It's Time to Revisit Records Management for Email
Have you read about a recent business litigation case that depended on email correspondence to win? Probably. These stories appear with increasing regularity, yet many businesses are ignoring the messages these incidents contain.
While the high costs associated with searching for electronic documents that aren't easily located are well documented in these stories, many businesses still neglect proper records management and retention and organization of electronic information, particularly email.
According to the American Bar Association, "Despite the fact that electronic data is permanent, nearly indestructible, and easily transferable, the public at large continues to view email and other electronic communications with an air of informality that was rarely associated with traditional professional letters or memoranda." If this is the case at your business, it's time to take another look at how you manage your emails.
Difficulties in organizing a cohesive system across departments, devices and storage areas make managing email a low priority for records managers and IT departments, but this could be an expensive oversight. First, there is the cost of labor to pay someone to search through improperly categorized and stored records for relevant emails regarding a court case or internal investigation. Second, there is the potential cost you may inccur if you cannot find necessary email documentation, such costs include paying an opponent's legal costs or court-ordered damages.
Though it may seem like an overwhelming task, initiating an email record, retention and retrieval system is a crucial aspect of digital record management in today's world. Follow these email management best practices and tips to get your organization on the right track.
Identify Your Email Management Responsibilities
How long should your organization retain emails? Who says so? Many professions and industries, such as banks, healthcare professionals, accountants, engineers and lawyers are governed by organizations or associations that publish explicit compliance and regulatory requirements for retaining and managing email records. Check the website or contact your governing organization for the industry standards required in your email management program. Some of the key points to consider include the following:
- Is there a specific definition for what makes an email a "business record," or are you required to manage all emails, including personal emails sent and received on business accounts?
- How long must the emails be retained?
- Are there requirements for how and where they are stored?
- When must they be classified/categorized: At the time of creation, or within a certain time period?
- Who may access and retrieve archived emails, and for what purpose? Are there privacy regulations in place to limit access?
If your business isn't governed by such regulations, seek the advice of a records management professional who can provide recommendations based on industry norms.
Evaluate Your Recordkeeping
If your legal department required all email correspondence regarding a project from three years ago, how quickly could you deliver it? How confident are you that all the relevant emails would be included? What system is in place to search and retrieve relevant emails? How do your employees identify emails that are business records versus those that are temporary or transitory? Is there a hierarchy of classification in place for emails? These are some of the questions that can indicate the state of your current email system.
While impending legal action may be the most commonly cited reason for implementing an email strategy, it isn't the only reason to manage email records.
Some businesses choose to regard all emails as business records to avoid the potential problem of deleting emails that may be required in the future. Others do not require the retention of emails that are "CC'ed" or draft copies.
How Well Organized Are Your Emails?
The more well organized your email system is, the easier it is to locate and retrieve email records, no matter what the situation. This saves time, money, and aggravation for your business and employees.
Some of the reasons for keeping, organizing, classifying and retrieving emails include the following:
- Internal investigations
- Privacy regulations affecting clients or customer personal and financial information
- Internal or external audits
To identify aspects of your organization's email system that need to be addressed, start with a records management gap analysis. The first step to the gap analysis entails collecting information about any and all aspects of your current email management system, such as where company emails are currently stored and how they are tagged, and reviewing formal documents regarding policies or procedures regarding company email. It can pinpoint problem areas or roadblocks particular to your organization that will need to be addressed.
Identifying and analyzing what works, what doesn't and what is missing makes it easier to develop an action plan for email management. In some cases, it may even be possible to build an email strategy on your existing technology platform, keeping costs down and disruption of the existing system to a minimum. A unified approach to records management, including a clear email strategy, can help.
Employee Expectations in Email Classification, Retention and Retrieval
As with any new system introduced into the workplace, the simpler it is, the more likely your employees are to use your email strategy. Keep it as similar to the existing system as possible, and look for ways to automate activities, like meta-data identification, for example.
Develop clear policies and procedures around employee access and tasks regarding email activities, including classifying, deleting and retrieving them.
Don't wait until disaster strikes to improve your email records management. Addressing the need for a robust and efficient email management system is best completed today so your organization will be prepared when necessary.
Do you have questions about information management? Read additional Knowledge Center Small Business resources, or contact Iron Mountain’s Small Business team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services Small Business specialist who can address your specific challenges.