E-mail use is now undoubtedly the number one means of business communication and, as such, the management and storage of e-mail has become imperative to the continued performance and efficiency of a business.

To this end, and due to the constant evolution of the technology involved, businesses must ensure that they are able to pre-empt future trends in the use of e-mail and electronic communication methods - not just to secure a competitive advantage, but to ensure that ever stringent compliance regulations are continually met.

The speed at which the technology surrounding e-mail communication is evolving is not to be underestimated. The advent of reliable broadband, and its ever increasing speed, means that it is now possible to exchange files that, until recently, would have required the use of a dedicated line.

Although this means that the day-to-day exchange of files is much simpler and easier for the end-user, a tremendous strain is being put on mail servers as the quantity and size of e-mails has risen so rapidly and dramatically. Other types of business communication like instant messaging and online interaction create additional demand for an overall solution.

A key consideration to be made when implementing an e-mail management or archiving system is the speed at which associated technologies develop. For this reason alone, software based solutions will continue to present the most attractive option in terms of ease of installation and maintenance - workstations, mail servers and storage infrastructure can be independently upgraded, while e-mail management software is simply updated.

The biggest threat to success from a practical point of view is ‘Ease of Archiving’. The setup and configuration of the system needs to be straightforward for the IT department, and the end-user should be able to continue working in the same way.

Perhaps the biggest related area of development, which is absolutely certain to become increasingly important to employees at all levels, is that of E-Discovery.

Meticulous control and archiving of electronic information – typically e-mail messages and word processor, spreadsheet and database files – has always been a primary concern for businesses and institutions exposed to the risk of civil litigation. However, the boundary of what information is being included in E-Discovery cases is rapidly expanding.

Files such as Microsoft Word documents and e-mail messages have been a day-to-day part of business life for many years, and, besides containing business critical information, being legally admissible ‘discoverable documents’, they have been subject to the associated usage policies and archiving and storage procedures. As business communication evolves, new kinds of data have to be considered for retention and management.

Significantly, instant messaging has become commonplace at work. Used as a tool for conducting business or conveying sensitive data, instant messages clearly present the same kind of concerns that e-mails do, and therefore will need to be dealt with in much the same way.

Similarly, developments in traditional communication methods are presenting further implications and opportunities. For example, VoIP and other convergence technologies greatly simplify the process of collating and storing data.

This means that it is becoming easier and more cost effective for businesses to protect against all eventualities by introducing far-reaching policies for data archiving – soon it will be possible for all aspects of electronic communication (e-mail, voice, video, IM) that surround discrete projects to be intelligently archived and easily retrieved.

The key driver behind taking a pro-active approach to facilitating E-Discovery is of course compliance regulations. Ranging from national legislation to self-defined guidelines, there are a great number of standards a business or institution may wish or need to comply with.

For example, almost every single professional e-mail system and data network will need to factor in ‘freedom of information’ and data privacy laws which govern and protect access to public and private information. The implications for failing to comply with these laws are obvious, and businesses and public sector organisations will have no option but to constantly and carefully observe and react to future developments and changes in these laws.

Above and beyond this, industry specific regulations will also require strict attention, as will self-imposed policies – the like of which not only create strong differentiators, but minimise risk and create a competitive edge.

The landscape of electronic communication has constantly evolved since its birth. However, it has only been within the past 20 years or so that we have seen development accelerate at an exponential rate.

Advancements in technology will continue to drive the development and creation of compliance regulations, and businesses will have to take an increasingly pro-active approach to ensuring that they remain in-tune with the climate of change, that they can predict future trends and that they are prepared to implement data management and archiving solutions in good time.

Juergen Obermann is Chief Executive Officer of e-mail archiving software supplier GFT Solutions.

Juergen Obermann is Chief Executive Officer of e-mail archiving software supplier GFT Solutions