By Phillips, John T., Jr.
ARMA Records Management Quarterly , Vol. 26, No. 3
Although technology is generally expected to make life less complicated and more productive, it often creates new and interesting "challenges." This is especially true of computer based communications. Electronic mail or Email is being used increasingly by businesses and professionals to enhance productivity by making faster and more convenient the text based communications that occur every day in conducting business and professional affairs. The global spread of the technology infrastructure that supports local area networks, wide area networks, and other telecommunications architectures enables records managers to use electronic mail to increase their own ability to communicate. However, a successful implementation of electronic mail requires attention to the uniqueness of the medium as a communications facility. Otherwise electronic mail can become a victim of the same problems often associated with conventional mail such as an accumulation of "junk" in everyone's mail box.
"The goal (of electronic mail) is to save work time, promote information sharing, and reach wider audiences with professional contributions. The growing ease of use and widespread availability of electronic mail on telecommunications networks is often making it less desirable to FAX pieces of paper across telephone lines when fast, flexible, and friendly electronic mail can be used. The more common uses of electronic mail for business includes:
1. Communication of memos or letters.
2. Transmission of forms, files or data.
3. Promotion of online conferences/forums of multiple users.
4. Cost effective distribution of standards, procedures, directives, guidelines, regulations, announcements or other administrative letters or communications."(1)
A number of professional organizations are considering using Email for conducting association business and communicating membership and other information to chapters, regions, and members. The Data Processing Management Association is presently offering use of computer based communications on its own bulletin board system or at reduced rates on CompuServe.(2) Features of the system include electronic mail, membership databases, file libraries, user surveys, classified ads, special interest groups, and teleconferencing. ARMA International's Technical Applications Subcommittee of the Publications Coordination Committee has conducted an investigation into the utility of Email for ARMA members as well as surveys to assess the present status of technology penetration and automation of its chapters. Statistics indicate that 76 percent of ARMA International members surveyed are interested in participation in any Email system sponsored by ARMA International.(3) This undoubtedly means that some form of electronic communications lies in the future of most records managers.
USING ELECTRONIC MAIL FOR COMMUNICATION
There are many obvious advantages to using Email. One can communicate or transmit large amounts of information across long distances quickly. That information can be more precise in content than the brief phone messages that one often receives on a phone recording or forwarded by associates through memos that might say "Mr. Brown called yesterday and wants to talk to you." As pages of text can be left in electronic mail boxes at any hour of the day, it is possible to eliminate a lot of the "telephone tag" that results when someone is unwilling or unable to leave an explicit message by phone at a convenient time. The person leaving the message can leave detailed information that it would be difficult to transcribe or dictate to third parties over the phone. And both the sender and receiver can rest assured that only someone with the correct user identification and password can read the message. Entire documents can be transmitted as electronic files in this manner at any hour of the day and with some systems a "return receipt" can be automatically generated notifying the sender that the mail was read. …