For businesses around the world, sending e-mail has become the primary means of communication with people inside and outside of the organization. Business transactions kick off in the form of an e-mail; most customers use e-mail to negotiate contracts and agreements, and to exchange invoices and payment information. E-mail is also heavily used by marketing departments to issue mailshots to customers announcing new offers and special deals.
Our company is no different. We rely heavily on e-mail to communicate with our customers, and to retain important details regarding business obligations and customer expectations. This includes lengthy conversations about confirmed or denied contractual changes and system specifications for a variety of projects between our customers, the sales force, commissioning technicians, and the service and warranty representatives.
Many businesses fail to realize that each e-mail message sent or received is probably the only record they have of important transactions with a customer or between members of staff. Many organizations underestimate the value of knowledge that is stored in corporate e-mail. E-mail contains nearly 75 percent of the information that individuals use on a daily basis. Therefore, the amount of corporate knowledge stored in e-mail is enough to justify its safekeeping over long periods of time.
Why businesses should archive e-mail
Within a single organization, perspectives on e-mail archiving and e-mail management can vary widely. The legal department, for example, sees e-mail as an essential factor in its discovery response strategy. Storage, backups, problematic and corrupt PST files, overloaded e-mail servers, and performance are the IT department’s major concerns. The compliance team is concerned about preservation and control issues, while employees want access to all of their e-mail messages from anywhere in the world to improve productivity.
Whichever way you look at the issue, a company can ill afford not to archive e-mail, because it never knows which e-mail message it will need at a future date. That e-mail message may be a “to-do” list compiled by sales, but it may also be an e-mail message that could save a company thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines.
A perfect example comes from an experience we had with one of our customers. We were quickly able to show our company’s management team why the investment in an e-mail archiving solution was worthwhile (which proves to be a difficult task for any IT professional). Shortly after installing the e-mail archiving solution, there was a dispute regarding whether or not our technicians had replied to a customer concern about the suitability of a component they were hooking up to a piece of our equipment. While both our technicians and the sales force claimed that they had responded, stating that the component was not compatible, nobody could find the e-mail response to the customer.
But within 5 minutes, my team was able to find the e-mail message using a keyword search, as well as the whole string and conversation. We also found the reason why nobody could find it in their Exchange mailboxes: The e-mail with the key to the puzzle had been sent through a couple of techs and, finally, through a department head who nobody had included in the original list of possible responders.
Important Features to Consider
Important features to consider
The decision to go for e-mail archiving will be based on the size of the company, storage requirements and legal obligations. In small and midsize businesses, e-mail archiving is mostly a productivity tool and a means of moving old e-mails from their overloaded mail servers to a central archive that can store a huge amount of data. This reduces dependency on PST files and allows administrators and users to search for and retrieve e-mails at will.
For larger enterprises, these same reasons also apply, but legal and compliance issues will drive the case for archiving. The ability to access and retrieve e-mails within minutes without the need to trawl through massive and complex backups is also important.
There are a number of features that businesses need to look out for in an e-mail archiving solution. First, the solution must have a flexible search engine that gives administrators and employees the ability to search for specific e-mail or conversation threads. The solution also needs to have an adjustable retention policy to allow the business to control how, and for how long, e-mail messages are retained.
Another important consideration is that the database storing the archived e-mail cannot be tampered with. To present e-mails as evidence in a court of law, the company has to prove the integrity of those e-mails. Finally, you need a software solution that is easy to install and is not overly complex. If a business is to allow its employees to search for old and deleted e-mails, the process should be simple enough even to those with limited knowledge.
What should be stored?
An important question! Simply put, there are two options: keep everything or delete everything. Keeping everything is the best option because e-mail is a two-way communication process. Deleting an e-mail does not erase all traces of that communication because at least one recipient would also have a copy. Keeping a copy of every e-mail will ensure that the company’s e-mail correspondence will not be used against them. Companies need to define a retention policy based on the importance of the e-mail being archived. The CEO’s e-mail, for example, should be retained for longer periods than that of an office clerk.
One big advantage of archiving e-mail is that it reduces the size of users’ mailboxes and also the number of requests for more storage. IT administrators can impose 30-to-90-day storage limits, but they should also explain that no e-mail will be lost; it is safely archived and accessible at any time.
Addressing Privacy Issues
Addressing privacy issues
Although e-mail archiving makes perfect business sense, privacy issues may arise in some organizations. Can an employer retain and monitor any employee’s e-mail?
Some companies argue that e-mail sent using the company network becomes its property, and therefore management has a right to check employees’ mailboxes. On the other hand, privacy rights groups argue that checking an employee’s e-mail breaches his right to privacy.
Striking a balance is not easy, but at the end of the day, it is a question of trust. Every country and every state has its own rules and regulations regarding e-mail archiving and e-mail use. Companies need to be aware of all of the regulations before setting policy or acting against a worker.
What businesses really need to understand is that e-mail archiving is no longer an expense, but a justified cost of doing business and an insurance cover against possible legal or compliance repercussions. Companies that use an e-mail archiving solution find that the benefits go beyond those they had expected when they first chose the solution.
Michael has been with Quantum Marine Engineering of Florida since 1998. Prior to joining Quantum, Michael managed a full-service yacht repair yard in Fort Lauderdale. He can be reached at [email protected].