The move comes amid growing concerns about the increased burden IT departments will have to face to meet more stringent legal requirements and rising storage costs relating to electronic communications.
The retailer, which operates 1,300 Somerfield and Kwik Save stores across the UK, conducts about 90% of its commercial agreements via e-mail.
It rolled out the Enterprise Vault system, from supplier KVS, because managers were struggling to audit, store and find records relating to individual commercial transactions, said Colin Clark, corporate cost audit manager at Somerfield.
"With the majority of our commercial negotiations being conducted by e-mail, we needed to ensure that confidential information stays within the business, and that contracts - along with e-mails relating to negotiations - are properly stored so that we are protected as a business from any legal action in the event of a contractual dispute," he said.
Not being able to find records of old e-mails meant Somerfield was losing out when disputes with suppliers occurred, Clark said. "We did not have the records to justify billing suppliers when there was a dispute. Legally you are required to store data [on contracts] for six years and we were finding this impossible."
The new system, which has a search engine based on technology from AltaVista, allows managers to access e-mails from any of Somerfield's 3,500 Microsoft Outlook users in minutes.
In addition to the corporate governance issues, Somerfield also needed to deal with the sheer volume of e-mail traffic and e-mail misuse, which was creating costly, unstable and storage-intensive files.
"The main problem was that we could not allocate significant mailbox sizes to our users," he said. "With the new system, people are not constantly worried about having to delete e-mails."
Somerfield expects to halve its storage costs once the archiving system is fully deployed, but Clark said saving money was not the prime objective.
"We will see a significant return on investment on storage costs alone, but the greatest benefit has been providing the company with an accurate record of its fundamental business performance and conduct."
- 70,000 e-mails a week
- 90% of deals negotiated via e-mail
- Legal requirement to store contract data for six years.