Email archiving: You need a policy

Find the middle ground between the lawyers and the users

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IT faces a lot of challenges with email archiving, but the real issue comes down to a difference of opinion, said George Goodall, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group. "Striking the middle ground is very difficult and it makes nobody happy. That's the situation IT always finds itself in, between the rock of corporate counsel and the hard place of user demands," he said.

End users want to keep everything forever because they use their inboxes as knowledge management systems and knowledge stores. Meanwhile, legal counsel and senior management will typically advise IT to not keep anything and delete it immediately, he said.

Goodall's first piece of advice for IT managers developing email archiving policies is to learn how to establish documents from records. "There's a real distinction between what a record is and what a document is, in that records are susceptible to retention schedules and documents aren't. When we talk about minimum retention periods, that applies to records, not documents," he said.

Second, focus on the overall retention schedule for all records because ideally, email is going to be a subset of that, said Goodall. Email should be viewed as part of an overall process on retention schedules, he said, because email itself is more like an envelope or a cover letter. "It isn't necessarily a document type or a record type. It's how you recognise those things internal to it," he said.

Third, focus on the three different motivators applicable to any archiving project, regulation and litigation, IT efficiencies, and worker productivity, and make sure you reconcile them, he said. "Those three factors really have to be balanced. Anytime you are working, let's say, towards worker efficiency but not recognising IT efficiency or the legal implications, there is going to be trouble," he said.

Archiving solutions will focus on the benefits related to litigation concerns, such as searching, auditing, discovery and automated retention periods, said Goodall. But that secondary store for email is another important benefit, he said. "It greatly improves the operational efficiency of a traditional email architecture, because it basically takes all messages coming in and breaks them up into a relational format," he said. This detects duplicate data and multiple versions of the same attachment, he said.

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