Software

Readers differ on mechanics, philosophy behind e-mail archiving

TechRepublic members respond with their thoughts on the mechanics and philosophy of archiving e-mail.


E-mail is one of those topics that seem to always catch the interests of our members. In response to “Are you an e-mail pack rat? Better police that policy,” members told us their company’s time or space restrictions on e-mail archives and sounded off with their opinions on the nature of e-mail.

Policy, or a totalitarian plot?
In a posting with the article, Shepster wrote, “Our company uses Microsoft Exchange to distribute e-mail and Outlook to view it on the client PCs. We currently leave it up to the users to alter the default archive settings.”

He also explained why, as an IT staffer, he personally archives his e-mails that describe what network users request: “They often tend to forget what they asked you to do if it doesn't provide the results they were looking for.”

Most users at Shepster’s company aren’t technically knowledgeable enough to do their own archiving, but some are trained to do so. His staff monitors the user Personal Folders on the server, but not ones on users’ computers or laptops. Shepster says synchronization is “unreliable, as its integrity depends on the user and is easily corrupted.”

It’s only e-mail
TechRepublic member J.D.Brameyer, vice president for Technical Operations for JanMann Laboratories, wrote, “The real question is why informal, easily faked, written meanderings, musings, and messages (including e-mail) should be allowable in ANY court case for ANY reason whatsoever.

“In a free country, folks should clearly have the right to freely express their opinions without fear of some Big-Brother, Orwellian attribution as to the motivation behind their thoughts.”

Brameyer saves e-mail like paper memos and feels that the issue of legal liability needs to be addressed or “the lawyers will make us long regret our failure to correct the situation.”

In a posting, MariaHelm, Domino & Web administrator for Fenner Drives, agreed, to some extent. She wrote, “E-mail is often used as a tool for casual discussions—much like telephone calls or office visits…The law needs to regard it is a medium that can be used both casually and officially; it needs to be taken in context.”

Shepster replied to Helm’s lament about the official nature of e-mail, writing how he recently read about people losing their jobs at a company where inappropriate e-mail was circulated and an employee complained.

“At my company, we alert our users upon hiring them that inter-company e-mail is not private. If you are e-mailing someone a message that could be misconstrued, don't. Plain and simple.”

Who cares about evidence? Keep your e-mail
Along with accusing TechRepublic of encouraging companies to destroy potential evidence, ChrisDickens, MCP and site builder, wrote, “I believe that you should keep everything for as long as you possibly can. No matter how insignificant a business strategy of the past might sound to you, it might be just what I need for a proposal six months, 12 months, or more later after I wrote it. It's kind of like having a reserve of ideas at my hand, and with a twist of my magic wand, the Advanced Search in Outlook will find it for me.”

For simple dialogs in the office, Dickens suggests creating an intranet chat room where the discussion isn’t saved and users can write a note in Outlook if the information is critical and/or useful.

It’s a matter of time and space
JayKramer, systems manager at Cincinnati Water Works, outlined his city department’s policy on archiving e-mail.

“It's up to the individual to determine what they will keep and what they will throw away. We don't have a time limit on e-mail—we have a space limit.”

Users at the Water Works have 100 megabytes of storage on the e-mail system, and when they run out of room, they have to delete messages to continue using it. If they need to keep mail for legal reasons, the user is told how to create an archive file and where it can be stored.

DennisH.Wilson, director of information technology at The Anderson Group, a division of Indiana United Bancorp, was explicit in his policy statement.

“E-mail stays on the server five days, period!

“E-mail at the client is maintained by the user and at their discretion. However, e-mail to or from or about a customer is to be made a permanent part of the record and is part of their e-file.”

Space and time have a way of combining, as TechRepublic member patnaude told others in a post.

“We recently migrated our company from cc:Mail to Outlook/Exchange. The biggest problem we had was migrating the e-mail archives from years of cc:Mail use. Not because the utility we used didn't work, but due to the mass size of some of the archives.”

Policy? What policy?
Another member, mindyourownbusiness, shared his frustration with a lack of policy where he works.

“My boss doesn't have enough spine to implement any policy.

“He's too worried about upsetting the user population to do anything restrictive in the form of setting e-mail policy. So currently, we have users with as much as 1.2-gigabyte exchange mailboxes and 2-gigabyte home directories. All I can do is keep a detailed record of the e-mail (archived of course) I've sent to him requesting some policy!”

TechRepublic member Helm said she thinks the issue is one greater than the physical constraints of storing messages.

“While server space is often an issue that prompts e-mail policies, it is NOT the issue at stake here.” The issue is liability for the content of messages, which is not decreased if users print out their messages, Helm said.

Employers need to educate employees on what types of messages should be kept or deleted, Helm said. “The key to almost any business issue is not stricter policing of employees, but empowering them with enough information and responsibility that they will police themselves.”

File management is the key
Member iscoord feels that the reason for archiving e-mail should drive how long the mail can stay in the system.

While 60 to 90 days should be enough, users complain if they can’t keep messages longer than they would a paper copy of the same memo, iscoord wrote.

“It isn't a method of destroying evidence, as one person states—it is just good file management. Keep relevant data handy, anything that could be good reference, archive it. I've seen what happens when e-mail stores become unruly—systems crash, and everyone wants to blame the systems admin.”

Legal eagles are circling
RossDonaldson, network administrator for Options for Youth, said he now has e-mail management to think about.

“Currently, we have no policy other than a size limit on the mailbox, which is the only thing that forces people to delete their mail. We also archive one backup per month that contains all corporate data including anything in the mailboxes.

“God save me if we get subpoenaed.”
After reading some of the comments of your peers on archiving e-mail, what do you think? Is it unreasonable to ask people to limit what they save? Should e-mail be treated any differently than a paper memo? Does your policy talk about the reasons it exists? What do people who use your company’s policy say about it to their coworkers? Post your thoughts below or e-mail them to us.
E-mail is one of those topics that seem to always catch the interests of our members. In response to “Are you an e-mail pack rat? Better police that policy,” members told us their company’s time or space restrictions on e-mail archives and sounded off with their opinions on the nature of e-mail.

Policy, or a totalitarian plot?
In a posting with the article, Shepster wrote, “Our company uses Microsoft Exchange to distribute e-mail and Outlook to view it on the client PCs. We currently leave it up to the users to alter the default archive settings.”

He also explained why, as an IT staffer, he personally archives his e-mails that describe what network users request: “They often tend to forget what they asked you to do if it doesn't provide the results they were looking for.”

Most users at Shepster’s company aren’t technically knowledgeable enough to do their own archiving, but some are trained to do so. His staff monitors the user Personal Folders on the server, but not ones on users’ computers or laptops. Shepster says synchronization is “unreliable, as its integrity depends on the user and is easily corrupted.”

It’s only e-mail
TechRepublic member J.D.Brameyer, vice president for Technical Operations for JanMann Laboratories, wrote, “The real question is why informal, easily faked, written meanderings, musings, and messages (including e-mail) should be allowable in ANY court case for ANY reason whatsoever.

“In a free country, folks should clearly have the right to freely express their opinions without fear of some Big-Brother, Orwellian attribution as to the motivation behind their thoughts.”

Brameyer saves e-mail like paper memos and feels that the issue of legal liability needs to be addressed or “the lawyers will make us long regret our failure to correct the situation.”

In a posting, MariaHelm, Domino & Web administrator for Fenner Drives, agreed, to some extent. She wrote, “E-mail is often used as a tool for casual discussions—much like telephone calls or office visits…The law needs to regard it is a medium that can be used both casually and officially; it needs to be taken in context.”

Shepster replied to Helm’s lament about the official nature of e-mail, writing how he recently read about people losing their jobs at a company where inappropriate e-mail was circulated and an employee complained.

“At my company, we alert our users upon hiring them that inter-company e-mail is not private. If you are e-mailing someone a message that could be misconstrued, don't. Plain and simple.”

Who cares about evidence? Keep your e-mail
Along with accusing TechRepublic of encouraging companies to destroy potential evidence, ChrisDickens, MCP and site builder, wrote, “I believe that you should keep everything for as long as you possibly can. No matter how insignificant a business strategy of the past might sound to you, it might be just what I need for a proposal six months, 12 months, or more later after I wrote it. It's kind of like having a reserve of ideas at my hand, and with a twist of my magic wand, the Advanced Search in Outlook will find it for me.”

For simple dialogs in the office, Dickens suggests creating an intranet chat room where the discussion isn’t saved and users can write a note in Outlook if the information is critical and/or useful.

It’s a matter of time and space
JayKramer, systems manager at Cincinnati Water Works, outlined his city department’s policy on archiving e-mail.

“It's up to the individual to determine what they will keep and what they will throw away. We don't have a time limit on e-mail—we have a space limit.”

Users at the Water Works have 100 megabytes of storage on the e-mail system, and when they run out of room, they have to delete messages to continue using it. If they need to keep mail for legal reasons, the user is told how to create an archive file and where it can be stored.

DennisH.Wilson, director of information technology at The Anderson Group, a division of Indiana United Bancorp, was explicit in his policy statement.

“E-mail stays on the server five days, period!

“E-mail at the client is maintained by the user and at their discretion. However, e-mail to or from or about a customer is to be made a permanent part of the record and is part of their e-file.”

Space and time have a way of combining, as TechRepublic member patnaude told others in a post.

“We recently migrated our company from cc:Mail to Outlook/Exchange. The biggest problem we had was migrating the e-mail archives from years of cc:Mail use. Not because the utility we used didn't work, but due to the mass size of some of the archives.”

Policy? What policy?
Another member, mindyourownbusiness, shared his frustration with a lack of policy where he works.

“My boss doesn't have enough spine to implement any policy.

“He's too worried about upsetting the user population to do anything restrictive in the form of setting e-mail policy. So currently, we have users with as much as 1.2-gigabyte exchange mailboxes and 2-gigabyte home directories. All I can do is keep a detailed record of the e-mail (archived of course) I've sent to him requesting some policy!”

TechRepublic member Helm said she thinks the issue is one greater than the physical constraints of storing messages.

“While server space is often an issue that prompts e-mail policies, it is NOT the issue at stake here.” The issue is liability for the content of messages, which is not decreased if users print out their messages, Helm said.

Employers need to educate employees on what types of messages should be kept or deleted, Helm said. “The key to almost any business issue is not stricter policing of employees, but empowering them with enough information and responsibility that they will police themselves.”

File management is the key
Member iscoord feels that the reason for archiving e-mail should drive how long the mail can stay in the system.

While 60 to 90 days should be enough, users complain if they can’t keep messages longer than they would a paper copy of the same memo, iscoord wrote.

“It isn't a method of destroying evidence, as one person states—it is just good file management. Keep relevant data handy, anything that could be good reference, archive it. I've seen what happens when e-mail stores become unruly—systems crash, and everyone wants to blame the systems admin.”

Legal eagles are circling
RossDonaldson, network administrator for Options for Youth, said he now has e-mail management to think about.

“Currently, we have no policy other than a size limit on the mailbox, which is the only thing that forces people to delete their mail. We also archive one backup per month that contains all corporate data including anything in the mailboxes.

“God save me if we get subpoenaed.”
After reading some of the comments of your peers on archiving e-mail, what do you think? Is it unreasonable to ask people to limit what they save? Should e-mail be treated any differently than a paper memo? Does your policy talk about the reasons it exists? What do people who use your company’s policy say about it to their coworkers? Post your thoughts below or e-mail them to us.

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