Shaking data loose from e-mail

* Get valuable information out of clients to share with everyone

E-mail clients make lousy databases. Information stuck in your e-mail client software doesn't help anyone else, and won't help you if you can’t find the information you need. Big businesses call information sharing "knowledge management," but I call it "working smarter." Here’s how.

First, if you work by yourself, sharing e-mail data is less important than getting that data into an application built to handle it. One e-mail client I didn't mention in my last newsletter is InfoSelect from Micro Logic (www.miclog.com). The e-mail client support is weaker than the other applications I recommended, but InfoSelect is an excellent personal information manager (PIM). Unfortunately, it’s expensive - $250 to buy, $50 to license for one year, which is what I do since I'm always looking for a better PIM or text database.

InfoSelect’s PIM uses an outline model that fans of the orphaned ECCO software especially like. You can drag and drop e-mail messages into any area, and link a note to another note, appointment or address, a feature I especially like. But even if you don't link an e-mail to a note, InfoSelect's search function will find both in a flash based on various searching options, including exact phrase, Boolean expressions and data rate.

Other text database programs also offer e-mail message extraction. AskSam 5 (www.asksam.com), lacks an e-mail client but lets you pull information from Outlook and Outlook Express client e-mail storage (and Netscape, Eudora and POCOmail - and probably Thunderbird as it shares a common heritage with Netscape). In fact, there’s a complete "E-mail Archive" page (http://www.asksam.com/solutions/email%20archiving.asp) with instructions.

AskSam costs $150 per user, but includes a variety of features and optional utilities to make information available to others through reports and Web page content. There’s also a Pro version ($395) and a five-user network version ($1,995).

Second, companies with multiple employees have to make the next step and get important e-mail messages into a shareable format.

If you want to start small without buying anything new, try this: Create a new e-mail account called something like Save@YourCompany.com. Tell employees to send messages they want to share to the account. Encourage them to send anything that might be remotely useful, because you can filter this later.

Every week, someone (probably you) should go through the messages and save them to some application that can be properly searched and shared with others. The searching can be minimal to start, and sharing can be as simple as creating a document on a shared network folder or a private page on the company Web site. As the idea catches on, you can check into a PIM or build a database with tools you already use.

Do you get e-mails from customers? Of course. But can you quickly locate all customer e-mails you've received, and sort them by whether the customer calls you an idiot or a genius? You can if you invest just a few minutes per week into pulling your valuable e-mails into a form usable by everyone.

FYI: People in Houston, Seattle, Chicago, and New York City should check out the free Network World Small and Midsize Business Technology Tour in those cities in May and June: http://www.nwfusion.com/events/remoteofficenetworking/index.html  Introduce yourself and I'll give you a free gift.

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