Although at first glance, it may seem important to sort out which e-mails need to be kept, some experts say that it’s best just to keep them all. Robin Bingeman, product manager for Forensic and Compliance Systems, a U.K.-based company that makes an archiving tool called Cryoserver, has a favorite example to illustrate the point. Imagine an e-mail that says the following: “Hi Bill, good to see you last week. Sorry to hear about Eileen’s kidney infection. I hope she comes out of hospital soon. Well, here’s that document I promised regarding that customer steering column failure. I think we need to have the technical team have a look at it before it becomes a bit of a customer concern.” Depending on your perspective, he points out, the e-mail could be thought of as personal. But it also contains information about product liability that, at least according to European law, needs to be saved for 10 years. A human sorter could easily focus on only one aspect of the e-mail, and a natural-language processing algorithm is likely to become confused. Bingeman thinks that businesses should keep everything for the maximum time period and focus on coming up with good ways to search through the data and prove that it hasn’t been tampered with, so that it can be admitted as evidence in the event of a court case. He adds that this type of policy is also good because it gives a company a chance to prove that an alleged e-mail hasn’t been sent–something that’s impossible to do with backup tapes, which don’t record everything.
Peter terSteeg, technical director of Quest Software’s unified communications business unit, says that companies must do more than just save e-mail, however. “Companies need one pane of glass to find all of the data that they need for litigation,” he says. “They need to find vendors that are going to make a significant investment in that single pane of glass for searching across all the data types in that organization.”
Files or data produced by Web-based collaboration, such as through Microsoft’s SharePoint, need to be archived along with e-mail, terSteeg notes. A coming challenge for vendors like Quest, he says, is to develop a system that archives all these types of data and to make them easy to search through and produce as reliable evidence in court, even if the quantity of data grows substantially over an organization’s lifetime.
Mimosa Systems CEO T.M. Ravi agrees about the direction in which the field is heading. In fact, earlier this week, Mimosa announced new features for the company’s existing e-mail archiving system that will allow companies to archive and search for documents beyond e-mail and instant messages. Using a technique called global single instancing, the software searches through the archive for identical data stored in multiple locations–for example, if a Word file is saved by a user and then e-mailed to 40 people within a company–and keeps only one copy. In the future, Ravi says, the company plans to add support for SharePoint files as well.
“At the end of the day,” says Contoural’s Diamond, “e-mail archiving isn’t about saving e-mail. It’s about control.” Considering the maturation of tools on the market in recent years, he says, most problems arise when organizations, including the White House, don’t come up with good policies for using the available technologies.