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Electronic mail.

What image comes to mind when someone talks about electronic mail, or "e-mail"? Is it an office system that sends messages to your co-worker down the hail, or is it a global system that sends messages to someone across the country? Both images are correct. Both systems send messages over computer links to others on a network.

The global route

Associations are great candidates for using global electronic mail, because they need to communicate with their members. Although there are various ways to set up global electronic mail, users generally hire a third-party service bureau, such as Compuserve or MCI Mail, to provide a centralized vehicle and local telephone numbers that your members may dial. The service bureau may provide a central mail box or bulletin board for you to post global messages and individual mail boxes for each member to use for private messages.

It isn't difficult to discover the advantages of global electronic mail. Imagine the postage and shipping savings if an association is sending communication electronically instead of mailing large documents. Communication is also faster. You can instantly post something on a bulletin board and save several days of delay in mailing. While facsimile machines accomplish the same thing, global electronic mail messages are already electronically formatted. They don't have to be retyped. They don't get lost or misplaced. And in most cases, electronic mail is cheaper than faxing.

The problem: global electronic mail doesn't always work. Global electronic mail requires the user to make a special effort to gain access to it. This usually involves setting other things aside, sometimes hooking up the modem, dialing the service bureau, and logging in only to find you have no mail waiting. Global electronic mail can be frustrating and people stop checking it frequently. It becomes a vicious cycle: People don't get messages, so they don't use it; therefore, they don't send messages, so other members don't get messages, and so forth.

Local delivery

Office electronic mail-which runs on a local area network (LAN), minicomputer, or mainframeshares much in common with global electronic mail, and has many of the same advantages. It eliminates paper and permits efficient communication among employees.

The ultimate office electronic mail system even permits long-distance communication. With the fight setupLANs in separate locations, for example-it's possible to install the same electronic mail software on each LAN, have the LANs automatically dial each other at selected intervals and pass mail between them, and have your organization's own private global system. Then you save mailing and shipping costs to remote offices.

Employees on office electronic mail get access to it through computer terminals that are right there, turned on, and ready to go. It's no more than the press of a button from their word processing system to their electronic mail system. Most office electronic mail systems are passive--you don't have to keep checking for mail. If you receive a message, the system beeps and prints a message on your screen.

People soon discover that electronic mail is the perfect forum for broadcasting any thought that crosses their minds. Before long, you may find yourself wading through earthshaking messages like "Susie or Johnny will be out to lunch for the next half hour" and "Does anyone still have last week's copy of TV Guide "?

Then there is electronic mail's version of "Life's Most Embarrassing Moments." I've seen scathing memos from a supervisor to an employee--the supervisor inadvertently pressed the wrong button and broadcast the message to the entire organization. I've seen love letters, too. If you think the office gossip mill is fast, wait until people start sending this stuff over electronic mail.

If you're looking for office electronic mail, you have many choices. Lotus Development Corporation's cc:Mail is probably the most popular. Microsoft, WordPerfect, and other software companies also have popular products. Ask your dealer to show you the full line. Features to look for include products that allow you to send mail to individuals or groups, save and archive memos, password-protect your mailbox, and "paper clip" documents together.

Consider the choices

If you're about to launch global electronic mail, remember: No matter how excited your membership is about the system, it probably will catch on much more slowly than you anticipate. Look at the reasons behind why your organization wants the system, and make sure it is something you can let evolve over time. And don't base the success of a global electronic mail system on usage volume alone. If you do, you're set up for failure.

On the other hand, if you're considering an internal electronic mail system, it requires management. If you don't set some standards about what people can send, you're likely to get a lot of junk mail on the system. Wait until they find out they can advertise for free those Christmas cookies they bake every year.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Harrison, Steven E.
Publication:Association Management
Date:May 1, 1992
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