Ah, the email attachment. As much as businesses have tried to move to content management and file storage systems, the email attachment remains the go-to way of sharing files. Even when someone can simply point to a document sitting in a system like a virtual data room, DropBox, Box.com, etc. often they find the path of least resistance is to simply attach the file and let it fly.
However, my real attachment issue is less about the under-utilization of document management systems and more about the continued use of a specific old-school technology still being used to collect information. Even in 2016 it’s far too common to see people attaching forms created in Excel and Word to emails. It could be for an expense report, a document request, a project change authorization, vacation requests, etc. Just launch Microsoft Word and search for “forms.” There are hundreds of pre-built form templates available.
No one likes downloading them, opening them, saving them and then sending them back. No one.
When forms like these are used for something simple like gathering lunch preferences for a company picnic, it’s inefficient but at least it’s a fairly straightforward experience. Someone sends out an email with the form attached to everyone and they all send back their completed forms. Sure, the results have to be manually and painstakingly compiled by someone, but it’s a one-time burden. That being said, I suggest anyone doing this go sign up with SurveyMonkey immediately.
But when you start talking about more frequently-used forms that require approvals and involve several different people, using forms like these becomes a huge bottleneck. Everyone involved has to open the attachment, review the contents, fumble through the form to make any changes or edits, save it somewhere with a different name, re-attach it and then send it out to the next person in the process. Meanwhile:
- Someone is going to have to manually enter all the information into a system when it’s done.
- Email servers and hard drives are filling up with countless versions of the same document.
- The only person who knows where things stand in the process is the last person to send or receive an email.
- Everyone is losing time they could be spending on more valuable work.
It’s time to end the practice of sending forms as email attachments. There are much better, faster, smarter solutions out there for handling situations where information needs to be submitted, reviewed, approved, tracked and analyzed. If your needs are simple, where you just need an online form that notifies you when someone fills it out, look at survey tools like the aforementioned SurveyMonkey, WuFoo or JotForm.
If you need something more robust, with business rules, workflow, multi-tiered approvals, etc. look at a full workflow management solution. Most can be configured for a wide variety of business scenarios from HR to IT to Finance to operations. Some, like ours, are intended to be used by non-IT business folks so they can be up and eradicating email-attached forms quickly.
Next time someone sends you an email with a Word or Excel form attached, reply back with a link to this post. 🙂