2015 IT New Year’s Resolutions: Resolution #1 Stop Using Email as Your File System

Jan 19, 2015 | Big Picture Technology, Consumer Technology, Security

Almost all of us are guilty of it. We live in our email, we mostly exchange files with our colleagues and collaborators via email, and we keep many – maybe most – of our important documents in our email. It seems logical to do so, since our email software is something most of us have open all of the time. For most business people, email is the primary business tool we use.

It’s a bad, no horrible idea though. Why? Because:

It leads to multiple different versions of the same document being stored in multiple people’s email databases. It isn’t the amount of storage I object to, but rather the idea that there are multiple different versions floating around, causing confusion. It’s way too easy for someone to forward the wrong version of the document to someone else.

It’s also a security risk. Email accounts are far more easily exploited than almost any other aspect of our digital lives – they’re often the primary avenue of attack and the way attackers get access to our data. If you want proof of this, go read about the recent attack on Sony Motion Pictures. Look at the damage that was caused by people’s email and stored documents in their email being exploited. Think about what someone might do to your business if they had access to the documents in your email.

As a corollary, documents in your email are hard to protect through encryption. Not that email is actually all that tough to encrypt. But because it adds an extra step to a technology that business people today take for granted, no one uses it. Email encryption also really only works if both sender and recipient are using it, and all involved are using the same approach. Conversely, documents outside of your email can be encrypted easily and seamlessly, without your ongoing intervention.

Finally, your email software just wasn’t designed to do what you’re trying to do with it, and so it eventually breaks. We see this nearly every single day in our Small Business IT Support practice. Your mail store gets huge, and suddenly your mail software starts acting weird. Then it crashes, and mail gets corrupted. Better hope it’s backed up!

So, what to do instead? First, stop using email for document collaboration. There are tons of substitutes that allow you to share documents easily both inside and outside of your organization. All of these are more secure and dependable than keeping everything in your email. Nearly all of them also handle document revision management – something I’ll talk about in my next Resolutions post.

Secondly, stop saving everything. I know people that save every single email they’ve ever sent or received. If they exchanged lunch plans with a colleague four years ago, they have that email. There’s no justification for that. It doesn’t actually help you, it’s just filling up your email storage with useless data you can’t possibly ever need. If an email message contains a document you are convinced you’ll need in the future, save it to the proper location. Use features of modern operating systems and collaboration systems to append tags and other metadata to help you remember context. But be ruthless about getting it out of your email.

Email is a great tool, but technology has advanced. There’s no reason to keep using it the same way we did a decade ago. In fact, there are some significant disadvantages to doing so. Resolve this year to train yourself to act differently!