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Docu-drama

Docu-drama

When it comes to good document management, e-mail can be an organization's worst enemy.

Every November I find myself empathizing with the horses in the Melbourne Cup. During this month I, too, seem to spend most of my time racing around the city. However, in my case I'm catching up with InTEP members in Victoria. Besides a chance to find out what projects have dominated their agendas over the last twelve months, it's also an ideal opportunity for me to learn the issues with which they are wrestling.

Invariably, these meetings highlight something new, and last November was no different. Almost without exception, every one of the seven CIOs I met brought up the topic of document management. They explained that their existing systems had become increasingly deficient.

Their systems worked well when most of the documents generated by the organisation had been created with a word processing system, such as Microsoft Word, because these applications force users to save the documents within the structure of the document management system. However, the reality in most offices today is that fewer and fewer corporate documents are created by word processing.

The culprit is e-mail. More and more significant correspondence happens this way. While once this may not have been a concern, the new corporate governance models emphasize the need for businesses to track all correspondence. In Australia we associate the emergence of governance with the collapses of HIH and One-Tel. The fallout from these events has resulted in the Stock Exchange now requiring all listed Australian companies to report their governance activities on a regular basis. However, Australia is not alone. In the last few years, governance has become a catchphrase of business around the world.

In the US, the implosion of Enron was the catalyst for this new level of business scrutiny. The endeavours of two politicians in the United States saw the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, which increases the corporate governance responsibilities for US CEOs, CFOs, and the audit committees of publicly held companies. As a result, any organisation doing business in the US now has to establish processes and provide documentation to support compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. Not surprisingly, for these organisations effective document management has become a priority.

The aim of document management systems is to ensure that all documentation is collected, catalogued, and related to key processes and transactions so as to provide a full audit trail of information. As Bill Gates found out during the famous Anti-Trust browser case of the 1990s, e-mail is very much regarded as corporate documentation. However, most of the e-mail generated in business today happens in place of what once might have been telephone or water cooler conversations.

The challenge facing CIOs is to effect a change in corporate culture so that when business executives send out e-mails, they think long and hard about their tone, content and demeanour. Some form of forced integration between e-mail systems and corporate document management repositories might well get these people to appreciate that when they pen an e-mail, they are registering their thoughts to posterity. Perhaps it might be better to strategize offline in a face-to-face meeting before nailing one's colours to the mast of an e-mail.

After spending up to a week offline in the past month as a result of the MyDoom virus, e-mail is an issue quite close to my heart. I am sure my lost productivity could be multiplied by many millions around the world who were also contaminated by MyDoom. As such, I keep wondering whether a return to faxes and snail mail might not lead to a boost in corporate productivity. It would certainly eliminate the dangers of viruses. It might also lead to a watertight document management system to satisfy the scrutiny of any future corporate governance auditors.

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