When I started telling people in 2015 that I had started a PhD project by email, my file management colleagues usually smiled, patted my shoulder, and said, "Great! let us know when you have found the solution. "
Two years later. There is no solution yet. Solutions do not fall from the sky. Solutions come from people trying to fix things. If there is a faulty situation and no one is trying to fix it, it will be faulty.
You do not need to do a PhD project to find that companies do not consistently capture business emails in systems they call "recording systems".
Yes, there are possible approaches. Not just one approach, but many different approaches that are appropriate under different circumstances, using different technologies or different methods of using human input:
We could go on with this list, you will have your own ideas. We have not even mentioned machine learning.
But a solution to a problem is like a hammer waiting for a nail, unless the problem owner wants the problem to be solved.
The problem owner for the email issue is the organization that owns the email accounts and emails.
All of the above solutions have in common that they all cause more emails to be recorded in recording systems. All of these solutions therefore increase the cost of storage, the cost of accessing information requests, and in highly politicized environments such as many central government agencies, increase the risk of exposing potentially embarrassing content.
Emails are a problem where the problem owner takes advantage of being left unresolved. Any conceivable solution to the problem of treating business emails as records would be more expensive and would be perceived by the problem owner as riskier than the current approach. To be honest, the current approach is for companies to strive to get employees to store important emails as reords. These in turn make an effort to occasionally drop a few e-mails in a recording system while the rest is done. E-mails are routinely deleted after a predetermined but essentially arbitrary period of time.
Where do archivists and archive administrators stay? Where does it leave the file management and where does it leave the file management?
We are also, so to speak, the problem owner. The problem falls in our professional field.
We are employed in organizations. It is not our job to try to get our organizations to do something that runs counter to their perceived interests (and we would not get very far if we tried).
On the one hand we are in a good situation. Organizations do not pressure us to change our records management policies, which direct employees to move emails into the records system, and we do not press ourselves to change the relationship between the email environment and our records system ( which is typically a product designed and configured primarily for the protocol. Capture and manage documents instead of emails.
On the other hand, it puts us in a very difficult position. We've gone to great lengths to develop enterprise-wide recording systems and company-wide retention plans (both works by Hercules, all of which require our expertise, experience and energy) and yet we are considered mistakes because those systems and these retention plans fail the bulk the business correspondence of an organization.
It's a problem that we can not really do anything about, because our organizations do not want to do anything about it. Include one of the ideas listed above in your organization, and you'll see what I mean. Our vendor community can not help us because our organizations do not want solutions that would result in them keeping significant email volumes for significantly longer periods of time.
In the short term, we can continue this way. Our organizations are pleased that we continue to try and continue to fail. Because (and this is the paradox) our failure to consistently capture business correspondence in systems treated as recording systems reduces the cost and perceived risk of recording for our organizations.
But what about the long term? In the long term, I fear that this failure will damage our professional reputation and the clarity and moral force of our theory and practice.