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Email attachment risks highlight value of collaboration tools

This week at Interop Las Vegas, I met Dusan Vitek, vice president of worldwide marketing at Kerio Technologies Inc., who said, “I feel guilty whenever I send an email with an attachment.” I actually laughed out loud because I feel exactly the same way. Somehow, an attachment feels a bit like littering to me, but that might be because I, like Vitek, know that email attachment risk is a real threat to your company.

It’s been 16 years since the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions — or MIME — standard gave us the ability to attach documents within an email. It seemed like such a little life convenience back then — no more long lines at the fax machine!

But what we didn’t know then is that the email attachment changed everything. Email systems were never designed to handle binary attachments, and now a single file could be replicated internally hundreds of times just by the simple inclusion of another person on a copy of an email, forcing IT to invest in deduplication technology.

Every one of us knows the pain of a 10K limit on our inbox when we’re getting files that are half that size in a single email blast. We also had to start worrying about malware making its way on emails posing as “investment opportunities,” or even humorous videos from your maiden aunt, not to mention the concern about industrial espionage or proprietary information leaving your company without anyone ever realizing it. And of course, there’s the obvious annoyance of document version control that usually ends up with someone handing a mess of a document to an intern, along with 16 different versions of changes and hoping that the intern can make sense of the madness, which I only wish wasn’t a true experience that I’ve had or witnessed more times than I can count.

When it comes to your network’s health, the innocent little email attachments are death by a thousand cuts.

This month we’re looking at content management and project and portfolio management tools, and one thing that strikes me is that many midmarket companies consider collaboration tools “nice to have.” OK, everyone’s got shared drives, but how many people are actively using them for frequently changing documents? Just like water always runs downhill, teams are almost always going to go with the easiest solution when no one’s looking — they’re getting by with sharing documents in email and a few rogue project managers have admitted to me that they are turning to Google Docs in defiance of their company policies.

While benefits from collaboration tools are difficult to measure in bottom-line dollars, a reduction in email attachments is plucking low-hanging fruit. Innovation can be borne from constraint: Whether it is by using a widely adapted collaboration tool like SharePoint, Google Docs or Cisco Quad, or by inventing your own solution, as Vitek did with Kerio’s Workspace, I challenge you to make a serious procedural reduction in corporate email attachments or risk drowning your network in your own duplicated memos, PowerPoint decks and PDF files.

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Reply proliferation is what Google Wave was intended to control, among other things. No, maybe not social, but collaborative. I don't have any interns to talk to, so I liked having a tool that understood the problem.
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