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Long before e-mail was on most CIO's horizons, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was pondering the issues that might arise from the proliferation of e-mail as part of a public service think tank for the then Information Exchange Steering Group

Use it Abuse it. Anyway you look at it, e-mail is a fixture in our business lives - and increasingly the bane of many an organization's digital existence.

However, within the pain there is promise: The tacit knowledge contained in e-mail, if recognized, shared and managed, can result in improved efficiency, higher productivity and increased revenues in practically any business function.

Long before e-mail was on most CIO's horizons, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was pondering the issues that might arise from the proliferation of e-mail as part of a public service think tank for the then Information Exchange Steering Group.

Sadly you will not find the seminal document they produced back in the nearly 1990s anywhere online, because it was hosted on the Australian Defence Force Academy's Web site and the Department of Defence subsequently removed it. Now that is rather ironic, because the primary threat that document recognized was e-mail's potential for accelerating the loss of crucial corporate information.

"This group of people thought about what would be likely to occur if e-mail proliferated and became a primary way in which people communicated, and the threat they saw was that information would become personalized," says Dale Chatwin, a specialist with the ABS's Knowledge Management Initiative. "People would just talk person to person, and there would be a loss of visibility of the information or the content to the organization. And the actual items themselves would cease to become corporate assets like records were in the paper filing-type system."

The think tank's recommendation - which the ABS diligently adopted - was for organizations to consider the implications carefully, and work out where important information should be kept within the organization in order to ensure its retention. E-mail thus became an important part of the ABS's knowledge strategy and defined information behaviours, its users were trained on how and where to store corporate e-mails, and the organization has been successfully harvesting knowledge from its e-mails ever since.

With e-mail today an essential business tool, growing amounts of vital content are being stored in e-mail systems. E-mail management is becoming essential to any complete content management strategy; compliance with records management standards is all but impossible without it.

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