The effective management of e-mail traffic has become a top IT priority, says Vineet Kalucha
E-mail, which revolutionised the way business is conducted, has now become an unruly reality for some and an albatross for others. As companies search eagerly for e-mail management systems that provide ease-of-use, storage alleviation and compliance functionality, it is instructive to take a comparative look at the various approaches in the marketplace. Before delving into the details, we first look at the driving factors that bring e-mail management to the top of the IT shopping list.
According to the Gartner Group, nine billion e-mails are exchanged daily. By 2006, that number is expected to explode to 36.2 billion per day based on forecasts from IDC. Looking strictly at business usage of e-mail, the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) reports that as much as 75% of most companies' intellectual property is contained in the messages and attachments transmitted via e-mail. For re/insurance, the facts reflect this dynamic.
To gauge the impact specifically for the re/insurance industry, we conduct regular surveys polling industry executives to gain greater insight into the IT pressures and concerns of the market. A recent survey of more than 250 executives revealed that e-mail was the primary mode of business communication, particularly as it related to transaction-oriented documentation, at more than 75% of the companies represented. However, when asked how confident they were that they had visibility into all deal-related documentation (including e-mail), 46% of respondents stated "somewhat or not at all." In an era of intense regulatory and shareholder scrutiny, companies can no longer afford to be unsure of the flow and content of electronic information.
Insurance executives acknowledge that the escalating use of e-mail has brought enormous efficiencies to the underwriting and claims management process, speeding the rate of information exchange between deal partners. But, the downside of this e-mail proliferation is that greater volumes of information are disseminated faster without senior management having visibility into critical company decisions. Add to that today's compliance pressure and it becomes clear how e-mail management became a top IT priority during the last six months.
The Fall Out
For the C-Suite, one only has to read the newspapers to see first-hand the turmoil e-mail is creating. Transparency, visibility and regulatory matters are causing executives to spend unprecedented amounts on technologies that give them greater control and less personal liability regarding e-mail exchanges within often vast organisations. The Business Roundtable recently announced that 47% of US companies were reporting estimated costs of more than $10m to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley in 2005 - more than double the 22% of companies bearing these expenditures in 2004. The urgency and gravity of this matter is not lost on shareholders, which clearly weighs heavily on the CEO, CFO and CTO (Chief Technology Officer).
For the user, ambiguity often reigns - what to keep, where to keep it, for how long and who should have access to it. As corporate policies evolve, the key issues for the user centre on the ability to organise, share, access and discard e-mail in an efficient, time-sensitive manner. Often the limitations of existing technology and lack of clear direction regarding how to manage electronic information results in a strain on computer resources and additional administrative time needed to meet compliance.
For the IT department, the explosive growth of e-mail brings its own challenges, including sustainable performance of e-mail servers, ever-growing storage requirements and the corporate retention of company knowledge. Traditional approaches to reign in the e-mail overload offer little more than simple backup and offloading of e-mail stores to maintain system performance in the hope that users - left to their own discretion - know which e-mail to store in the first place. For IT managers, too much is left to chance.
For the legal department, it has become an unforgiving race to stay ahead of the compliance officer by determining how to most efficiently treat e-mail as a corporate record. In today's legal parlance, this means that a record is any piece of data, in any form, that is required to be kept as documentation of an organisation's decisions, actions and transactions. To reduce the enormous costs of producing e-mail for litigation and audits, they must be able to quickly categorise, search and locate the specific record in question. The penalty for slow disclosure can be costly as seen in the $10m fine received by Bank of America in March 2004 when it was unable to turn over e-mail in a timely manner.
E-Mail Management: What It's Not
While e-mail has been around since the early 1980s, the current concept of "e-mail management" as a compliance requirement has not. Still in something of an infancy stage, some approaches fail to address the very objectives that necessitated their creation. Here we look at a couple of things that an e-mail management system should not be.
An information dumping ground: Archiving everything without consideration of content or indexing capability is useless. Some companies take this approach by duplicating all company e-mail and relocating it with disk storage technology, whether digital or tape, at another location for retention. This process effectively removes the electronic documents from any useful location for the staff that may need them. With the average user Inbox often growing to more than 20,000 archived e-mails, frequently using misleading "subject" names, future search and retrieval of e-mail for audits or disclosure requirements often becomes a major fishing expedition.
A glorified filing cabinet: The e-mail server was not designed to be a document repository - rather, e-mail was meant to be deleted. But today's regulations now require e-mail to be saved and easily retrieved in relationship to relevant projects. However, e-mail applications such as the Microsoft(R) Outlook forces the user to store and access e-mail from within the application - separating relevant communications from related documents throughout the company. Without the ability to easily file and access all related corporate information, including e-mail, the information often lies dormant for future corporate usage or is impossible to find for disclosure or audits.
Solutions that "Work Smart"
Unlike traditional approaches that simply address e-mail in isolation from relevant work files, companies are solving the fundamental problem of e-mail archival and retrieval with simple and intuitive approaches to indexing. As with almost anything, the trick to finding something is knowing where it was put in the first place.
E-mail systems alone were not designed, and are not capable of, assigning intelligence to e-mail messages and attachments. It is that very assignment of intelligence that enables software to "work smart" for the user. The key is to identify software solutions that work the way the workforce operates rather than the other way around. By achieving this change in mind-set, companies effectively increase productivity and revenue without placing onerous new technology learning curves on the user.
In the re/insurance business (and most others), critical electronic information revolves around certain definable, somewhat predictable processes and parameters that create a straightforward process for indexing all electronic information. Users organise the details and attributes of pieces of information logically in their mind according to the obvious details - people, products, activities, locations and time. When the software automatically recognises, assigns and files all electronic communication and attachments - as they arrive on the desktop - busy users are able to focus on what they do best, leaving the indexing and e-mail retention policy enforcement up to the software.
To achieve this type of streamlined, user-friendly environment, a solution must have following conditions must in place:
- Application independence - Managing e-mail and all electronic file types across all applications.
- File automatically and associatively - E-mail and attachments should be automatically filed and organised along with other related electronic information in relation to one or multiple projects.
- Easy to learn and use - Tight integration with the user's primary communication platform. (Microsoft(R) Outlook) provides a familiar interface and quick access to all information.
- Increase knowledge - Transform e-mail into a shared knowledge source, available across all offices, easily and securely.
- Store all e-mail files only once - In a single, company-wide file store: Eliminating file redundancy and related storage requirements; Eliminating server overload concerns; Enabling easy single-location back-up.
- The result - Instant recovery of e-mail and attachments according to its context.
With simple, straightforward and automatic processes in place for e-mail management, users can - at last - return to the glory days of send, read and delete. For companies already employing these successful approaches, underwriters and claims managers achieve unfettered access to critical corporate information without the burden of cumbersome e-mail management concerns.
And, as we know, productive underwriters and claims managers create the core foundation for driving revenue, servicing clients, satisfying shareholders and improving company prospects as a whole.
Vineet Kalucha is president & CEO of Q.Know Technologies, Inc.