Magazine Article | February 21, 2008

How Will You Conquer E-Mail Management?

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Industry experts indicate a trend toward hosted solutions to meet the challenges of electronic communications.


Integrated Solutions, March 2008

The continued explosion of e-mail leads to increased risk, threat, and cost. As such, managing e-mail has become a critical consideration not only for enterprises, but also for SMBs. Three industry experts recently discussed with me some of the concerns involved in e-mail management and the growing trend toward SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions to solve them.

"At its most basic level, the term e-mail management refers to the ways in which end users and businesses store and organize e-mail information, including the many attachments that are sent by e-mail such as PDF files, spreadsheets, and word processing documents," says Eric Goodwin, CEO of Fortiva. "Today, e-mail management involves the creation and enforcement of retention policies, the optimization of storage to ensure performance, compliance with regulations, and the timely search and retrieval of e-mail data for business and legal purposes."

While the most publicized concerns of e-mail management revolve around regulatory compliance — most familiar are probably SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley), FRCP (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure), and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) — the biggest risk factor comes from inside an organization. Improper use of company e-mail can lead to problems ranging from loss of intellectual property to violating privacy regulations. Quite often this occurs inadvertently, when an employee sends sensitive data outside of the organization without malicious intent. A simple example of this is an employee forwarding information to a personal e-mail account in order to continue working on the project while at home. Likewise, inappropriate content, such as offensive jokes, can circulate throughout a company's e-mail system. Both situations put employers at litigation risk.

"Balancing employee privacy with the need to mitigate risk can be a difficult challenge," says Chris Bradley, VP of marketing and business development at MessageGate. "E-mail control software uses predefined parameters and rules to look at the context and content of a message and only engages with the sender if they are at risk of engaging in unintentional e-mail misuse." This type of software can alert the user when the 'send' button is pressed by displaying any violations contained in the e-mail. It provides an opportunity for the user to stop the e-mail before it is sent and therefore, before it becomes a legal business record. "Integrating e-mail control software with presend intervention demonstrates a reasonable effort should an incident occur, making it an important component in ensuring legal compliance and corporate responsibility," says Bradley. Further, implementing user self-review solutions promotes employee responsibility by allowing them to determine the appropriate course of action.

An underlying component of e-mail management is accessibility. This is largely driven by the FRCP, which requires an organization to produce any e-mail related to pending litigation within 99 days. For this reason, storing e-mail properly has become a prime consideration. Simple, 'bulk' storage of e-mail has several inherent flaws, not the least of which is the space that e-mails can consume in any storage environment. Many companies think that simply storing all e-mails can satisfy the legal requirements of the FRCP. What they will find, however, is that although they may have stored the e-mails, they have no efficient means by which to search them. Locating a specific set of e-mails would be like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

"Storage is a very broad term referencing the fact that data is being held. For example, e-mails can be stored on a user's local hard drive, in a company's e-mail server, or on tape backups," says Matt Smith, president of LiveOffice. "However, none of these options is considered to be viable for long-term, tamper-proof storage, which is where archiving comes into play." Archiving refers to more than just storing data. It requires data, in this case e-mail messages, to be copied or moved to a secondary location. This relieves the space burden of the company's primary storage solution, enabling long-term storage of e-mail that can still be accessible at a later date.

"Effective archiving systems are disk-based and able to store extremely large amounts of e-mail for long periods of time, without the threat of the data being corrupted," says Smith. "In addition, good archiving systems are backed up in multiple, geographically disparate locations, ensuring the availability of data at all times."

Fortiva's Goodwin goes on to explain the importance of archiving. "There is some confusion around this term [archiving] because it can be used to refer to everything from ad hoc end user 'archiving' to formal archiving for corporate purposes," he explains. Common platforms, such as Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, give users the option to "archive" e-mail by saving it as a PST (personal folder storage) file on their desktop computers. While this removes the data from primary storage on the Exchange server, leaving it accessible on the user's computer does not qualify as active archiving. "An active archive [the definition used by most analysts] involves indexing  information, enforcing retention policies, and preventing deletion or alteration of e-mail until a predetermined disposition date," continues Goodwin.

Most companies take one of two approaches to e-mail archiving: save all or save nothing. Both strategies have inherent flaws. "Saving all e-mails means that messages quickly add up and increase storage requirements — along with the number of useless e-mails that still must be recovered and analyzed during e-discovery. Meanwhile, saving nothing means companies will be unable to provide requested and necessary documentation when litigation occurs," says Bradley. Arguably the best solution to this conundrum is e-mail archive categorization. This type of solution enables an organization to establish retention policies based on specified business rules. In the same manner as a user would establish document categorization through the use of keywords, an e-mail categorization tool will use keywords, position titles (such as CEO or manager), departments (like HR or accounting), and so on to categorize e-mails into the proper retention cycle. In this manner, a company can establish longer retention periods in an archive for regulated communications than those established for personal e-mails and insignificant correspondence.

"According to recent analyst reports, growth in hosted solutions overtook that of on-site e-mail archiving solutions in 2006, and we expect that trend to continue," says Goodwin. "Both IDC and Gartner analysts have made similar predictions, and our experience certainly backs that up." SaaS solutions can be deployed quickly and cost-effectively and eliminate the need for purchasing additional hardware or software to accomplish effective e-mail management. In addition, hosted e-mail management solutions can provide the redundancy of multiple data centers in geographically dispersed locations, addressing disaster recovery concerns while still removing the burden of monitoring and archiving e-mail from internal IT staff.

"Organizations with between 1 and 1,000 mailboxes are embracing hosted message management systems," says Smith. "We are also seeing increased interest from larger enterprises." Historically, these organizations have been hesitant to outsource their e-mail management, but with message volumes growing exponentially each year, CIOs and IT managers are beginning to turn to SaaS solutions as a cost-effective option for alleviating the resource-heavy administrative tasks associated with e-mail management.

Cost savings can be a big consideration, especially when you factor in the questionable stability of today's economy. "If the United States heads into another recession, corporations will likely rein in information technology spending, and consequently, software companies will potentially suffer," says Smith. "Vendors that offer SaaS solutions, however, will continue to thrive." In fact, Gartner predicts that from 2007 to 2011, the overall growth rate of SaaS will double that of enterprise software as a whole. SaaS can help users meet their technology needs by supporting vital functions, such as e-mail management, at a fraction of the cost of running an in-house system. In addition, the fixed monthly expense of a SaaS solution helps users control overhead while also eliminating the need to carry nonrevenue-generating assets, such as in-house hardware or software.

While hosted solutions are a cost-saving and IT resource-saving option for enterprises, the impact can be even more beneficial for SMBs due to the lower cost per user. SaaS offerings enable SMBs to benefit from e-mail management features that have typically been implemented in-house by Fortune 500 companies with expansive IT budgets. Additionally, opting for SaaS-based e-mail management solutions can keep an organization, whether SMB or enterprise, consistently upgraded as these solutions evolve, without requiring significant out-of-pocket expenditures.

"Addressing e-mail management with messaging audit, presend e-mail controls, and categorization tools before it enters the archive can increase overall operational visibility and reduce risks created by e-mail. Additionally, companies can effectively adhere to new e-discovery requirements in a practical, affordable, and responsible manner," says Bradley. As businesses continue to recognize the need for e-mail management, archiving solutions that support end user access will become commonplace. Hosted solutions will shift the burden off end users while continuing to protect  users from legal and business risks.