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Wed June 16 2021

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‘Put it in writing’... and then file it!

20 Apr 12 When Arup, decided to grasp the email nettle, the pressure was on its in-house developers Oasys Software, to come up with the goods. They did. They made a solution that works for teams with anything from 2 to 2,000 or more members; and they think it’s so good that they offer it to other firms at just £115 a seat.

Best practice and QA are second nature in the construction industry, and it follows that we should apply that discipline to all of our documentation, including email. Teams can grow to include dozens of individuals working on any project, communicating from office, home and while on the road. The potential for losing or missing a vital email or IM message is enormous; and the financial risks to a business are unlimited. 

The oft-quoted example of the cost of ignoring the challenge of email management is the case of Best Buy Stores v Developer Diversified Realty, et al. This US case, still active after several years of litigation, has involved the parties in six-figure costs for tracking down relevant email.  With an effective mail management system, that could probably have been done by an intern in an hour.   In another case, again in the US, lack of documentation on a University project resulted in a settlement for millions of dollars being shared by the architect, engineer and contractor.

The other major financial risk is the cost of time lost searching for emails. A 2011 Oasys Software survey of over 1000 customers active in the construction and civil engineering industries showed that more than a third of employees were losing 2 hours or more a day in tracking down emails that are hard to find. 

We all know that we need to solve the email problem, but we just don’t know where to start. If you ask busy people to adopt a whole new set of rules that might conflict with their established style of working then there is a good chance that the discipline will fade after a few days or weeks. Businesses need to find a solution that sticks.

So what are the key considerations in managing the email mountain once and for all and avoiding huge retrieval costs?

Share it

Structure it

Secure it

Simplify it

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Share it by ensuring that all employees understand the need to file all communications on the shared server – whether they are using a PC, a pad or a phone.  Embed doing so in your company processes and rules.

Structure it by creating a filing system that matches the way your business and projects work. No-one else can tell you how to run your business or project, so do not buy into any kind of collaborative working software that constrains your workflow.

Often an important piece of information comes at the end of a long email trail, and the subject line may no longer bear any relation to what is being discussed. That’s where a logical filing system pays dividends. The search features of effective email management will save untold man-hours wasted searching through old emails.

Secure it by managing your own data on servers ideally on your own site or in a trusted cloud storage location. Outages at Blackberry and Google docs have taught us not to reply on third parties for critical data, and the plethora of online tools for collaborative working, each with their different features are of little use for serious project management work.

Simplify it by making the filing process as simple and intuitive as possible.  Even better, make it part of the software people use anyway i.e. Outlook.

Working on some of the world’s most exciting projects from the Beijing Birds Nest Stadium to Brisbane’s award-winning Kurilpa Bridge, Arup’s designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists cannot afford to have emails going astray. They asked us to help – and we came up with Mail Manager, an Outlook Plug-In that is suitable for firms and teams of any size from 2 to 2,000 or more. So we decided to share it.

The real value of Mail Manager is that it is such a simple add on to Outlook, so it does not change the way people work. It’s downloaded and installed in minutes and, while there are online tutorials, most people can work it out intuitively because the software learns from your behaviors and makes sensible suggestions. Before you know it you’ll be storing every incoming and outgoing email on the company server with a couple of mouse clicks.

More to the point, when anyone on the team needs to check the status of communications on a project they simply use the powerful search tool to find and display all relevant messages with their attachments regardless of whether they were party to all the emails or not.

Oasys  developed Mail Manager from scratch, taking on board the wish lists of engineers and designers from Arup offices around the world and combining all the best ideas. Now anyone can find out who wrote what and to whom within seconds.

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