Instant recall

Somerfield's store of e-mails from business transactions was becoming unwieldy and difficult to manage. Now, specialist software...

Somerfield's store of e-mails from business transactions was becoming unwieldy and difficult to manage. Now, specialist software and an e-mail vault enables it to store and retrieve e-mails in seconds. Kathryn Wilcox investigates

Two years ago, Colin Clark, corporate cost audit manager at supermarket chain Somerfield, had no way of knowing what information the business was losing or any way of pinpointing and retrieving critical content. Now, in seconds, Clark can locate any e-mail from any source. Somerfield archives every external e-mail at the point of first contact in its original form. It is accessible, retrievable and admissible in court.

Its e-mail vault can be searched for occurrences of a key word - even within e-mail attachments. Although Somerfield does not monitor employee e-mails, its e-mails are stored in a vault to be retrieved. Dangerous spoof e-mails can be tracked as they arrive, users alerted and the business protected.

Two factors prompted Somerfield to ring-fence its e-mail management and storage. "It was impossible to maintain our exchange server," says Clark. "It had become unwieldy. We had 3,500 Exchange users, each with a mailbox quota of 30Mbytes. Users resorted to personal folders to cope with the overflow. Our main method of communication was neither policed nor protected and our solution was to throw more disc space at the problem."

But e-mail has also irrevocably altered the fundamentals of the business - notably in negotiations. "We generate about 70,000 e-mails each week and 85% to 90% of our commercial agreements with suppliers take place electronically," Clark says.

Osterman Research estimates that the average age of a retrievable e-mail is ten months, whereas regulations can demand records of three to six years, or even lifetime retention. Somerfield needed a way of storing the e-mails in the event of a dispute. Also, if the system becomes unstable, or an employee leaves the company, it needed a way to guarantee that the records would not be lost.

Somerfield turned to KVS' Enterprise Vault to archive e-mails, eliminate personal folders, support regulatory compliance and ensure that valuable information could be retrieved quickly. Now, any e-mail received through the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol is journaled within the Exchange system. KVS software retrieves the e-mail from Exchange and, even though it may have been sent to multiple inboxes, it stores a single copy in a compressed format in the vault.

A web page, driven by Alta Vista software, enables Colin or his team to search the vault by keyword, date, sender or recipient, document size or attributes and retrieve e-mails within seconds. The vault presents no data quality issues as it simply stores the original e-mail as it came into the business.

After a pilot test period, Somerfield rolled out the programme, starting with the capture of all external e-mails relating to commercial negotiations. Somerfield is now deploying a mailbox archive facility without quotas or personal files that provides users with unlimited, easy-to-search mailboxes. It has also implemented a surf control to filter e-mails at the point of entry.

Users' mailboxes look the same but they see a "place marker" next to a message that has been compressed and stored in the vault. But isn't this intruding on employee privacy? Clark says, "We are not policing users. We are simply protecting the business as we are legally permitted to do. Staff are fully aware of our e-mail policy. A search of the vault is only conducted for justified business reasons and we only retrieve e-mails relating to the issue under investigation. E-mail privacy is not compromised."

Cost savings from the e-mail vault are difficult to quantify, but Clark expects payback on software within 12 months and storage cost reductions of around 30%. But protecting the business from risk is, he says, "priceless".

Colin Clark presents "E-mail - the information time bomb: how to determine the best strategy solution to meet the business objectives" on 16 October at Storage Expo 2003.

Tackling e-mail management

Identify what is happening with your e-mail and secure your position. How is information stored? What happens to an inbox if an employee leaves the business? Could you locate any e-mail in five years' time?

Develop an enforceable e-mail policy. Make employees aware of it.

Analyse your e-mail. According to Osterman Research, 60% of data critical to users' ability to do their jobs resides in their e-mail

Protect your business with an e-mail vault or archive

Sort e-mail to ensure that only business information is stored in the vault

Filter e-mails at the point of entry to screen out unsolicited mail.  

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