Don’t let e-mail graveyards expose you to risk and make your information strategy unsustainable
Artikel von Martin Waldron, Senior-Berater bei PCI PROJECT CONSULT International Ltd.; In-Form Systems, London (email an: Martin.Waldron@project-consult.com )
The Web in the nineties has swept the fax phenomena away in ptp business communications methods and produced the “son of fax”. This precocious sibling has quickly out shone its parent and at the same time replaced many of the transactions that were previously conducted through the phone, dramatically reduced mail volumes plus radically changed external and internal business communication. The “son of fax” volumes in five years have grown 26 fold between 1995 and 2000 from 101 billion to 2,6 trillion. Martin Waldron Managing Director of In-Form Systems discusses the impact and implementation of e-mail in today’s business environment.
Developing a staff e-mail management policy
Organisations are at last beginning to appreciate the growing role of e-mail as a primary vehicle for business transactions and are incorporating guidelines on electronic transactions into staff management policies that include clear statements that staff is aware that the company have the right to:
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Access, review, log, copy, delete, investigate or audit any transactions and messages, both via paper and electronic traffic, and personal messages will not be treated any differently.
To challenge an individual or indeed check that individual’s in-tray, mail, desk drawers, e-mail account or Internet access.
Staff need to be aware that electronic communications, any more than oral and written communications in the work place are not private and confidential.
There is now a general recognition at all levels both regulatory and legally that e-mail needs prescription. Recommendations on e-mail codes on monitoring employees’ use of e-mail are about to be published by the Government’s Office of the Information Commisioner and by e-envoy office and there is also work on BSI code of practice guidelines for e-mail.
e-mail records management
e-mails are potential business records and companies need to have in place the same capture, preservation and management actions as for other business documents. The use of e-mail as a principal business communication mechanism is growing rapidly as illustrated above. Current practices such simply handling e-mail by printing and filing as a paper copy and relying on the individual can lose vital content and audit information. The other more laissez faire approach is that users keep their e-mail ‘Inboxes’ intact (and maybe their ‘Send’ boxes), forgetting that they may be emptied automatically sooner or later, E-mails typically cover a wide spectrum of importance. Each organisation needs to define its own simple, understandable and effective rules by which all users understand which of their e-mails (incoming or outgoing) should be declared as records. E-mails may typically be considered as records if the message:
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Clearly concerns official business
Requests a reply or action and is about business matters
Contains a decision about business matters
Is an external e-mail, to or from another business entity
A high proportion of e-mails are not just vacuous messages “Can you make lunch tomorrow”. Management must take account of comments in an e-mail about an attached document sent with it as they may themselves form part of the record of decision-making or other discussion about the attached document business decisions. Also authorisations and approvals for actions, may be given in an e-mail (and not be recorded elsewhere, in many cases). The most effective way of implementing these rules is to incorporate e-mail management needs into an organisations electronic document and records management strategy.
e-mail management systems
Systems developed to manage e-mail have developed from two main business demands - that of e-mail security/privacy and message archiving. Security/Privacy Management systems provide message content checks of the message headers and the content of the message to determine if the message is virus free or is junk mail or other unwanted information. These systems also often include security controls by encrypting data using S/MIME or other encryption protocols. Tumbleweed’s Messaging Management System (MMS) fall into this category. Message Archiving systems are at two levels. Level 1 provides a hierarchical storage system scooping up all messages and moving off-line or near-line storage of older messages with little regard to what the content of the message. These systems have often been developed on the back of Hierarchical Storage Management – HSM systems. The core benefit is to relieve the Exchange or message server of its groaning e-mail mountain with a selective controlled approach based on age or type of e-mail removing for long term storage on lower cost media. Level 2 systems have been developed out of or form part of electronic document and record management systems. Most mainstream EDMS/ERMS systems now have e-mail integration either as “an add-on” product or as part of their core system. These systems provide close integration with the mainstream e-mail systems (Outlook, Lotus and Novell). They also incorporate easy to use facilities for the user to register and file e-mails either optional or mandatory. Level 2 systems may integrate a third party Level 1 system to provide their storage management.
There is a Level 3 requirement to not only store the e-mail but also to classify the contents of the message and attachments so that they are an integral part of the company’s knowledge management strategy. EDMS and ERMS vendors have addressed this need comprehensively and their ERP/COLD modules often provide the base tools to automate this categorisation process. e-mail management is an expanding market for archiving and EDMS vendors as organisations are waking up to the fact that a high proportion of business transactions are being received and sent electronically.
The other aspect of e-mail management is responding to the customer e-mailed transaction or query in the most responsive and effective way. e-businesses growing dependence on customer emails direct to the customer service department or call centre are putting pressure on timely email response to meet customer’s expectation on service levels and to exploit cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. Datamonitor forecasts that email contact will rise from six percent of customer's interactions with businesses in 1999 to 27.3 percent in 2003. Further research shows that emails will account for 20 percent of inbound contacts to call centres by 2003.
Storage and more …
E-mail has become the leading consumer of storage. Most users keep hundreds of old messages. As the number of daily messages grows, and those messages increase in size, organisations are seeing a growth in storage overhead of 100% to 150% per annum. This has not been a key issue with IM management in the nineties with the plummeting price of magnetic storage you just add another storage module. Unfortunately the voracious and growing storage appetite of the e-mail caterpillar has transformed the equilibrium and has unexpectedly seen the new generation of WORM optical disc appear from his cocoon after a long period of hibernation and once more become popular as near side storage – see Figure 1. The storage vendors have recognised this sudden increase in demand and have responded by actively supporting providers of e-mail management systems. HP for example has promotional campaigns running partnering with Ixos and OTG.
e-commerce and more ….
The European Directives on e-commerce and electronic signatures are opening a wider user of e-business and escalating the use of e-mails. The EC member states have now on their statute books the legal acceptance of electronic signatures and Holland and Germany have in place the necessary certification authorities. Also the Modernising Government UK white paper has set 2004 as the date after which both central and local government can only produce records as electronic documents. These initiatives and changes plus such initiatives by Utility companies introducing EBPP – Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment and the wider use of Internet banking all fuel the growing use of e-mails. Simply swotting the e-mail fly as it enters the system and putting it in the e-mail graveyard using a e-mail management archive system is not going to solve your business or regulatory issues. E-mail management as shown in the Figure 2 has four legs and only addressing two or three will fail to provide an effective e-mail control to address its growing role in all aspects of business activity. And this will certainly cause an organisations business and information/ knowledge management strategy and applications to wobble or even collapse.