Company mail: still playing it fast and loose

European IT managers and staff are starting to archive emails, but best practice isn't yet the norm, according to a recent survey.

Nearly half of the 1,700 IT managers polled in a pan-European survey do not receive guidelines on which emails should and shouldn’t be saved.

The study, commissioned by Symantec and carried out by British researcher Dymanic Markets, also shows employees frequently have incorrect information about how their email is stored and managed. A majority of employees — 78% — thought that they, not the IT department, control whether email was saved or deleted.

The study also identified potential gaps in email storage. While most IT departments make a backup copy of email every night, only 4% back it up at regular intervals during the day, putting some data at risk.

A far lower proportion — 42% — reported that they automatically back up data from mobile devices and laptops. Nearly half the respondents — 45% — said users are responsible for backing up that data.

Email has evolved from being a convenient communication tool into an influential, often legally binding document, and many legal cases have called for emails to be presented as evidence. The importance of email archiving is illustrated by regulations such as the US Sarbanes-Oxley act.

The study found the majority of IT managers — 71% — do not archive the email of employees who leave their companies.

Somerfield, a chain of 1,200 British grocery stores, started saving all company mail about four years ago, says Colin Clark, the retailer’s control executive. The move came after an increasing number of contracts were being solidified over email and the company’s filing cabinet system became inefficient at tracking agreements, Clark says.

At that time, government compliance issues were in the future and email archiving just made good business sense, he says. “You can get compliance as a by-product of just doing your job right in the first place.”

When a UK government regulatory body was investigating cigarette price-fixing, officials asked for all price-related communications with suppliers. Somerfield, in the first year of its email archiving, extracted 12 months’ worth of email in 15 minutes, Clark says.

It took lawyers four weeks to gather the data that existed before the archival email system was in place, he says.

Somerfield uses Enterprise Vault, an archiving product from Veritas, now part of Symantec.

The archiving system has further helped quickly resolve contract disputes, Clark says. “I don’t go into a fight without the facts now,” he says.

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