri, Nov 17, 2006 @ 04:11 PM

On behalf of Jaime Sipila

Fallacy 2 – email is great for storing documents because I can easily search for them

How many times have you sought out an important document only to find out that you weren’t cc’d in the email message that it was contained in? Sure, the people that actually received the email can find it, if they know the right key words to search for. But if you’re out of the loop, you’re out. You have to find someone that either sent the email or received it – thus creating a whole new chain of email communications.

But maybe you were cc’d on the email. Ok, great. Now how do you find it? In many cases, the email Subject line is irrelevant to the content, thus preventing a successful search. Even the content of the email can be completely irrelevant. How many times have you sent or received an email talking about some innocuous subject, only at the end to write something like, “Oh, by the way, I attached that document we were talking about earlier today”? Try to find that one…

Microsoft Outlook, for instance, has a decent keyword search engine. But unless you’ve done a great job with the Organize feature and used the folder hierarchy system to its fullest, the emails are basically in a jumbled mess with little or no context. You typically end up scanning through many tens or hundreds of emails around a date you ‘think’ you might have received the email, or you try keyword after keyword looking for what you need. It makes you wonder why there aren’t better technologies for searching. Google Desktop Search has certainly helped in that regard recently, but then you have yet another application to work with.

Regarding context, not only does your document management system need to be centrally located and available to anyone at any time, but it also must store documents in some intelligent manner so that when you do need the information, it is easy to find. How many of us really take the time to organize our email folders properly? Even if you do have a folder for Project A, for example, there are so many different types of communications related to that project that to provide context, you would have to further create subfolders comprising documents, data, requests for change, etc. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is simply no way to control the content or structure of what someone will send you in an email.

Lastly, by its very nature, email promotes stranded documents. You don’t have access to Jane’s email, and she doesn’t have access to yours. Any critical document in her email resides, stranded, on her hard drive. A true document management system requires that all documents reside in a centralized location for anyone, with proper access privileges, to access at any time.

Next Week (after the holiday break): Fallacy 3 – email promotes accountability