There’s probably no single issue in this industry more heavily debated, more overly analyzed and generally more misunderstood than email records management. And this is terribly unfortunate because an effective email records management solution is a critical component of integrated information lifecycle management.
Easily the biggest source of confusion is the definition of email records management itself. Frankly, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had someone tell me they already have an email records management solution and it works just fine, thank you very much for asking… These folks usually describe their ‘email records management solution’ like this: ‘We store all our emails for two years from date of creation or receipt.’
This may be a very valid policy – particularly from a e-discovery perspective – but it is not email records management. This is email archiving.
Email is a format. It’s a method of delivering the information the email contains. In the paper world this would be equivalent to a policy that states, ‘Store all correspondence that comes in white, rectangular envelopes for two years from the date they were received.’ These types of policies give no consideration to the value of the information the emails contain.
True email records management means evaluating the content of the email (and, potentially, its attachments) and classifying it into a repository that renders it immutable and applies business rules that make it compliant with your organization’s information management requirements. One of those business rules should apply the appropriate retention and disposition.
Here’s an example. Suppose you are the Project Manager on a large solution deployment. Your customer sends you an email indicating she has accepted the new project scope changes and has attached a copy of the revised Project Plan. Your email archiving policy will maintain a copy of this email for two years, after which it will be destroyed. Forever. But, from a legal perspective, all project records (regardless of their media) must be maintained for 10 years after the project is completed and then destroyed. So that email, like all the other content critical to the success of the project, must be declared a record and managed throughout the life of the project.
So hopefully that clarifies email records management a little bit. In my next post I will explain not only one way to manage your email records, but frankly, I think the only way it can be done successfully.