used to be an informal way for employees to communicate with
each other. Most businesses let employees manage and archive their
e-mails as they saw fit. Considering that up to 60% of today’s
business-critical information is stored in e-mail systems, according to
Ferris Research, you may want to rethink how you manage this
Companies’ dependence on e-mail has increased
dramatically in just the last few years. It is now an accepted means
for taking orders, formalizing contracts, granting approvals, and
making employment offers. As this reliance has increased, so has
governmental scrutiny. E-mail messages are now considered comparable to
paper documents and are admissible in court proceedings. The associated
legal discovery has cost unprepared companies millions of dollars in
time, effort, and fines.
ESTABLISH AN E-MAIL MANAGEMENT POLICY
Before implementing an e-mail management system, a company should
consult with its records managers and determine if it’s ready to
implement such a system. “An e-mail management system is not just a
method for removing the IT problem of excessive e-mails from the
corporate e-mail servers,” cautions Kris Brown, senior sales engineer
for TOWER Software. E-mail is a historical archive of corporate
information that will have varying corporate value, disposition,
retention, and compliance issues, depending on who inside the
organization sent or received the mail and what the e-mail was in
Simply keeping everything forever or destroying
everything after an arbitrary period will not help a company meet its
compliance requirements or relieve it of its inherent liability. A
business needs to understand what it has in its e-mails and what value
or liability those e-mails bring to the organization. Through this
understanding, an organization can implement an e-mail management
policy that mirrors its overall document and records management system.
Not integrating e-mail with other document management systems will only
add one more system for the IT groups to manage.
Once the e-mail management policy has been
created, it is important to train employees on the new policy – even if
it has not been refined. The policy can always be modified and updated,
but the sooner employees are aware of common procedures they should
follow and the importance with which they should treat e-mail, the
better. In general, the courts have been lenient with businesses that
have established e-mail management policies, even if they are flawed.
They are generally less lenient with organizations that have done
nothing to manage their e-mail.
DETERMINE WHAT E-MAIL TO STORE
Once an e-mail management policy is created, carefully identify which
e-mails will be managed and archived. This begins by properly filtering
the e-mails that enter your employees’ inboxes. It’s inadvisable to
manage and archive every piece of e-mail that enters your e-mail
system; start by filtering out spam, viruses, and unacceptable
attachments. These not only inhibit a company’s productivity, but also
pose a security threat to the network.
After problem e-mails have been quarantined, the
remaining e-mails should be reviewed for their relevant business value.
For example, messages between coworkers about where to go for lunch are
not vital to the business’ operation and do not need to be managed or
archived. However, because stock traders are required by SEC
(Securities and Exchange Commission) regulations to capture all
relevant e-mail, an e-mail between a trader and a client about a stock
sale will probably need to be kept for many years.
BENEFITS OF E-MAIL MANAGEMENT
The most obvious benefits of meeting compliance requirements – reducing
legal discovery costs, avoiding fines and jail time – can be difficult
to quantify. Other benefits are more measurable. “Limiting exposure to
employee e-mail abuse, time saved searching for e-mail for internal or
audit/compliance purposes, and the possible loss of critical
information are all very strong value points,” says Ben Woolley, VP for
Many organizations justify the cost of
implementing an e-mail management system by measuring the time saved
through information sharing. They are able to quantify savings in time
spent searching for information and in IT in terms of single instance
storage and management expenses. An e-mail management system reduces
storage and tape backup requirements over the life of those purchases,
which is between three and five years. Therefore, an organization can
expect an e-mail management system to pay for itself in reduced storage
requirements in approximately 12 months.
By sharing information that had previously been
locked in e-mails, a business is able to mine its information better.
New employees are able to advance along the learning curve faster if
they are able to look through their predecessors’ e-mails. This reduces
training costs. Also, when an employee leaves the company, the
organization has key e-mails archived, so it doesn’t lose all the
intellectual property associated with that individual.
COMMON E-MAIL ARCHIVING CHALLENGES
By far, the most common issue an organization will face when
implementing an e-mail management system is user acceptance. Users are
the ones who send and receive the e-mails and are most likely to know
what a particular e-mail is in relation to. The more metadata (i.e.
sender, recipient, date, subject line, keywords, and other identifying
characteristics of a file) a user can provide upon the capture of
e-mails, the easier messages will be to find and archive later. “This,
however, is a balancing act. Asking users to provide too much
information will lead to resistance in use, and not involving the users
at all will lead to a large archive of irretrievable e-mails,” warns
One way to mitigate this problem is to train
users. This training should include, first and foremost, the company’s
e-mail management policy. By doing so, users are more likely to
understand the reasons why the new system is being implemented and
accept the new system. Secondly, the training should include the new
e-mail management system and how to archive and retrieve e-mails.
Another common mistake companies make is not
involving all of their business lines. Without input from their
different departments, organizations may run into resistance to the new
system. By involving all the business lines, organizations also ensure
the e-mail management system is flexible enough to meet all the
Finally, the system must integrate with the
organization’s existing systems. The courts have already determined
that businesses cannot treat e-mail differently from other records in
the organization. Therefore, an e-mail about a particular topic should
be found with other information that was generated outside the e-mail
platform, including paper and other physical resources.
E-mail has become the new version of the written
letter. Simply allowing employees to file and delete e-mails as they
wish not only demonstrates a lack of understanding of how business has
changed, but also negligent management. “This is an issue that will
land directors and officers in significant trouble should locating an
e-mail be required by regulatory authorities,” says Woolley.
“Businesses cannot afford to not have an e-mail management system and
policy in place.”