Magazine Article | March 1, 2001

You've Got A Problem

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Meeting with a lawyer might rank slightly below a root canal on your list of enjoyable activities. But, speaking with an attorney might be required to vanquish your company's e-mail nightmare.

Integrated Solutions, March 2001

I was once told that if a writer doesn't get threatened by an attorney at least a few times each year, that writer isn't doing their job correctly. While I do meet this annual quota, I hardly look forward to any of these "conversations" with company lawyers. I must admit, however, that I was intrigued when United Messaging (West Chester, PA) recommended I meet with the company's general counsel at Lotusphere 2001. What could he possibly say that would be of interest to the Integrated Solutions' readers? As it turned out, all of his advice was aimed right at you.

E-Mail: The Key To Pandora's Box
As an ASP (application service provider) and consultant, United Messaging's primary function is to host Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange applications for end user customers. Ken Segarnick, assistant general counsel for United Messaging, joined the company after making a name for himself testifying at congressional hearings on the "Notice Of Electronic Monitoring Act." Part of his testimony, which he reiterated at our meeting, included, "The same attributes of e-mail that have vastly enhanced corporate communication have also led to a multitude of unexpected difficulties for employers, including exposure to various forms of legal liability. In addition to traditional work environment issues (i.e. sexual harassment, discrimination, and the like), e-mail has introduced a whole host of new issues ranging from employee privacy rights to economic espionage. For some companies, e-mail has been the key to a Pandora's box, opening the door to some of the darkest and most guarded secrets of corporate America."

That sounds pretty ominous for an application that is generally an IT afterthought - even though it is generally regarded as the most popular use of the Internet. Trust me, the legal issues are real. The New York Times, Dow Chemical, and Xerox are just a few of the companies that had to can employees for inappropriate Internet use.

The merger and acquisition frenzy has also led to confusion within companies that could have been avoided with proper e-mail management. Segarnick offered the example where, following a merger, lawyers for the two newly-merged companies were suing each other over patent infringements. Many billable hours later, red-faced lawyers resolved the dispute.

Enterprise Storage Is Major Concern
The examples mentioned above only serve to underscore what may be one of the biggest IT challenges facing your company. Partly because it is an overlooked application and partly because e-mail is used for professional and personal communication, it's a tough application to get under control. Employees might compare monitoring every e-mail to tapping every phone call. E-mails, however, are documents that require the same attention as the paper meticulously filed away in cabinets.

Without regard to the legal issues, have you even considered the toll that e-mail takes on your enterprise storage systems? Research firm IDC predicts that e-mail volume will nearly quadruple to 35 billion messages per day by 2005. That's a lot of ZIP, DOC, JPG, and GIF attachments to just let go by the boards. The enterprise storage that e-mail will continue to eat up will be a nightmare for every system administrator.

Odds are, you haven't completely thought through this e-mail management issue. Believe me, it's definitely time to put it on your IT scorecard. My encounter with Ken Segarnick at Lotusphere was an anomaly. When a lawyer knocks on your door, it's not usually a good thing.

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