Forensic Update

Reflections on information management within the legal and regulatory arena

Enterprise E-mail Management…Why it Matters So Much

Posted by Johnny Lee on February 21, 2011

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Let’s face it, the thought of enterprise email management simply is not topping the list of sexy, self-evident corporate priorities these days.  Of course, there’s nothing like the negative treatment of genuinely embarrassing news coverage or court sanctions (or worse) to get organizations to revisit the necessity of this vital portion of data governance.

Simply put, it’s hard to fund (much less carry to fruition) an enterprise program that focuses on data management.  While litigation and prosecutions may make headlines, email management is not merely about avoiding culpability and other pitfalls in those arenas.  Properly done, enterprise email management can reduce IT spend, make business processes more efficient, and save hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars annually for companies facing any sort of regulatory scrutiny or civil litigation.

Indeed, companies in every industry and geography are seeing an increase in the rate of litigation and regulatory scrutiny.  This increase is changing not just the way organizations handle such matters but the way in which they do business generally.

According to the latest installment of the annual Corporate Litigation Trends from international law firm Fulbright & Jaworski, many organizations are anticipating not only an increase in litigation and regulatory activity, but half believe that the “legal industry” will permanently change the way their business is conducted.  The survey also highlights the belief that legal and regulatory changes related to corruption and bribery investigations, data privacy, and social media will force organizations to think more proactively about their data governance initiatives.

Of course, there is no shortage of literature detailing why data governance is a good idea.  Despite this, few organizations get this right.  The profound disconnect between stakeholders within IT, Legal, HR, and Finance seems to be the principal explanation for why more organizations are not successful in these programs.  Historically, most companies launch an earnest (though myopic and frequently doomed) effort from the IT group.  When this effort failed for lack of consensus or effectiveness, organizations would effectively shelve effort for another year, chalking it up to insurmountable obstacles.  For a long time, this “charmed life” syndrome was permitted because companies so rarely faced a bet-the-company proposition that hinged on something as mundane as records management.  Today’s legal and regulatory arena makes this attitude a substantial gamble, and fewer executives, boards of directors, and audit committees are willing to tolerate it any longer.

More and more organizations are taking a proactive stance, and they seem to start with what is typically the most substantial data repository: electronic mail.  This is probably a wise gambit, though it should be tackled circumspectly.  While true that corporate users exchanged over 60 billion e-mails daily in 2009, it is sheer folly to consider this issue as strictly a technological headache.

The failure to integrate policy, training, monitoring, and PROCESS is the chief reason cited by courts and regulators for sanctions—not the breakdown of a given technology.  Accordingly, if you are in an organization that is finally seeing the light and embracing data governance, learn from the missteps of your colleagues: treat the enterprise initiative of data governance like…well, an enterprise initiative.  Lead with the notion of a “program” (not a project) and manage change from the top down (i.e., establish policy stances that extend to everyone; design process that aligns with policy; then select technology that aligns with these processes).  Finally, don’t forget about training, custodian acknowledgements, and monitoring controls.

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