Corporate Email Strategies

Email is the most common business communication tool used across most organizations. Just like any other type of business information and record, email must be included as part of, and adhere to the organization’s standards for addressing information and records retention.  Yet for most organizations, email management just means archiving or keeping everything seemingly forever.

The proper approach is for every email to be classified, stored, and possibly destroyed in a manner consistent with established business policies and standards, in the normal course of business, just like any other kinds of documents and records.  Organizations maintaining these standards meet their legal preservation requirements in the event of litigation and investigations keep e-discovery costs as low as possible.

Email management systems centrally capture emails created and received by employees. Using a classification scheme to manage this content, retention periods and access controls can be applied to manage emails. Metadata associated with the emails can be captured to allow this information to be managed and retrieved. Email archiving is one of the most common applications for email management. At their most basic, these solutions either copy or remove messages from the messaging application and store them at another location. In some of these solutions, the messages are not archived, but attachments are and are replaced with either a stub or a link within the message.

Email management systems are a part of an overall solution. Organizations need to have records management programs, consisting of organization-wide policies and procedures, staff and activities.

Organizations often decide (or decide by ignoring) the best way to manage email is by doing one or more of the following:

  • Declaring “email’ as a record series (counterintuitive)
  • Saving all email messages forever (costly and risky)
  • Saving all email messages in the messaging application (costly and risky)
  • Setting arbitrary mailbox sizes for all users (misdirected)

TYPES OF EMAIL

Some organizations classify emails into two main types of records, Personal and Temporary / Transitory Records, and Business RecordsPersonal and Temporary/Transitory Records in the form of email may have a short lifecycle which can be fixed (generally three years) and at the end of which they can be destroyed. Business Records in the form of emails need to be retained as evidence of the business transactions to which they relate.

IDENTIFYING BUSINESS EMAIL RECORDS

Email records are any messages created, sent or received within an email system that are required by the organization to control, support, or document the delivery of programs, to carry out operations, to make decisions, or to account for activities.

Examples:

  • messages that reflect the position or business of the Organisation
  • messages that initiate, authorize or complete a business transaction
  • messages received from external sources that form part of an official record
  • copies containing more or less information than the original record
  • original messages of policies or directives and where the info does not exist in another form
  • messages related to work schedules and assignments
  • agenda and minutes of meetings
  • briefing notes, final reports and recommendations

IDENTIFYING PERSONAL/TRANSITORY EMAIL RECORDS

Transitory email records are records required only for a limited time to ensure the completion of a routine action or the preparation of a subsequent record. They’re not required to control, support or document the delivery of programs, to carry out operations, to make decisions or account for activities of the organisation and may include:

  • messages that are duplicate copies of information used only for convenience of reference and not as the official record
  • informal messages or rough drafts not required as evidence in the development of a document
  • miscellaneous notices of employee meetings, holidays, etc.
  • messages received as part of a distribution list or received from listservs and other Internet sources, solely for convenience of reference
  • emails that result from personal use of the official electronic messaging system or messages in a form used for casual communication

RECORDKEEPING 

The originator is responsible for retaining and filing the email :

  • when the email is created internally

The recipient is responsible for retaining and filing the email :

  • where the email is received from an external source and where that information does not exist elsewhere in the organisation and forms part of the official business record

Three important rules to remember when your are the originator of an email message:

  1. If you have created an email message for response from one or several recipients, you must ensure that the original text and all responses that form the complete email record are retained.
  2. If there is an ongoing email exchange you should use your own judgement to determine at what stages in the discussion a copy of the email should be captured as an official record. This judgement needs to be based on the significance of new information in an email response to a previous message.
  3. If you add information to an email record you receive, it is considered as a new original and you must keep and manage it.

WORKING WITH ELECTRONIC RECORD KEEPING SYSTEMS

A recordkeeping system for your email records needs to be able to identify, retrieve, share, and retain the records for as long as they are needed. Identification means linking the record to the business activity from which it results and to related records.

Principles to follow if you retain your email records in electronic format:

  1. You must be able to reproduce and view them in their original electronic format, whether this be your email system message along with its transmission and receipt data, or an attachment such as a Word or an Excel document.
  2. You must file and store them based on your file classification structure in order to maintain a link between messages and attachments, and any other related records. The preferred method for doing this is by using an electronic records management system.
  3. You do not need to keep more than one format of your email record. If you have filed your email record in an electronic records management system, you can delete the copy. If you have printed and filed your email record in hard copy you can delete the copy in your email system
  4. You are advised NOT to file and store email messages in your personal computer and directory work spaces. Doing so limits accessibility to the records and creates a major problem when a staff member leaves the organization, or when an office or mission closes and staff move on.
  5. If no option is available to retain and file email records in electronic formats in an appropriate electronic records management system, you may print email records for filing within the applicable records office or in any other applicable filing area for your hard copy records.
  6. The loss of transmission and receipt data (metadata) is a concern for the evidential value of printed copies of email messages. If not sure, you should consult your information technology personnel to assure that all metadata are printed with the messages.