Sun Media gets e-mail

Sun Media Corp., with over 170 newspapers scattered across Canada, including major papers such as the Ottawa Sun and Toronto Sun, and such television holdings as 24 Hours Vancouver, gets lots of e-mail. So much in fact, the company can’t really put a figure on the amount or how it’s managed.

“We have over 5,000 users across the country,” said Vartan Kasbarian, senior project manager for Sun Media in Toronto. “Each location is running its own e-mail server and domain name.”

Sun Media recently embarked on a plan to consolidate its e-mail systems in order to put into place a means of managing and retaining important e-mails so as to conform to regulatory requirements both in Canada and the United States.

The first step in this plan is a phased approach to the e-mail consolidation, starting with the Toronto offices of Sun Media. This will involve putting into place a new e-mail system utilizing IBM Corp.’s blade servers and using Microsoft Corp.’s Active Directory and Exchange 2003 for handling e-mail traffic.

The final goal is for Sun Media to move away from each newspaper site having its own domain name and instead to three regional domains that will route the e-mail appropriately to the various newspapers and staff members around the country. This will help in better tracking and managing e-mail traffic and volumes, and to centralize such things as anti-spam and e-mail anti-virus policies.

“We have been spending quite a bit of time on this and we are still in the design phase of all this,” said Kasbarian. “We have a clear picture of what the end-state is going to look like and we are in the process of finalizing our project plans.”

Monika Piotrowski, corporate director for information technology with Sun Media in Toronto said simplifying the underlying e-mail infrastructure is just the first step in an effective e-mail management and retention policy. The more important step is the development of an e-mail policy that helps in deciding how e-mail communications are to be treated and which e-mails are to be retained and archived.

Piotrowski said she and Kasbarian sat down with the management of Sun Media to work out what kinds of e-mails the company and its employees receive and to decide which were crucial and needed to be retained.

Much of these early discussions focused on regulatory issues governing private and financial information, and such legislation as Sarbanes-Oxley. Sun Media is owned by Quebecor Inc. and because Quebecor is listed on U.S. stock exchanges, is subject to Sarbanes-Oxley. Sun Media’s e-mails fall under Sarbanes-Oxley and have to be carefully handled if the e-mails have sensitive information.

Depending on whether the e-mail contains private and confidential corporate and financial information, that e-mail has to be separated from the rest of the common e-mail communications and retained for a minimum of two years and possibly up to seven years, according to Sun Media lawyers said Piotrowski.

“The next step is educating employees and senior managers on what information the company produces and receives, and how it can be classified, whether it is private or public information,” Piotrowski said.

She said this is important as managing and retaining e-mails is easier if people recognize what e-mails need to be retained and should be flagged. This helps prevent unnecessary e-mails from being backed up and taking up valuable storage space. An added benefit is it gets employees directly involved in the e-mail management policies and keeps those policies on their minds at all times.

“What we will also be doing is sending out monthly updates with quick tips on e-mail management so that it is in their face constantly,” Piotrowski said. “I really don’t want to be sending them a 20-page manual.”

Piotrowski and Kasbarian admit e-mail management is an ongoing process and Sun Media has just taken the first steps on that road. It is an evolving process that requires close collaboration between the IT department and management to make it all work. But when things are finally in place, it should bring order to the e-mail chaos and management challenges today’s regulatory environments place on companies like Sun Media.

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