European study shows fast, loose approach to e-mail

Nearly half of the IT managers in 1,700 companies across Europe do not receive guidelines on what e-mail should be saved even as awareness of the need for careful record-keeping has increased in recent years, a new study shows.

Likewise, employees frequently have incorrect information about how their e-mail is stored and managed, said the study, done by the U.K. research company Dynamic Markets Limited and commissioned by security vendor Symantec Corp. A majority of employees -- 78 percent -- thought that they, not the IT department, controlled whether e-mail was saved or deleted.

The study also identified what could be potential gaps in e-mail storage. While most IT departments make a backup copy of e-mail every night, only 4 percent back it up during intervals during the day, putting some data at risk, the study said.

A far lower percentage -- 42 percent -- reported they automatically backed up data from mobile devices and laptops. Of the respondents, 45 percent said users were responsible to back up that data.

E-mail's importance has evolved from a mere convenient communication tool to an influential, often legally binding document. Legal cases could call for documentation reaching years back.

The study found the majority of IT managers, 71 percent, do not archive e-mail of employees who leave their companies.

Somerfield PLC, a chain of 1,200 U.K grocery stores, started saving all company e-mail about four years ago, said Colin Clark, the retailer's control executive. The move came after an increasing number of contracts were being solidified over e-mail, and their filing cabinet system became inefficient at tracking agreements, Clark said.

At that time, government compliance issues were in the future, and e-mail archiving just made good business sense. "You can get compliance as a by-product of just doing your job right in the first place," Clark said.

When a U.K. government regulatory body was investigating cigarette price-fixing, officials asked for all price-related communications with suppliers. Somerfield, in the first year of its e-mail archiving, extracted 12 months of e-mail in 15 minutes and put it on a CD, Clark said.

Somerfield uses Enterprise Vault, an archiving product from Veritas Software Corp., now part of Symantec, which allows for searchable e-mail.

It took lawyers about four weeks to gather the data that existed before the archival e-mail system was in place, Clark said.

The archiving system has further helped quickly dissolve contract disputes. "I don't go into a fight without the facts now," Clark said.

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