Friday 26th May 2017 - Logistics & Supply Chain

Spam and chips

Hands up anyone who feels they don’t get enough emails. Thought so. Not an arm moved. Let’s try another question. Hands up anyone who thinks in darker moments that email can look like the work of the devil. So, a forest of arms this time.

Interesting, isn’t it, how we have these ambivalent views about email? On the one hand, it’s the greatest thing since drip-dry shirts; on the other, it’s something to be reviled and cursed, perhaps more than any other chip-based technology.

What makes this so important for logistics professionals is that, without anybody really noticing, email has just about taken over as the central tool in the management of the supply chain process. It’s what now links central admin with all the depots and warehouses. It’s great as a time-buster when the need is to transfer info between locations in different time-zones.

It’s the carrier of choice – ahead of the telephone now for most forms of regular information. And, through the wonders of wireless technology, it’s even following us out onto the road.

Which means it’s about time we started to try to take control of email before it takes control of us. Yes, I know there are logistics pros out there who will open up their in-box only to find another kilobyte or three of spam crashing into it.

But that’s a defeatist attitude. There’s plenty that can be done if we really think about it – and it’s not just about trying to control the worst of the downside, such as spam and viruses.

Even so, it’s easy to see why some firms have already run up the white flag. There can hardly be a logistics firm anywhere in Europe that hasn’t surrounded its email with enough anti-virus software to frighten off the most pernicious of attacks.

Yet still the viruses sneak through. Research just out from IT analysts at the Butler Group suggests that around one firm in three suffers a ‘serious’ virus attack each year. We’re talking the kind of attack that can cost about e15,000 to put right in a small logistics company or as much as e180,000 in a major international operation.

The problem for logistics pros is that managing email isn’t just a job for the bods in IT. That’s because it’s now raising all sorts of other issues other than the technical ones – issues that impinge on the contents of the emails. When Larry the Lad in the warehouse sends a cheeky message to Saucy Sue in despatch, it could end up on the logistics manager’s desk as a disciplinary problem if Sue takes umbrage at Larry’s improper suggestion. 

If the only problem were one of unrequited love… More, it looks as though it’s going to be one of unending red tape. Email is now at the centre of a growing raft of compliance issues including the Data Protection Act and freedom of information.

And, given the growing environmental dimension to many supply chain issues, there’s also the question of legal disclosure in the event of matters of an unpleasant nature coming to court. Companies that can’t produce emails that are pertinent to a court case can, in certain circumstance, expect to be dealt with harshly.

Time for action
It’s no use leaving this to somebody else. If logistics professionals feel the operation of their function could be compromised because emails aren’t being properly managed, they must take some action themselves. That could be drawing the matter to the attention of the board or even kicking an overburdened IT department into life. But it might also mean taking direct action like drawing up a logistics’ function risk strategy for email that includes both the security and content management issues, then implementing a policy to deal with them. And the bad news is that there isn’t necessarily a simple answer to the problem.

For what it’s worth, the IT analysts I’ve spoken to agree a policy should include both security and lifecycle management, ie how long you’re going to keep the darned things on disk in case somebody kicks up a fuss about something.

And my chums the IT analysts also tell me that no single vendor has everything you need so you’ll have to shop around.

But, whatever you decide, this isn’t a problem that can be solved only by technology. It’s really a good old-fashioned people problem, which means developing best practice for both using and managing emails.

 

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