Re: IT uses

From: John Conover <>
Subject: Re: IT uses
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1993 01:14:08 -0700 (PDT)

John Conover writes:
> Continuing on with the application of IT, I will present an example
> usage scenario in the day to day operation of the IT system outlined
> above.  To reiterate the way things are setup, all members of the
> group (or team) have a mail alias set up in their project account that
> includes their self, all other members of the group, and the group's
> project archive. ...

The previous applications involved coordinating project management
issues and execution that cross organizational boundaries.  The
concepts outlined are equally applicable to service organizations,
where "customer satisfaction" (whoever the customer may be) is an
important objective.

It is important to understand that email is different from other forms
of electronic communication in that it is a "self documenting" system.
Email is more like a "real" letter, (as opposed to to something like a
phone conversation, or voice mail message,) in that the recipient has
something tangible that can be kept, filed, collated, and distributed,
electronically.  Email is also different from facsimile (FAX) in that
email that has been saved (electronically) can be searched for subject
content, and retrieved based on an arbitrary search criteria (which,
obviously, can not be done with a FAX-the keyword here is "arbitrary"
since a file cabinet can be searched by looking at folder names-but it
is not an arbitrary search where retrieval is dependent on the
"content" of the letters contained in the folders.)  Email is also
different than paper, in that it automatically carries information
about how it was routed through the organization, and a "time stamp"
of when it entered and exited each of the organization's machines (it
is also assigned a unique identifying number when it is originated.)

Usually, email, ir-regardless of subject, is stored in a single
database. (The correct term is "full text database," but it is also
referred to as an "archive.")  It is a key point that all email that
pertain to a specific subject can be collated together, and retrieved,
by framing a search criteria. (The correct term here is "text
information retrieval," but it is also referred to as "querying," or
"electronic literature search.")

In service organizations, usually, the issue is that a lot of tasks
are being handled concurrently, by only a few people, and things "fall
in cracks," which are usually discovered in staff meetings. One
alternative, to aid task tracking, is to construct a database of all
of the organization's incoming email as follows:

        1) When an email enters the organization's network (either by
        being routed there by a manager, or direct from some other
        organization, perhaps outside the company,) the email is
        automatically put in the organization's database and assigned
        a docket number.  A copy of the email is also automatically
        routed to the organization's supervisor, who in turn, will
        dispatch the copy to the appropriate person for action. (This
        routing is all recorded in the email's "header.")

        2) When any action(s) are taken, the action(s) are recorded in
        an email, which is forwarded to interested parties (like the
        supervisor, for example,) and a copy, automatically, placed in
        the database. Any pending issues are also recorded-pending
        issues will hold the docket open.

        3) When all of the issues concerning the email have been
        resolved, an email stating such is placed in the database,
        which closes the docket.

Note that the status of all issues represented in the database can be
queried at any time (by the supervisor or manager, etc.,) and those
issues that have not been resolved, or still have pending issues can
be found and addressed. Reconciliation is accomplished by querying for
docket numbers that have been opened, and have not been closed.
Obviously, the supervisor would be doing this query on an operational
basis. Additionally, the query could be run every night
(automatically,) and the results forwarded to the manager every
morning for evaluation.

Note that email is never removed from the database, since it
constitutes a "history" of what the organization has accomplished (and
otherwise.) And, of course, this history could be reviewed
(periodically) by the TQM/OD (or other non-biased) organization to
make a qualitative evaluation of the organization's effectiveness and

I would now like to discuss some of the contemporary moral issues of
using systems like the ones outlined above. A good question is: Isn't
this system a form of "Big Brother" watching? And in some sense, it
is. However, if you look at the question from another viewpoint: If
you were running an organization, and paying for the organization's
resources out of you own pocket, wouldn't you be watching? The two
viewpoints seem contradictory and incompatible.

These questions are part of the dilemma of the "electronification" of
society. They are debated ad infinitum on the Internet and constitute
only a fraction of the general issues involved with the integration of
computers and networks into society.  These are not easy questions,
and there are no easy answers.  Leading one side of the argument is
the "Electronic Freedom Foundation," founded by Mitch Kapor, (who
founded Lotus corporation, and wrote Lotus 123.) The EFF attitude is
very liberal-supporting privacy. On the other side are organizations
where everything is open and known (or available to be known) via
policy, by all in the organization. Certain government laboratories
(Lawrence Livermore, for example,) are run this way. Even everyone's
salary and benefits are published and available to everyone else.

In some sense, the systems constructed around email are different. Of
course things are tracked and performances evaluated.  (And that is
true of any management tool, like MBO, for example.) But on the other
hand, these systems are a kind of "electronic democracy."  For
example, in the system discussed above, (that would be useful in a
service organization,) if the personnel were overloaded, they would be
foolish not to write an email to the database declaring such. Note
that in doing so, they "went on public record" and "declared a stand"
on the issue. The capability to do this is a very democratic ideal,
(note that the supervisors/managers have no direct authority to remove
any data-this or otherwise.) Those who claimed that they were
overloaded with work (whether they were, or not) have the means at
their disposal to make the alleged conditions an issue within the

When you really consider what the email based systems do, and how they
operate, they are really not so different than the memo/letter based
systems used in commerce for centuries. What is different is the
efficiency of transmission and distribution, and the ability to
collate information from the database system on demand (by framing a
"context" query.) In a paper based system, you retrieve things based
on how it was stored-ie., by looking at the titles on the folders in a
file cabinet. Cross indexing letters and memos enhances the capability
to retrieve information (albeit with significant allocation of
resources to do it.) There is not so very much different in any of the
email systems discussed here, except that the process is automated,
inexpensive, and fast. (In case you are curious, these systems also
cross index-but they cross index every word in every letter/memo, in
every file-that is how the internals of the systems work-nothing


John Conover,,

Copyright © 1993 John Conover, All Rights Reserved.
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