Putting e-mail intelligence to work

Canadian government organizations collect massive amounts of sensitive public data, and much of it exists in e-mail form. Studies show that more than 70 per cent of a public sector organization’s intellectual property is contained, in some fashion, within its messaging system.

Given new government initiatives such as the push for increased Web-based service delivery and the continued adoption of electronic health records systems – only two of numerous public sector projects – it’s clear that e-mail management is no longer a “nice to have” indulgence but rather a critical part of public sector functionality.

Adding greater complexity to the data management dilemma is the fact that e-mail is now accepted as legal documentation that can be subpoenaed, audited and subjected to compliance regulations. As such, it’s compulsory for all levels of government to ensure that every form of electronic communication is centrally archived and easily accessible.

Still, while most public sector IT managers understand the importance of safeguarding and managing electronic information, acceptance of systems dedicated specifically to the task is markedly low. Perhaps that is due to lack of policies, understanding or automation.

Whatever the case may be, e-mail is still generally being stored en masse across multiple divisions and even on desktops and laptops. This fragmented approach not only exposes sensitive data to risk, it also makes the retrieval process painstakingly slow. For organizations that are highly accountable to the public, not to mention the law, this can be an awkward position to be in.

The intelligent approach
That’s precisely where an intelligent e-mail archiving strategy comes into play. It incorporates many of the tools that organizations need to safeguard their mission-critical data – from anti-virus and anti-spam tools to content filtering, archiving, e-discovery tools and policy management technologies.

But what really makes such a strategy so “intelligent” are built-in classification and retention technologies designed to capture, categorize, index and store target data to enforce policies and protect corporate assets – all while helping to reduce storage costs and simplify management.

That’s important because many organizations today typically implement archiving strategies based on time constraints or size limits rather than content. In turn, this means they are retaining some records for much longer than legally required and creating unnecessarily high storage costs.

Different types of e-mail messages have different values, and different organizations have various classification needs for their information. In simple terms, classification means imposing a hierarchy or a set of e-mail-related rules, which enables an organization to be smart about which e-mails are kept and which are deleted. For example, highly process-driven outfits may require much more granular e-mail classifications than one with more fluid interaction.

Intelligent archiving accommodates e-mail classification approaches in three ways: through user rankings that allow individuals to sort messages as part of archiving; automated classification that tags messages based on rules; and integration with Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems that apply existing policies to e-mail messages.

A real-world story
Regardless of the direction an organization takes for managing e-mail, adding intelligence to archiving policies helps ensure the balance of storage optimization, records retention and fast discovery while capturing the business value of archiving implementations.

Several years ago, a large Canadian public sector department implemented an e-mail archiving strategy. Based on Symantec’s Enterprise Vault software-based intelligent archiving platform, the system saves critical space on the department’s file servers by seamlessly moving files to alternative storage devices without impacting end users.

There’s an online archive for older items that are moved from primary application storage according to customer-defined policies, as well as a component for rapid content discovery in response to litigation and regulatory compliance.

With intelligent archiving at work, this department is now able to archive terabytes of unstructured data (such as e-mail, documents and marketing materials typically stored on local PCs and laptops) and then perform real-time electronic discovery of the massive archives. Manual searches that previously occupied the IT team for days now take minutes. In addition, storage costs have been reduced and storage management is simpler.

When all is said and done, an intelligent e-mail archiving system provides a common framework that consistently enforces content control policies across the enterprise, from e-mail gateway security to archiving. IT professionals can proactively prevent the risk of data loss and policy violation and respond to e-discovery requests rapidly and cost-effectively.

With such a streamlined and centralized approach, public sector employees can not only retrieve data quickly but have the opportunity to analyse it as well – turning data into a useful tool rather than an inactive cost centre.

Michael Murphy is Vice-President and General Manager of Symantec (Canada) Corp. in Toronto.

Related content:

Critics force withdrawal of city’s e-mail deletion policy

What government users need to know about e-mail

Bogged down in e-mail attachments: The story of one CIO’s escape

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