Policies Lag E-Mail's Popularity

Most companies have E-mail policies, but far fewer of them train employees in how they should use E-mail. And IM is even further behind.
Even in less-regulated industries, monitoring remains popular, largely because of spam. "With our spam filter, anything that meets the criteria gets filtered," says Harold Johnson, IT department manager for Midwestern grocery chain Schnuck Markets Inc., which uses ProofPoint Inc.'s spam filter. "But we don't audit people and say, 'OK, you're sending confidential information or inappropriate information out, or receiving inappropriate information.' "

A recent Forrester study of 140 companies found that more than 30% of organizations with more than 1,000 workers employ staff--not just software--to monitor outbound E-mail. Among larger enterprises, those with 20,000 or more employees, that figure jumped to more than 43%, suggesting greater awareness and sensitivity to the pitfalls of unrestricted communication.

Instant messaging is seeing increasing adoption in the workplace, but governing policies haven't caught up. While 31% of respondents say they use IM in the workplace, only 20% of companies have written policies governing IM use and content. And only 11% report having technical means in place to control IM usage.

Schnuck Markets has an E-mail policy, Johnson says, but not one for IM. Of the company's 16,000 employees, he estimates that 5% to 10% of the E-mail users also use IM. "We're going through a phase right now where we're trying to get everything documented, so I can see that [an IM policy] would be something we'd want," he says.

Among IM users, 58% employ the technology for personal business, while 94% use it for company business, the survey finds.

Another noteworthy finding is the extent of ignorance about regulatory requirements. Of the 42% of respondents who say they have jobs in regulated industries, 34% are unsure whether they adhere to applicable regulations governing the retention of E-mail. This underscores the need for user education.

There's also a need for education about E-mail's place in the legal environment. When Oracle CEO Larry Ellison E-mailed four colleagues on July 23, 2003, with his reaction to Siebel Systems Inc.'s layoffs--"The last best of breed company is in the process of dieing [sic]"--he probably wasn't thinking you or I might read it. Yet some of the juiciest details in the ongoing court battle over Oracle's bid to buy PeopleSoft Inc. came from E-mails.

One-fifth of AMA respondents say their companies' E-mail has been subpoenaed, and one-fifth aren't sure. Given E-mail's place as a channel for business dealings and personal thoughts, that number is likely only to rise.

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