End the e-mail data management debacle

Users are losing confidence in e-mail servers and struggling to find the information they require to conduct day-to-day business.

 Users are losing confidence in e-mail servers and struggling to find the information they require to conduct day-to-day business.

Standard e-mail servers are fantastic at messaging, but they are completely inadequate at storing information. Microsoft has been promising a relational database to provide information management for Exchange since 1998, but, in 2005, that promise appears no closer to realisation.

Yet the need for such technology is becoming critical: organisations simply cannot afford to lose the valuable business information that is either regularly deleted or takes too long to find in an unsearchable format.

If organisations globally are to leverage the data held within e-mail, it needs to be stored in a fully retrievable, auditable and searchable manner. And, critically, this must be done without large storage overheads or the need for user intervention.

A store-everything policy is the only answer to long-term compliance and corporate knowledge management. Relying on manual profiling once again puts too much pressure on the end-user to make the right decision and takes too long. By automating and storing every e-mail the onus is removed from users to understand long-term information value and organisations can demonstrate their commitment to regulatory compliance.

Once every e-mail is stored within a relational database structure, organisations will have rapid access to this key corporate asset. By integrating the e-mail data store with core applications, from CRM and finance to HR and ERP, e-mail related information can become an automatic component of the product, providing the complete enterprise information view for the first time.

By using a relational database e-mail management product alongside existing mail servers, organisations can not only unlock vital business information but transform the process of e-mail management. Leveraging the efficiency of the relational model overcomes the conflict between retaining all e-mails and escalating storage costs. By modelling e-mails in a purpose-designed information store, the process becomes extremely efficient.

Firstly, attachment duplication is overcome by single instancing all documents, a process that reduces e-mail storage volumes by half. Secondly, with most data falling into the "write once, read many" category, appropriate information management reduces the management overhead to only those e-mails that have changed each day - a fraction of the overall volume.

By significantly reducing the e-mail volume organisations can then provide users with unlimited mailboxes and rely on technology, rather than business people, to solve the storage issue. This approach moves the business away from the crazy situation where end-users have to make the call on whether or not to delete enterprise information, while also enforcing the compliance strategy.

Once in place, a full text search can be undertaken across the entire e-mail data store, achieving in minutes what has taken weeks or months of manual investigation in the past. From compliance assessments or investigations for e-mail misuse to tracking customer-specific communication, fully searchable e-mail information transforms the discovery process from expensive nightmare to standard business tool.

It seems extraordinary that despite massive investments in integrated technologies, e-mails languish unread across businesses. Indeed, the approach to storing e-mail has not changed since its initial acceptance a decade ago. Yet e-mail servers' hierarchical storage mechanism makes enterprise searching impossible - attachments are locked under message objects, creating massive storage problems and, since the proprietary data store is available only to the messaging engine, line-of-business applications cannot access information.

And the cost to business is huge: from the time wasted by users trying to find information to lost sales opportunities, an inability to demonstrate compliance, and the massive overheads associated with spiralling storage costs and e-mail management.

The traditional approach to e-mail management is not working - it is time to challenge the old model and bring e-mail into the enterprise information store.

Sean O'Reilly is director at e-mail archiving specialist Aftermail

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