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Records-Management Blues

Once you accept that at least some of your email and messages are business records, you need to manage them like you do other business documents. For example, email regarding contracts can become important if you need to establish just exactly what was agreed upon. In some cases, those email messages might even constitute amendments to the agreements.

This means that executives and others in the company may need to recover messages that are months or years old—and quickly. This is one of the reasons that so many users’ mailboxes are stuffed full of email going back months or years. The mailbox becomes a filing cabinet for important business documents.

Legal discovery is a special case of records management. Increasingly, litigants and regulators are demanding that businesses produce all relevant email and instant messages with regard to a case.

Meeting a subpoena’s requirements isn’t impossible with just the built-in features of programs like Exchange and Domino—but it can come close. The backup features in these programs are designed for exactly that—backup. They don’t maintain message threads, much less classify groups of messages.

"If you don’t have an archiving system, the only place the email lives is on backup tapes," says Symantec’s Mehta. "Often you have to outsource finding those messages, and that costs money."

Courts increasingly take a dim view of technological poor-mouthing as an excuse for not turning over records on time—or worse yet, not including all relevant records. If key documents turn up later, judges are generally unsympathetic to pleas that the document wasn’t found because it was kept on someone’s personal hard disk rather than in the system’s document store.

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