E-mail has taken on a crucial role as admissible legal evidence - it has become a major business and technology challenge that cannot be overlooked.
As e-mail usage continues to grow in volume and importance, users are building large message repositories. In the workplace, the average user spends about 25% of each day using an e-mail system and on average receives between 30 to 70 mails per day. Important information records ranging from business correspondence, transactions, legal information and critical attachments are all stored in e-mail systems.
Besides dealing with the sheer volume of e-mail received each day, users need to comply with tedious mailbox size restrictions imposed by IT administrators. When faced with 'mailbox full' capacity warnings, users are forced to decide - on the fly - whether information should be kept or discarded.
In effect, ordinary employees become 'data retention managers', making realtime decisions on what information should be deleted, what should be saved and where these records should be stored. This is disturbing considering that up to 60% of business-critical information is stored in e-mail systems.
Although e-mail is considered the communication tool of choice in today's corporate environment, this pervasive business tool has created new challenges for IT managers, record managers and legal departments.
E-mail messages are testimony to an organisation's functions, activities and transactions. The recent Enron debacle and high-profile corporate litigation cases such as Microsoft's antitrust dispute drew attention to the role of e-mail as admissible legal evidence. For most companies e-mail represents a growing and elusive risk in litigation. Therefore, understanding what type of e-mail messages should be archived and where they are stored is critical.
In addition, a variety of regulatory requirements across all industries - particularly the financial services, healthcare, energy, manufacturing, as well as government sectors - require information records to be archived for a specified length of time and immediately reproducible on request.
Traditionally, e-mail management practices were unregulated and in many cases, non-existent. In most companies, the attempt to retrieve an e-mail message of critical importance would begin by searching individual personal desktop folders. If the e-mail message could not be found here, computer backup files would be searched and more often than not this retrieval process would be unsuccessful. To meet today's e-mail compliance regulations, archives of original incoming and outgoing e-mail messages must be maintained and easily accessible.
A strategic planning process
A number of steps need to be followed in setting up an e-mail archiving system. A committee should be formed to assess the current e-mail system and determine an e-mail retention policy. The committee should ideally include an e-mail system administrator to advise on technology requirements and legal council to provide input with regard to regulatory issues.
Next, a multifaceted assessment should be conducted to determine the e-mail archiving needs of the entire company. Deciding which e-mail messages should be archived is no easy task. The assessment should review the current requirements from the perspectives of the following:
* End-users, storage and system administrators.
* Business units that have incorporated e-mail into defined business processes.
* Human resources and legal advisors.
Additionally, when assessing the different business units in the company it should be decided which employees' e-mails should be archived.
For some companies regulations often make the e-mail archiving decision easier. For instance, the Securities and Exchange Commission requires brokerage firms to keep all electronic communications relating to the business of the firm for three years.
Following the assessment, companies should enforce an e-mail archiving policy that defines the type of e-mail correspondence to be archived; the importance or value of the e-mail archived and the expected retrieval rate of the archived e-mail records. The archiving policy will impact on the selection process of the best storage solution selected.
Gain control - via a complete solution
There are a multitude of e-mail storage options available in the marketplace, making selecting an e-mail archiving solution a daunting prospect. When selecting an e-mail archiving solution, companies must consider information lifecycle management (ILM). At the heart of ILM is the understanding that the value of 'data' declines over time, but that the value of different kinds of 'data' declines at different rates.
For example, in the first few days of receiving or creating an e-mail, the information it contains might be regularly referenced and therefore the message needs to be easily and quickly accessible. This scenario might be ideal for disk storage. On the other hand, an e-mail message that is a few weeks old might still need accessing but not at the speed required in the beginning when the message was first received or created. This scenario might be ideal for automated tape storage, a more cost-effective archiving option.
Therefore, ILM determines how the information is stored based on the priority of information at any given moment. At each stage in the information's lifecycle, the management infrastructure must determine the best software, hardware and storage medium required.
If successfully implemented, ILM should provide the means to deliver lower-cost and more flexible, efficient storage infrastructures.
Tim Knowles, CEO of StorTech
For more information contact Storage Technology Services, 011 808 6000, www.stortech.co.za