Remember when businesses saw e-mail as a quick and novel alternative to the memo or the fax? It took us a while to catch on that, as replacements for paper records that wind up in file cabinets, e-mails had become just that: records. But catch on we have.
For many industries, e-mail archiving is more than an advised practice -- it's a legal mandate. Numerous regulations and the governmental bodies that enforce them -- the Securities and Exchange Commission, in particular -- demand that companies retain their electronic records. E-mail volume is exploding (it doubled in the last two years, according to Radicati Group). At the same time, compliance and legal concerns are making e-mail retention part of the modus operandi at big businesses, especially the ones that have shares swapping hands on the trading floor.
But e-mail archiving isn't all bad, as Penny Lunt Crosman explains in a story we ran recently. It assists storage management by offloading data from users' desktops. It also provides a trove of data that can be analyzed for intelligence.
At this point, e-mail-related intelligence is usually of an exceedingly simple sort, such as the examination of communication to and from individuals. But business intelligence is broadening to include semi-structured or unstructured data, and that includes e-mail messages. Ask the experts who help the world's biggest companies with their data warehouse needs, and they'll tell you. Pat Selinger, who pioneered the relational database and now serves as IBM's VP of data management, architecture and technology, says the analysis of customer e-mails and customer-service files, in particular, is increasingly prominent. "That stretching of business intelligence to include what has traditionally been considered content management is a very pronounced trend," Selinger says. "It's one that I think people are finding they have to do in order to be on the leading edge of competitiveness."
To call it something that companies "have to do" might be getting ahead of reality, but that's what visionaries are paid for. E-mail will make its way into the realm of business intelligence as data warehouses become more sophisticated and companies push themselves to eke out every competitive edge. You can bet on it. And the right tools will make e-mail easier to analyze than faxes in a filing cabinet ever were.