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Complying with message retention regulations is becoming too costly an exercise for many organizations and has created a huge demand for more intelligent message archiving tools.

Current message archiving software in the market is generally efficient in delivering automated search capabilities in information recovery situations, such as keyword-based searching and the ability to conduct searches based on a combination of words. But industry experts believe message archiving tools need to go the extra mile to address the huge demand for automated message classification.

Various regulations impose message retention requirements on organizations in various industries. Some companies, such as those in the mortgage sector, are mandated to store communications for up to 30 years, according to Erica Driver, research analyst at Forrester in Cambridge, Mass. In addition, the U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires publicly traded companies to retain business correspondence related to audit for seven years.

The increasing volume of corporate e-mail needing to be retained only helps in making the task even more onerous. Forrester Research estimates that more than one million e-mails are generated by large organizations per day.

Despite implementing message archiving software, most organizations don’t rely on these tools to classify each message for efficient archiving, said Driver, adding that the tendency today is for firms to generally archive all communications, regardless of content, for either all users or certain types of users.

“The primary concern (for organizations) is the ability to keep only the [communications] they need,” Driver said. Without proper archiving policies and effective technology tools to enforce those policies, companies end up indiscriminately storing large amounts of data, incurring unnecessary storage cost and legal risk, she added.

Message classification allows organizations to categorize each communication based on content, making it easier to search for certain types of information, as well as the filtering of messages so that only relevant communications are archived. By using more intelligent archiving tools, this process can be automated and generate savings from storage and manpower cost.

But Driver said such capability is still lacking in existing message archiving software. “The classification features (of the message archiving software) need to get smarter to help put things in the appropriate retention category and sometimes…there are certain messages you don’t even need to retain.”

Major software vendors are currently working on developing tools to improve automation of message classification, said Driver.

Symantec, for instance, is enhancing its Enterprise Vault E-mail Archiving product to layer in some intelligent features on the message archiving tool, according to Michael Murphy, vice-president and general manager for Symantec Canada.

Symantec and Computer Associates have been cited by Forrester as among the top vendors for the message archiving software space.

“With the amount of data we have today and the fact that our data sources are doubling every year, at some point recovering a piece of information can be an onerous task,” said Murphy.

Symantec’s planned enhancement to its message archiving software will allow it to “catalogue, index, sort and group” corporate messages in order to, among other things, shorten the time for searching data during discovery proceedings, said Murphy.

“Instead of trying to find a needle in a haystack, it’s much easier to find a needle in a bale of hay. [Symantec is] trying to create that bale of hay,” said the Symantec executive.

The company is also looking at ways to enhance the process of message indexing and cataloguing “in a way that’s intelligent and not manual.”

Murphy said another future functionality for the Enterprise Vault would be the ability to look at e-mail content and tag each one based on the division or department in the organization it may fall under, such as HR, finance or legal. Instead of having the IT administrator look at how to catalogue a specific content, the software can automate that function, said Murphy.

“It’s about quarantining data, allowing the appropriate departments to inspect and review it. That kind of intelligent cataloguing is what I am referring to,” he said.

Murphy said Symantec will be making “some announcements in the coming months” that pertain to these types of intelligent cataloguing and indexing.

Forrester’s Driver, however, stressed that before organizations can even consider adopting any new technology around intelligent archiving, their priority would be on tools that can solve the message retention issue — classifying content and retaining only that data that need to be stored under regulatory requirements. This would mean that messages such as, ‘Let’s meet for coffee,’ for instance, would not end up in storage for 30 years, the analyst said.

Driver was also doubtful that any of the vendors would be able to come out with smarter message classification technology anytime soon. “It’s a difficult problem to solve. Vendors, including large ones like IBM, have been working on it for years and I don’t anticipate that technology will become available within the next 12 months that would radically alter the way customers feel about automatic message classification.”

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