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Email & e-Discovery: Tips for Archiving Elusive Digital Content

4 Nov, 2010 By: Jim Thumma, Optical Image Technology imageSource

Email & e-Discovery: Tips for Archiving Elusive Digital Content

Did you ever imagine yourself as a digital curator? No, I’m not talking about a flashy, animated sentry that watches over priceless treasure inside an abandoned (digital) citadel; the curator I’m envisioning doesn’t hail from a digital game. I’m describing something very serious and real - the role you play in selecting, collecting, preserving, maintaining, and archiving your most common, everyday digital assets: emails and their attachments.

“But that’s not my job!” you decry. Yet if you use email for business, most likely the task is left to you, like it or not. Fortunately it doesn’t have to be that way - there are better options.

The Association of Records Managers and Administrators website (www.arma.org) indicates about 90% of records created today are digital, with most growth in communications attributed to email and instant messaging. Not surprisingly, AIIM’s 2010 State of the ECM Industry survey shows managing electronic records (including email) is one of the highest priorities for organizations implementing ECM. Over 56% of respondents have limited confidence that emails documenting staff commitments are recorded, complete, and retrievable. Although 88% have policies for email usage and content, many lack strategies for managing email for routine processing or record keeping.

Make record keeping easier
Relying on employee memory and adherence to archiving policies invites mishaps. Increasing legislation and the burden of lawsuits makes the inability to access important communications and documents increasingly costly to corporate coffers and reputations. Maybe that’s why nearly one third of those surveyed plan enterprise-wide email management initiatives in the next two years.

Where do you stand?
Most organizations endeavor to manage and preserve important records that detail business activities: contract negotiations, payment transactions, personnel issues, and more. When you consider how much business-critical information in vital areas such as these is transmitted via email, tracking it all seems overwhelming. Yet the burden can be lightened considerably if you incorporate email management into the curatorial process of managing your digital assets.

Store, classify, and secure email content
Importing, classifying, and storing emails and attachments securely in a digital document repository is the starting point for effective email management. Why? ECM lets you prescribe rules to ensure policies are followed consistently. The process of importing and indexing emails and attached files is  fully automated, ensuring no communications that meet your pre-defined conditions are overlooked, improperly indexed, or miss  their timely entrance into pertinent workflow processes.

As part of an integrated ECM solution, email management software provides:

  • Seamless and secure access to archived emails and attachments, based on     user permissions.

  • Communications and attachments you need at the right point in routine     business processes.

  • Greater storage & higher relevance of messages within your email     application since archived messages are moved to the ECM repository.

  • A clear audit trail of communications and related documents from creation through migration and disposition.

  • Searchable access to all emails and related documents if a court subpoena or other e-discovery case arises.

  • Easy and quick restoration of vital emails and attachments if     communications are interrupted or destroyed.

  • Effective email management ends cumbersome searches. Communications are retrieved securely & instantly.

‘Effective’ is the operative word: it depends on choosing technology that’s right for you and assembling the right team to implement it. Here is a checklist to help select software appropriately:

Import and filter incoming messages
Garbage in, garbage out is as true for importing emails as any other ECM-managed content. Whether messages are ultimately needed for e-discovery, audits, historical reference, or business use, their value upon retrieval depends on quality importing and indexing.

Ask if your system can:

  • Watch multiple directories simultaneously for incoming files and email     messages.

  • Automatically import and index pre-specified content quickly and correctly.

  • Import and index content into a centralized, searchable digital repository where desired communications can be located instantly on demand.

  • Convert incoming faxes and scans into email transmissions, using the     same permission-based security rules as other ECM-managed content.

  • Blacklist and whitelist emails and/or attachments so you can ensure     imported communications are relevant to your business.

Classify and index email content
Finding email communications quickly – without fail – depends not only on good technology, but also on a thorough and well-conceived indexing plan. Assemble a team of professionals who understand your documents, communications, and how they are used throughout your enterprise to ensure your indexing plan is thorough.
Also, make sure your importing software will:

  • Let you specify conditional indexing. (Example: automatically parsing out and indexing an alphanumerical string at the start of internal email  subject lines as document IDs and customer names.)

  • Import records from multi-function devices or fax servers into the     document repository for efficient retrieval.

  • Import and index emails and attachments, ensuing they follow the rights     and permissions of your content management system to ensure only     pre-authorized persons can index, annotate, or delete messages.

  • Automate the indexing of multiple file types to ensure diverse attachments an be imported successfully.

  • Import documents into the digital document repository and flag them as     batches for more detailed indexing.

Facilitate routine business processes
In some businesses, emails and their attachments may contain business-critical information that is assistive in decision making. When awaited documents arrive, you want to make sure they enter the business processes that await them and workers are notified accordingly so business is handled promptly.

Make sure you can:

  • Configure the email importer to trigger a business process for each     individual attachment (rather than launching one process for the entire     group of attachments) so you can maximize the use of each document.

  • Import pertinent records directly into appropriate workflow processes,     following your rules.

  • Route email and attachments to pre-specified work queues based on the    sender, subject line, type of attachment, or message content.

  • Assign all workflow features to pertinent emails, including deadlines for response or handling, etc.

Simplify and expedite audits and e-Discovery
As businesses expand their global reach, increasing legislation, government oversight, and litigation as well as privacy and data security concerns demand greater business process transparency. Email management that is part of an integrated ECM solution follows the transactional trail of email as it does with any record, from the point of generation or capture throughout the active business cycle, archival as a record, and eventual destruction according to business policies.

As you consider an email management solution, ask if it will:

  • Ensure all email communications are archived correctly and consistently,     following legal requirements and your record retention policies.

  • Use indexed information (from the sender, recipient, date, subject line,     & content) to identify vital records and enable future hierarchical document     restoration according to your established rules for digital document     recovery.

  • Adhere to your rules for scheduled disposition so communications that     don’t have to be retained aren’t adding undue risk.

  • Follow the rules of your ECM software to ensure emails and their     attachments can’t be prematurely deleted or removed by unauthorized persons.

  • Produce clear audit trails of emails/attachments that were imported,     indexed, viewed, annotated, versioned, output, or re-indexed into ECM.

  • Create transactional trails showing exactly when and by whom any of     these actions were taken.

Importing communications via ECM lets you streamline processes in which email communications are involved, granting them the same security, accuracy, and privacy as other ECM-managed documents. Studies show that third-party organizations, staff, and customers all prefer working with organizations that provide accurate information and quick service. An integrated ECM solution with robust email management delivers comprehensive answers, consistently.

Bottom line
Although the imaginary visage of a colorful digital sentry overseeing and guarding important communications and may sound enticing, success requires a well-conceived strategy and solid technology that can implement it. An email management system that is part of integrated ECM leaves nothing to chance, following your rules consistently and ensuring communications are handled and guarded appropriately. With an efficient (and effective!) curatorial system in place for your email communications, maybe you’ll even have some spare time to enjoy a digital game or two.

An integrated ECM solution with robust email management delivers comprehensive answers.

Thumma is Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Optical Image Technology, for the DocFinity software application. Visit www.docFinity.com or call 814-238-0038 for information.

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