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This week saw the passing of Raymond Samuel Tomlinson, a pioneering American computer programmer who implemented the first ever email program in 1971. Whilst not responsible for the concept itself, email had up to that point been limited to users sending messages to one another on the same computer, or to mailboxes where the messages had to be printed out. Tomlinson revolutionized the way we communicate when he decided to use the now-ubiquitous ‘@’ symbol to separate a recipient’s name from location. Fast-forward 44 years to 2015 – where an average of 206 billion emails were sent and received every day – and the impact is plain to see. Of those 206 billion, over half (113B) were business emails, and the Radicati Group expect this to grow 3% annually for the next 4 years, hitting 129,000,000,000 emails in 2019.

The speed and scale at which email has accelerated is almost too much to handle statistically. For example, if we told you that across the world we’re expected to send and receive a total of 78,585,500,000,000 emails this year, the desired impact may fall short behind trying to distinguish what number that actually is (for those wondering, it’s around 78 and a half trillion). So, we’ll instead tone it down slightly: according to Radicati, the average user will send and receive 123 emails a day in 2016. In a company of just 200, that’s nearly 25,000 emails generated every day.

In this sea of email messages that circulate through a company, relevant information often gets lost. As with the near-instant nature of email, information comes through fragments of email conversations – reference materials, personnel issues and contact information may be entwined with meeting requests, off-topic messages and company news; basically, a lot of data in a lot of different locations. Companies need to segregate important content from the chaff, and if employees are collectively generating 125,000 emails a week – as much as we hate to use cliché’s – it can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Retention to the rescue

If important content is the needle-in-a-haystack, then email retention technology is a box of matches to burn away the hay. There are three core reasons companies choose to implement retention technology:

  1. Knowledge management
  2. Regulation / Compliance
  3. Legal concerns

The first of these reasons is perhaps the most obvious, as we’ve alluded to above. When using a platform such as SharePoint, improved Knowledge Management offers users a more seamless experience: easier discovery and improved classification of email, as well as reduced redundant processes, to name a few enhancements.

For the latter two reasons, email retention becomes more useful than the simple archiving of messages. While archiving an email message will store it for an indefinite amount of time (leading to a huge backlog of messages), retention defines how long a message should be kept before it’s automatically deleted. For companies regulated by government or industry standards, the length of retention is often determined by laws and regulations.

Legal issues

Legal forums so often rely on hard copy evidence – witness affidavits, letters, photos, excerpt reports etc. – to prove or disprove cases. As both businesses and individuals are increasingly storing the majority of their day-to-day communications online, email has become one of these forms of evidence.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedures (FRCP) was passed in December 2006 stating that all electronically stored information (ESI) – namely emails, communications, files, directives and requests that may be relevant to a current or future litigation – cannot simply be deleted or overwritten. This means that if a company cannot provide ESI requested by court, they may face serious legal action.

Email retention technology is therefore critical in making sure your company can always provide the required information when needed. Without it, you may find yourself in similar situations as the following organizations:

Don’t let it happen to you

The case between Qualcomm and Broadcom stands as a prime example of the casualties and consequences that come as a result of the improper use of ESI. What started as an infringement lawsuit against Broadcom escalated heavily over the course of 2 years (2005-2007) with numerous counterclaims and technicalities. The case was brought to a conclusion after Qualcomm failed to disclose information requested by Broadcom regarding “all documents referring to or evidencing any participation” in the case. The case is renowned for the ethical violations of Qualcomm’s attorneys; the failure to disclose emails meant the court fined the company with an enormous $8,568,633.24 fee. A major reason for this punishment was that the company had no system in place to retain, collect and locate documents.

Morgan Stanley & Co. had a civil injunctive action filed against them for failing to produce tens of thousands of emails during 5 years of IPO and Research Analyst Investigations. Without admitting or denying allegations, the investment banking firm consented to a permanent injunction and payment of a $15,000,000 civil penalty. They also agreed to adopt and implement policies, procedures and training all focused on the preservation and production of email communications.

Retain the right content

It of course varies from company to company, but for a general summary on how long industries should retain their incoming, outgoing and internal emails, see this article.

While SharePoint implementations are capable of email retention, site proliferation increases an end-user’s confusion as to where they should save documents, how to classify documents and how to search for relevant content. fosters email retention in SharePoint, thusly improving knowledge management in a number of ways and help you ensure you don’t fall on the wrong side of the law.

For more information on email retention technologies, contact us today to see how we can help.

David Lavenda
Chief Product Officer