Emails Off The Rails

Email Off The Rails

We live in a world where email is the de facto communications standard between organisations and their third party networks – it is not set to go “out of fashion” anytime soon. However attachment sizes are growing as office productivity files become increasingly bloated with multimedia and rich graphics. Consequently, email systems are groaning under the weight and users are often hitting message size limits and mailbox quotas.

Not only that, but recent news has highlighted the security vulnerabilities found with email systems. Take the Groklaw scandal, Google’s recent “privacy” outburst and let’s not forget the “human error” problem. Many high-profile data breaches have been caused by emails – the most recent being Aberdeen council’s blunder which cost it £100,000. Collectively, these events help build the business case for other collaboration tools, driving the devolution of email into a less relied upon method of communication.

With these security concerns in mind, there’s certainly a clear business case for rejecting email in favour of a collaboration platform purely specialising in document exchange, especially since secure document transfer is still often done by physical courier to obtain the necessary proof of delivery that email cannot reliably deliver.

Email tends to leave multiple copies of vital documents on the system, for example, in the sender’s sent box, archives and the recipient’s mailbox – sometimes even the recipient’s hard drive. Cleaning up the trail to delete the document is almost impossible if email transport is used.

Although, I think it is important to remember that email systems were never built for security; consider an email to be the electronic equivalent of sending a postcard with your message written on it.

It is possible to layer encryption on top of emails, but this requires the recipient to have suitable software setup to de-crypt the package, as well as an alternative transport route to share the keys – in which case we are getting into more complex realms of sharing information.

To avoid data leaks and serious corporate fines, organisations need better insight into what business content is being shared and who is sharing it. Worryingly, a recent survey by Intralinks found that only 30 per cent of organisations feel they have control over information shared outside of the firewall. It is clear from statistics like this that information exchange needs an overhaul.

Cloud-based communications tools which allow organisations to safely and securely share documents are gaining in popularity, but the market is very diluted and many businesses are not aware of the resources available to them. Companies operating in unregulated industries may see benefits in tools that have emerged from the consumer space, such as Dropbox.

Yet those in highly regulated and security conscious environments may require a platform that has been tried and tested in secure document exchange. These platforms allow content owners to authorise who sees what file and for how long, destroying its existence at the flick of a switch to eliminate the “human error” problem.

Today’s IT departments do not have control over information exchange, especially if email continues to be relied upon by most businesses to function day-to-day. Admittedly, we will never see “the back of email” for many years, as ageing in-house systems will need to be fully replaced by their cloud-based equivalents over time. With such emphasis on email alone, persuading organisations to overhaul their communications completely is a tricky business if employees are very familiar with one way of working.

Nevertheless, as more and more news comes to light on email surveillance and information breaches, the industry is building a stronger business case for other supporting tools which can help protect confidential documents normally shared over email. Email should evolve into a mechanism for notifying the user of a collaboration task, or providing an update on a status, rather than being the medium through which collaboration itself takes place.

Richard Anstey

Richard Anstey serves as Intralinks’ Chief Technology Officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Richard joined Intralinks after serving as Chief Architect at OpenText, where he was responsible for the technology evolution of the company’s full information management portfolio including innovation and technical due diligence on acquisitions. During his time at OpenText, Richard led the global product management team as it passed the USD 1 billion revenue threshold and has over 15 years of Information Management experience.