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You Need E-Mail Data Management More Than You Think

E-mail is growing – not just the number of mailboxes and the volume of messages but also the size of messages and their attachments. Above all, the strategic business importance of e-mail is growing.  As a result, enterprises have come to grips with the idea that they now need e-mail data management strategies  – and fast.

Case in point: In early December 2002, five Wall Street brokerage firms found themselves facing a total of $8.25 million in fines for not accurately preserving e-mail communications. Theses firms were cited for having insufficient measures and systems for e-mail retention and accessibility.   In reference to the New York Stock Exchange and National Association of Securities Dealers, “while some firms relied on employees to preserve copies of the e-mail communications on hard drives or their individual personal computers, there were no systems or procedures to ensure that employees did so.” As a result, these five firms are each paying $1.65 million in fines and must review and report on procedures used for keeping e-mails. Not only does this sting companies financially, but it creates additional stress upon companies looking to lower IT costs and comply with regulations.

Irin Schwartz, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers, stated in a recent Associated Press article, “E-mail has become the place where everybody loves to look.”  According to William Savarino, attorney at Cohn Mohr, which specializes in representing automated data processing and high-tech companies in federal procurement matters,  “E- mail played a central role in the recent inquires into brokerage firms.” Its no wonder that Savarino recommends that clients put in place a company-wide e- mail management system and set policies on e-mail usage as well as e-mail monitoring.

E-Mail: More than Messaging

It’s natural to think of e-mail as a communication tool like the telephone or voice mail – but it is much, much more. Just consider the types of information contained in your corporate e-mail – sales proposals, marketing plans, personnel files, contracts, revenue forecasts and more.  What would happen if these key documents were lost when your computer crashed, during a power outage or in a routine e-mail clean up?  You might lose valuable business information that is critical to your company’s bottom line, or worse, you might be faced with fines or criminal charges (as in the case of the Wall Street brokerages). If you don’t have a system for e-mail data management, then you can’t control the availability of this critical information.

The tremendous and ever- increasing volume of e-mail is part of the problem, but the hidden problems of content access and record management make e-mail data management more than an end-user problem and more of an IT problem.  E-mail is more than messaging. The opportunities and risks that are literally attached to e-mail make its management a critical business process.

The Scope of the Problem

According to analyst firm Creative Networks, Inc. (CNI), the average e-mail server is saturated in just 18 days [CNI 2000]. IT administrators spend 8 to 12 hours a week on e-mail backup and archiving and an additional five to six hours a week recovering deleted or lost messages and attachments for users [CNI 2001]. Conservatively, that’s more than a quarter of the IT administrator’s work week spent dealing with e-mail data management. This is the storage challenge of e-mail data management.

Typical users are swamped with an average of 70 e-mail messages per day at work. They can barely find time to respond, much less devise a method for managing their personal e-mail archives. It becomes increasingly difficult to locate information when it’s needed, and users spend countless hours searching for or reproducing data that’s inaccessible or lost. Even with IT assistance, 26 percent of companies still cannot retrieve e-mail from backup. [CNI 2001]

While current e-mail management practices rely on backup tapes and end-users’ personal desktop archives, information contained in old e-mail messages may be required for any number of business purposes. Since each individual user decides which e-mail messages to retain or delete, much of this information is hidden from the rest of the organization.

In a company of 8,000 people, that means the company has 8,000 different data retention policies. When an employee becomes unavailable, the wealth of mission-critical information in his/her e-mail becomes essentially unavailable. This is the content management challenge of e-mail data management. Estimating the cost of inadequate e-mail content management in terms of productivity, well- informed decision-making, etc. is not as straightforward as estimating the costs of storage management. But with more than 60 percent of critical business data stored in messaging systems, e-mail data management (or the lack of it) affects more than half the data used to run a business.

The third challenge of e-mail data management is record management. Organizations in the securities and exchange community need to maintain compliance with various rules for record maintenance. State and federal organizations may be required to respond to Freedom of Information Act discovery requests.  Any business may find itself in legal or regulatory circumstances requiring information stored in e-mail or as attachments.

Currently, responding to such requests places a tremendous burden on IT resources. Backup tapes must be restored to a replica of the production e-mail server. The estimated costs for fulfilling a single discovery request runs from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, the cost of recovering 246,000 e-mails from approximately 4,900 backup tapes was estimated to cost the White House an estimated $10 million [Washington Times, May 4, 2000]. The costs associated with discovery are so high that many companies choose to settle cases, even when they are not at fault.

Is the lack of adequate e-mail data management putting your organization at legal risk? 34.5 percent of organizations say they would not or could not recover e-mails if required for legal or regulatory discovery within the next 12 months [CNI, 2001]. 83 percent of lawyers say their corporate clients are not prepared to retrieve and turn over electronic files [Arthur Anderson, 2000]. According to one analyst, 49 percent of organizations have established policies for e-mail retention, but 41 percent of users ignore the policy [CNI, 2001].

Current Practices in E-Mail Data Management

In an average office, each user is currently responsible for managing and archiving the estimated 3,000MB of e-mail received on his/her desktop annually  – no easy task.  From an IT perspective, most administrators focus on ensuring e-mail performance and availability.  The growing amounts of e-mail create drains on the system, which can result in downtime.   Current IT practices tackle this problem by sending the hated delete your messages notice to users or worse blindly purging message stores.   IT organizations often implement guidelines that treat old e-mail messages as potential liabilities and recommend actively removing them from server message stores.

Current IT practices also include encouraging users to create personal desktop archives and making routine backup tapes of all e-mail servers. Because not all employees will archive e-mail properly on their desktops, backup tapes become the only centrally controlled and available archive of e-mail messages. When it is necessary to recover messages – for enterprise users or for discovery requests – IT administrators can do so only by accessing the data on backup tapes, an expensive and time-consuming task.

To prevent overfull message stores, IT administrators often restrict the size of messages or attachments. However, limits on message or attachment size may inhibit the transmission of business-critical information and result in lost productivity as the user spends time finding a workaround. A better method of e-mail data management would ensure that the right information is available when users need it, now and in the future.

Criteria for Effective E-Mail Data Management Solutions

Government and industry organizations have worked for several years to develop record-management guidelines for electronic documents, communications and e-mails. While these various guidelines apply to a diverse range of organizations, any effective solution for managing e-mail must include these capabilities:

  • Archiving of e-mail documents and attachments along with associated address and routing information in their original electronic form.
  • Creation of an e-mail policy that addresses message retention and filing requirements.
  • Automatic, content-based classification of e-mail to folders/categories within the system.
  • Creation and execution of disposition instructions for each e-mail folder/category.
  • A feature that prevents administrators from tampering with audit records.
  • Powerful search and retrieval tools for end users and administrators based on a full-text index and user-defined meta data.
  • Use of random access, low-cost and non-volatile media for long- term storage.

Ideally, a message-store management solution should address both the basic requirements
stemming from relevant, published guidelines and add value by bringing the power of data management to e-mail systems – in essence, channeling the daily stream of e-mail message and attachments into a tool that provides competitive advantage.

Any such solution should address the requirements of users, IT administrators, management and record-keeping  professionals by providing the following benefits:

  • Reduced IT costs through more efficient e-mail server management. A product featuring automated capture, integrated support for low-cost mass storage and content-based classification rules can transform an organization’s temporary cache of messages on the server into a tool for enterprise document management. Mail servers are freed of message overload, improving performance and availability. As a result, e-mail can serve as the basis for strategic planning and business development efforts without impacting IT.
  • Quicker, lower-cost discovery actions. A product with full-text indexing and cataloguing features enables e-mail discover actions to be completed in hours rather than weeks, greatly reducing expenses. Also desirable: a freeze feature that may be used at the onset of any investigation to protect message categories from automatic destruction.
  • Increased productivity through faster, easier access to stored messages. Full-text indexing combined with a powerful search engine would allow end users to access their own messages, while authorized managers or administrators could search across multiple mailboxes to meet audit and regulatory requirements, discovery requests and other business needs.
  • Record management.  An effective solution ensures adherence to formal e-mail policies with enterprise-level data management tools that categorize and manage e-mail through a useful life cycle. By using a tool that integrates record management functionality into e- mail systems, organizations can easily comply with SEC and government requirements.

Meeting the Goals of Enterprise E-Mail Data Management

While e-mail volume continues to grow at exponential rates, its value as a business tool and data center is being seriously compromised by a lack of centralized administration and record management. Clearly, businesses need an e- mail data management solution focused on the long-term, enterprise-wide value of information.

An efficient enterprise e-mail data management solution will meet end-user, IT and management requirements, reduce costs, minimize risks and boost productivity. The most effective e-mail data management solutions will channel the daily stream of e-mail message and attachments into a tool that provides competitive advantage.

E-mail is more than messaging. The growth of e-mail entails not only more mailboxes and more messages but longer messages with more diverse content, both in the message body and as attachments. The function of e-mail has evolved beyond simple messaging – e-mail is now a full-fledged, multipurpose business tool. E-mail has become the de facto data center for an estimated 60 percent of business- critical information, but traditional e-mail administration lacks the policies and procedures traditionally used to keep important business data safe and accessible.  Enterprises must now evaluate e-mail management tools that effectively store, archive and search data in order to comply with smart business policies – not to mention new state and federal regulations.

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