Companies across the board are realizing the critical importance of e-mail governance.
The term is understood to mean the creation and implementation of corporate policies and processes around the use of e-mail.
Experts note that such policies and processes are crucial especially as laws and regulations around e-discovery and privacy get increasingly stringent.
The phenomenal growth of e-mail communication over the past decade is something many companies did not anticipate, and were unable to prepare for.
Experts attribute the absence of effective e-mail governance policies in many companies to this lack of preparation.
“E-mail architecture and systems have grown organically,” notes Robert Pease, vice-president, marketing at MessageGate, Inc., a Bellevue, Wash. based software vendor, specializing in corporate e-mail governance. The company’s products are aimed at promoting effective e-mail use, and helping end users cope with threats, improving archival and retrieval activities – and overall e-mail governance.
These capabilities could prevent public embarrassment if e-mails end up in the wrong hands (for instance employee e-mails critical of clients, or e-mails disclosing a clients’ personal information).
Pease says a decade ago, most folk could not predict what e-mail would look like today. They had no way of knowing how much companies would depend on it, or that it would turn into this source of risk, Pease says.
In the area of litigation, for example, Pease acknowledges the painstaking process companies go through to locate and produce historic e-mails and e-documentation. “The easiest part is to save it and the hardest is to get it back.”
Pease says the MessageGate suite simplifies this retrieval process.
He says the suite includes a Policy Enforcement tool that prevents intentional or inadvertent breaches and mitigates insider threats.
The Archive Categorization module, he says, provides visibility into messaging activity occurring on a corporate network. This function tags e-mails before archiving them so they may be later identified and retrieved.
Pease notes the functionality of the software suite essentially hinges on two elements: security and content. From a security standpoint, he says, it not only works to eliminate in-bound threats, but also to keep tabs on the home-grown ones.
“What’s happening inside my four walls and am I running afoul laws or regulations or even corporate policies?” This is where internal spammers or employees sending out e-mails with confidential information would get identified, says Pease.
On the content front, the tool manages and retains records that may be relevant in the event of litigation.
Effective archival of electronic documents could potentially save companies a great deal of money should litigation actually occur. “It saves tremendously on the costs of collating that documentation [during the litigation process],” says Jeffrey Kaufman, senior litigation partner at Toronto-based law firm, Fasken, Martineau, DuMoulin LLP.
He says it’s crucial for organizations to be able to separate relevant documents from the non-relevant in the event of litigation.
Organizations, he says, need to equip themselves with the best retrievable/search systems. “If you have good tools, you can do the job fairly efficiently and decently.”
But both Pease and Kaufman agree that e-mail governance isn’t solely a technology issue. It’s as much about business process and employee awareness.
A governance strategy that works includes “a people process and a technology dimension,” says Pease. “You have to start with a very practical approach and sometimes admit you can’t fix all this in one fell swoop.”
He emphasizes that technology is never the ultimate safety net.