Finger On The Pulse Of E-Mail - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
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Finger On The Pulse Of E-Mail

Here are some tips for getting e-mail under control and balancing your company's offensive, defensive, and I.T. requirements

E-mail is one of the most heavily used applications in every company--one that, if improperly managed, can threaten a business' future. As the backbone of business communication, E-mail has become a repository of interactions between employees, customers, and suppliers. But until recently, E-mail management hasn't been given priority, resulting in a gap in information management and a source of substantial risk for many companies.

Recent high-profile corporate scandals have publicized the consequences of mismanaging E-mail and other information. While the Enron debacle tops the list, other examples clearly demonstrate the high cost of E-mail mismanagement:

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission underscored the importance of good E-mail management for regulatory compliance when it fined five broker-dealers a total of $8.25 million in 2003 for failing to preserve E-mail communications.
  • The Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Inc. case illustrates how the legal-discovery process tests the way many companies manage E-mail and other documents. Wyeth and its sister company, A.H. Robins Inc., were sued over the weight-loss drug combination fen-phen. Although the plaintiff sought relevant E-mail messages from only a few of the defendant's employees, the company's backup tape system couldn't easily isolate the required mailboxes without incurring considerable cost, estimated to be between $1.1 million and $1.7 million. Faced with the cost of E-mail discovery and the possibility of losing despite such an effort, Wyeth settled with the plaintiff.
  • The federal government's obstruction-of-justice and witness-tampering charges against Frank Quattrone, the former superstar tech-industry investment banker at Credit Suisse First Boston, shows even further how practically anything could be discoverable in litigation. In the trial, a critical issue in the prosecution's argument depended on the precise moment of delivery of a single E-mail.
  • WorldCom/MCI's troubles are well known, but one consequence may not be: Regulators imposed an $800-per-hour monitor to ensure that the company complied with record-retention policies.
  • These examples drive home the fact that proper management of E-mail and other information is essential to corporate accountability and fiscal health. Business records must be managed throughout their life cycles according to procedures established by regulatory authorities and courts. The burden is on businesses to maintain adequate and well-organized E-mail records. Companies operating in such regulator-controlled industries as financial services, manufacturing, insurance, and health care are particularly at risk.

    The challenge is solving the problem without hindering core business functions, particularly those related to healthy revenue, profitability, and valuation. Some companies have addressed the E-mail issue myopically, without paying adequate attention to other requirements or to how technology factors into the equation.

    The first step toward a successful E-mail management strategy is to understand that overall business objectives can be categorized into three areas: offense, defense, and IT.

    Offensive requirements improve the business in some meaningful way, either by meeting customer demand, whether that means improving customer service and satisfaction, providing personalized com- munication, enabling self-service, improving customer acquisition and retention, or reducing operational costs and improving efficiency and productivity. Doing well in these areas is the most important objective for your business. At a minimum, what you do with E-mail management shouldn't hinder these.

    Defensive requirements protect the organization and reduce risk. This includes addressing regulatory compliance, litigation, and their costs, as well as business continuity and security. Be sure to take a comprehensive look at your defensive requirements. Public companies must comply with Sarbanes-Oxley, but many other industry-specific regulations typically demand attention. For example, financial-services firms must comply with SEC Rule 17 for financial services; and health-care and insurance companies must address Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other requirements for the protection of patient information.

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