Businesses Struggle Under Growing Weight Of E-Mail - InformationWeek

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Businesses Struggle Under Growing Weight Of E-Mail

From in-box overload to lawsuits, e-mail can deliver a nasty bite. Get control of it before you're a victim.

Feed the e-mail beast. We all do it, from the time we log on in the morning till late in the day when a last thought needs to be shared with a colleague or friend. We're sending messaging morsels over mobile devices to try to satiate its insatiable appetite. Don't feed the beast--take off a week, a day, even an hour--and you fall dangerously behind.

E-mail keeps growing in volume, and so does the urgency for devising new and better ways of dealing with it. A typical office worker receives more than 100 messages a day--some get 200, 300, or more--and may send dozens more. At large companies, it adds up to millions of messages per week and many hours glued to PCs; it also hogs storage and demands hours of administrator and security pro time. E-mail has gotten so big that it's no longer a mere issue of personal productivity. Top executives and their companies are being judged on how they're controlling it, as mismanagement can lead to legal troubles.

E-mail gives AIM Healthcare's Cooper the chills

E-mail gives AIM Healthcare's Cooper the chills

Photo by Brad Jones
"It scares us to death," says Jeff Cooper, system architect at AIM Healthcare, of e-mail's potential to wreak havoc. Health-care companies, financial firms, and others who must comply with government data management regulations are particularly vulnerable. At AIM, Cooper supports about 2,000 Microsoft Exchange users. "We deal with hundreds of clients, and it's all confidential information," he says. "We have to make sure at some level that it's not being sent to the wrong people or used in the wrong way."

E-mail, of course, is also the vehicle for sharing many great ideas within a large company. Its valuable yet volatile nature means businesses must have an e-mail strategy and plans and processes for storing e-mail, governing its use, and dealing with the growing deluge of both legitimate messages and spam.

At Penske Truck Leasing, the number of messages received and sent by its 20,000 global employees has more than doubled in about three years, ushering in a new way of thinking about e-mail. Says Bill Stobbart, senior VP of IT: "E-mail is becoming so ingrained into many business processes that today it's mission critical."

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Some businesses have experienced the worst of the beast's wrath. There's the embarrassing case of Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher, axed last year after e-mails revealed an affair with a female executive at the company. Or Frank Quattrone, the former Credit Suisse banker who was barred in 2004 from the securities industry after e-mail revealed he tried to cover up his dubious investment practices. Morgan Stanley, fined millions of dollars for its inability to manage e-mail in compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission orders, is now tied up in a $10 million lawsuit filed by a former Morgan Stanley IT exec who claims he was fired for, among other things, discovering unethical e-mails from other execs in the company's bloated archive.

Such cases are partly why IT departments are paying greater attention to the need to archive e-mail so it's available when needed and under control when it's not. A surprising 21% of companies received court subpoenas for e-mail or instant messaging records, according to a study conducted two years ago by the American Management Association and ePolicy Institute. So the odds are good that a lawyer could come knocking on your company's door with a request for electronic correspondence. What's more, federal civil trial rules that go into effect Dec. 1 stipulate that reviews of business records for discovery purposes must include e-mail.

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