Businesses of all sizes use e-mail and instant messaging (IM) for critical communications, yet many overlook the importance of archiving electronic documents. In fact, recent studies suggest that less than half of all companies keep “e-records,” despite regulatory requirements and legal concerns.
Archiving is often thought of as a burden that big businesses have to carry, but the truth is, many smaller companies can benefit from holding onto their electronic communiqués.
Data retention regulations in health care, financial services and other industries affect businesses no matter what their size. Then there are more sweeping regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires public companies to save a copy of each e-mail that’s sent for a certain period of time.
For a small business, being able to produce e-mails or instant messages documenting how the company responded to a consumer or negotiated a business deal could save thousands of dollars in a lawsuit.
Archiving is a systematic way to save and protect electronic communications on unalterable media. It’s different from your regular e-mail backups, because the company sets policies on who should be archiving, how long communications have to be saved, and how they will be stored, as opposed to leaving it up to each employee to manage his own archives.
All saved messages are managed by an e-mail and IM archiving system and saved in a secure location. Unlike backups, an archive is searchable, allowing messages to be retrieved in a matter of minutes.
From a management point of view being able to search e-records across the entire company can make message retrieval a breeze. Say you were looking for a copy of a client contract that went missing. Odds are that contract is saved in an e-mail sent to that particular client.
There are technical benefits as well, especially for smaller firms that have limited storage space. Archiving systems save all your e-records in a dedicated and secure location, freeing up space on your regular in-house server and helping you avoid the server slowdown that can come with regular e-mail backups.
Another added draw is the ability to give remote workers access to all their e-mail via a Web browser.
As you might guess, there’s a host of archiving systems on the market including standalone and hosted products that are easier for smaller businesses to manage.
One of the more popular standalone solutions are archiving appliances, because they are affordable and easy to use. Most appliances backup and store both e-mail and IM communications and come with a set of management tools that make the process virtually pain free.
Hosted Web archiving services are another popular small business option, because they require no added hardware or software. The service saves a copy of all electronic communications and can be accessed via a Web browser.
Hosted services allow companies to avoid the headache of upgrading hardware or worrying about how much storage space they have left on an appliance. Most services charge per user, per year and not by the amount of data being stored.
While some larger companies still prefer to host their electronic records in-house for security and control purposes, this requires significant storage space and an IT team. There is another option which is growing in popularity, however. It’s a hybrid approach whereby mailboxes are managed by the internal IT team, but the actual archiving is performed by a hosted service. This gives the dual advantages of data control and reduced hardware costs.
Whichever solution you choose, just remember that your e-records are just as important as your traditional paper records, and it’s worth the cost and consideration you put into safeguarding them.
Scarlet Pruitt is a freelance writer and business consultant based in San Francisco. She has covered business and technology for publications in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.