Five steps to peace of mind – Building an effective cloud email archiving strategy

Danny Bradbury

steps_squareEmail archiving can be a complex process, and even more so when you're already using a third-party cloud-based email service. This article explains how to build effective archiving strategies when working with third-party cloud-based email services.

Prioritize your challenges

Sometimes, companies find themselves scrambling to archive emails as a kneejerk reaction. Perhaps the IT department cost the business money because it couldn’t fulfil an email ediscovery request easily, or maybe a compliance audit revealed that cloud-based mail wasn’t going to cut it as a record system with the regulators. Whatever the reason, take a breath and think about all of the drivers for an email archiving system, not just one.

Archiving your cloud-based email solution can serve several needs. From litigation support to storage management, and from regulatory compliance to greater visibility into communication patterns, email archiving systems can be a blessing rather than merely a Band-Aid. Take the time to understand how to archive email in a way that satisfies all of your requirements before rushing to check out your vendors.

Centralize everything

The temptation with cloud email archiving is to simply train users how to download and store their mails periodically as PST files. This may be cheaper than buying an archiving system, but it isn’t an email archiving solution. At best, it’s a rudimentary and flawed kind of backup, but it’s also a potential security danger and could easily devolve into an administrative nightmare.

Instead, shoot for centralized control. Your IT department should be in control of the email archive, setting key policies and parameters. It should also establish standard ways to move cloud-based email into an archive (such as journaling, or copying the original email into an archive and creating a stub for it in the mailbox), and it should then automate that, so that users don’t have to be involved.

Set your compliance baseline

It may not be the only driver, but compliance will doubtless be an important part of your email archiving process. Understand what the minimum requirements are for your company, based on industry regulations and applicable laws.

This baseline may be just that – a basic, minimal level of retention. Your company may also have internal policy-based requirements. Negotiate these separately with individual departments, so that you understand their full needs.

Your industry regulator may require a seven-year retention of all communications, for example, but a savvy sales director may recall several instances where customers have tried to sue the company for allegedly misleading them in sales emails. Based on that experience, she may require storage of customer communications in a business email archive for ten years or more to protect the company from future incidents.

Be sure to review these requirements on a regular basis. Departmental needs may change, and so many external regulatory ones, come to that. Keep track of those changes and ensure that your policy reflects them.

Design for discovery

True peace of mind doesn’t come with simply locking your information away in a compressed file somewhere. You need the ability to retrieve it again from your enterprise email archive, efficiently and accurately.

Design your archive to support a thorough email ediscovery process. This means indexing all of your communications and extracts extensive metadata about them. Lawyers should be able to retrieve conversations without guesswork, by entering pertinent information in the correct fields.

Effective email archive design is something that should happen early on in the process, and it ties into procurement processes. Choosing a solution that supports quick and easy discovery is crucial.

See the bigger picture

Email archiving should be part of a broader archiving strategy. Documents and records across the organization may need to be archived, and for different reasons. Understanding how your email fits into a bigger data retention and lifecycle management policy will give you some useful perspective.

This is particularly important for email because it becomes a container for these other documents. Your company may have a policy to destroy all documents of a certain type within a certain time window, for example, yet regulations may require you to retain emails for longer. In that case, you’ll have to consider policies dictating what employees are allowed to send via email.

Many of the considerations around archiving cloud-based email systems are similar to those for archiving on-premise email. But just because primary email inboxes are stored in the cloud doesn’t mean that companies should be any less diligent about establishing the appropriate email archiving policy. Designing this policy correctly from the beginning will set you up for success.