Email – Business Enabler Or Corporate Achilles Heel?

By | June 23, 2006

Email has become the most critical form of business communication. So why are the majority of companies failing to maximise email to deliver real corporate value? How many companies have direct, searchable access to all email communication – body copy and attachment – from corporate applications such as CRM? And why, despite the proliferation of mobile devices such as the Blackberry, most users can see only the emails that have arrived over the past few days – do they have no visibility of the complete email history?

In fact for most organisations email is in the pain rather than gain column. From the demands of compliance regulation and corporate governance to escalating storage volumes, email management is a major, and growing, cost.

It is time to recognise that the traditional hierarchical data structure within email servers is not appropriate for the volume or value of email communication. For email to become a true business enabler organisations need to embrace a new model for email management that not only addresses the storage challenge but also delivers complete access to this essential corporate information source, argues Simon Pearce, Vice President, EMEA, Quest Software UK.

Business Essence

Email has wrought the most fundamental transformation in business communication over the past decade. Today it is used for every financial transaction, from invoice to remittance; for sales quotes and complex contract negotiations. Yet its ubiquity, ease of use and global adoption is also its Achilles heel.

Despite increasingly punitive email policies, too many organisations experience anarchic email use. Duplication and multiple versions make it near impossible to retain any kind of control over what is vital business information. And while a few companies have achieved a degree of control over email attachments by using document management tools, what about the body of the email?

Industry analysts estimate that 70% of customer interactions are sitting inside email systems, locked up in individual mail boxes. Failing to monitor, control or provide access to this essential business knowledge is fundamentally leaving organisations wide open to compliance breaches and allegations of lack of employee duty of care.

Furthermore, without real visibility of this information organisations are consistently risking serious business mistakes that can result in inadequate contracts, missed sales and lost customer opportunities. Given the reliance on email communication isn´t it time to impose some control on this crucial business tool?

Haphazard Approach

The need for email archiving is widely understood – as demonstrated by recent industry consolidation. However, for the majority of organisations the goal is simply to resolve the email storage problem. This is understandable given the inadequacy of existing solutions. There can be no justification for technology that forces the IT team to manage 100% of email when only 2% changes on a daily basis. Nor for relying on users to manage their own in-boxes – a strategy resulting in haphazard deleting that undermines compliance policies and jeopardises corporate information.

However, organisations looking at email archiving solely to resolve the storage problem are in danger of missing the point. Simply using archiving technology to move email data away from the inbox and into a repository may resolve the storage problem but it also locks away vital business information.

Used correctly, email is a core component of business success. The email archive should be treated accordingly to ensure all enterprise information is available to every user and every application across the business. To achieve this goal, email needs to be stored in a fully retrievable, auditable and searchable manner. And, critically, this must be done without creating a massive storage overhead or requiring user intervention.

New Model

Underpinning this shift must be a recognition that the traditional hierarchical storage mechanism within email servers is constraining access to corporate information. While undoubtedly an excellent messaging system, the email server was never designed as an information store. By using a relational database email management solution alongside existing mail servers, organisations can solve the storage problem and, critically, unlock vital business information.

The relational model overcomes the conflict between retaining all emails and escalating storage costs. By modelling emails in an information store that was designed for this purpose, the process becomes extremely efficient.

Once every email is stored within a relational database structure, organisations finally have rapid access to this key corporate asset. By integrating the email data store with core applications, from CRM and finance to HR and ERP, and providing remote access via mobile devices, organisations have a complete enterprise information view for the first time.

Storage Resolved

With the right data model, organisations can immediately address the storage challenge without compromise, enabling the store-everything policy that is the only answer to long term compliance and corporate knowledge management. Without the right data model, organisations will continue to throw ever more resources at the storage problem without gaining any quantifiable benefit.

From multiple versions of attachments to email body text, information is lost to the business. This undermines every aspect of business growth, from knowledge transfer to customer development – since essential communications are lost for good.

The relational structure supports far more robust storage strategies. Single instancing of all documents removes the issue of attachment duplication and reduces storage volumes by 50%. Managing only the new emails radically reduces the IT management overhead, whilst users have unlimited mail boxes, removing any excuse for non-policy email deletion. Furthermore, it enables organisations to extend standard enterprise data controls – such as time and data stamping – to email, delivering enterprise wide information consistency.

Business Value

There is global consensus that email has changed the way business is conducted for good. Yet as organisations struggle to meet compliance objectives while controlling the costs of escalating email-fuelled storage requirements, email is actually becoming a significant corporate burden. Those organisations that continue to treat email as a storage overhead rather than information asset will only see the problem escalate – the model is simply not sustainable.

By integrating the email archive solution into the core infrastructure organisations can not only resolve compliance requirements and reduce the storage overhead but, more importantly, unleash invaluable corporate information to the business to deliver quantifiable benefit.

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