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What is Email Management?

Email is the de facto standard for business communication across organizations at this time. Just as any other type of business information and record, email must be included as part of, and adhered to, the organizational standards addressing information and records. 

Email is pervasive across all aspects of all businesses and has become highly business critical. For information workers, the email client was their primary business application spending many hours a day reading, responding, and collaborating via emails.

For many, email management devolves into simply removing emails from a server and saving them to a repository.  But this is not enough because, to do it right, each one must be classified, stored, and perhaps destroyed in a manner consistent with established business policies and standards – just as should be done for all other kinds of documents and records. Email management involves the systematic control of the quality and quantity of electronic messages that are sent from within, and received by, an organization.

The vast quantities of emails held in inboxes, sent folders, and deleted items folders put the organization at risk and adversely impact the performance of email servers in the organization. Email servers were never designed to act as repositories for such great quantities of emails and move control of this information away from the organization. Without the management of emails, it is difficult for organizations to meet their legal preservation requirements in the event of litigation and government investigations, increasing the effort and cost in responding to eDiscovery and disclosure.

Email management systems centrally capture emails created and received by employees. Using a classification scheme to manage this content, retention periods and access controls can be applied to manage emails. Metadata associated with the emails can be captured to allow this information to be managed and retrieved. Email archiving is one of the most common applications for email management. At their most basic, these solutions either copy or remove messages from the messaging application and store them at another location. In some of these solutions, the messages are not archived, but attachments are and are replaced with either a stub or a link within the message. Email management systems are a part of an overall solution. Organizations need to have records management programs, consisting of organization-wide policies and procedures, staff and activities.

Email is a information type that is often treated differently than others even though it shouldn’t be. The reasons for different treatment are many and reflect: 

  • The sheer volume of messages involved, which dwarf the number of other document types in play on a daily basis
  • The informality with which they can be created and forwarded: everybody does it, all the time, with the simple click of a mouse
  • The ease with which documents can be attached, even if they’re not supposed to be.

These factors make it difficult to fully understand email management as a discipline and wrestle it to the ground. Organizations will often default to one or more of a number of unacceptable options that they think constitute management but really don’t. Organizations may decide the best way to manage email is by doing one or more of the following:

  • Saving all email messages forever
  • Saving all email messages in the messaging application
  • Setting arbitrary mailbox sizes for all users
  • Declaring “email’ as a record series
  • And, of course, the ever-popular “Doing nothing”

The best answer is to ensure your organization has strong policies in place to govern such things. And yet, we know full well that not every organization does. According to a 2009 AIIM study on the subject:

  • Only 10% of organizations have completed an enterprise-wide email management initiative,
  • Only 20% currently are rolling out a project, and
  • Even in larger organizations, 17% have no plans to do so.

There is much that organizations need to determine:

  • When to declare an email, copy of a message or an entire thread/conversation a record
  • Determine what to base the record decision upon – sender, receiver, type of content, attachments, text within the email, etc.

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