Electronic files that tell the whole story of pieces of work – will we ever get there?

Here is a quote from one of the respondants to the recent survey by State Records New South Wales of e-mail usage in public authorities

Even when emails are captured in our EDRMS (electronic documents and records management system) users focus on capturing emails from their inbox (i.e. email received) and forget about the need to capture sent emails. While it is easy to set up automated links between email folders and the EDRMS, a set and forget method, users fail to save their sent emails to the linked folder. I have failed to find an elegant, non-intrusive method to achieve the capture of the whole ‘story’.


The vision of having colleagues co-operate together to maintain a file that tells the whole story of a piece of work remains  tantalisingly out of reach, even in the case of the organisation quoted above, who seem to have done all the right things.

They have integrated their electronic records management system with the e-mail client so that folders in staff e-mail accounts can be linked to folders in the records system.  What more can they do?

The market will bring a solution to the specific ‘sent items’ problem that the respondent mentioned,through some sort of conversation threading so that sent e-mails are treated together with the e-mails that they responded to/received in response.

But at the same time it will bring different disruptive technologies – for example-mail access on smart phones that are too small to support drag and drop to folders;   cloud e-mail that might prompt an organisation to dispense with the e-mail client that had been integrated to the electronic records system etc.

Technology gives with one hand and takes with the other.  And the sheer fact of constant change means that colleagues/end-users do not have enough time in any one technological configuration to develop the shared routines and habits that would lead to them keeping a complete electronic file for each piece of work that their team undertakes.

2 thoughts on “Electronic files that tell the whole story of pieces of work – will we ever get there?

  1. SAFE: sender always files emails.
    One argument for lots of mailbox folders is that once you’ve dealt with the matter, you can deal with the folder as a batch. Does Outlook still have the option to file replies in the same folder as the original email?
    The Find Related Messages function is probably more realistic in trawling the mailbox for separate In and Out emails, and offers the possibility to select some for filing and others for deletion.
    But both are tweaks. The better argument would seem to be that sent items represent your contribution. Come appraisal time there’s always a flurry of requests around retrieving older emails.

    Great picture. If I keep growing my hair perhaps you’ll let me use a credited copy?!

  2. Hi Richard – Of course you can use the picture! – no need to grow your hair or dye it red (unless you want to of course)!

    I agree with you about sent items being more important than in-boxes.

    By definition there is no duplication in sent items, no spam, and none of those notifications you get from other information systems.

    But isn’t it interesting that the records manager quoted in the survey seems to find that colleagues always seem to start by tackling their in-box. Maybe its psychological – when using a client like Microsoft Outlook we spend so much time looking at our in-boxes and no time looking at our sent items

    The FAO approach I’ve written about in my latest blogpost concentrated mainly on sent items too, with incoming mails treated the same way as any reply sent to them

    The only drawback to a ‘sender files the e-mail’ rule is that the recipient’s colleagues may not have access to the file where the sender has placed it (depending on how restrictive or otherwise the access permissions have been set up). But if you make it ‘sender must file, recipient can file if they want or need to’ then you are covered.

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