Archiving E-mail Is Important
Marsha Scheidt and Greg Thibadoux
2005 - Many organizations primarily consider legal issues
when setting policy for saving e-mail. While legal precautions
are prudent for all, in small to medium-size service organizations,
a more relevant reason for saving e-mails is because they
often contain crucial information about changes to company
policies and procedures not documented elsewhere. Policy is
a set of rules and guidelines that determine how a company
operates and how the staff will carry out their duties. Often
policy and the accompanying rules and procedures are formally
stated in manuals, but many companies operate with a combination
of written policy and informally adopted procedures and rules.
Policies must be continually revised to reflect externally
and internally imposed changes.
are many forms of documentation, such as formal amendments
to the policy manual, written internal memos, and letters
to clients. But increasingly, e-mail is becoming a primary
form of documentation. If relevant e-mails are not stored
and made accessible, there will be no primary source documentation
for policy changes. It is also important that policy changes
documented in e-mail receive the same approvals as other
documentation before they can be made policy. To ensure
that e-mail can be ultimately used to support policy changes,
managers must do the following:
Identify relevant e-mail;
storage and searching capability for e-mail;
Integrate e-mail into policy; and
changes in written policies.
and searching e-mail consumes time and other resources.
Saving all e-mail messages would consume massive storage,
require lengthy CPU processing time for searching and retrieving
messages, and unnecessarily burden systems networks with
unimportant traffic. How should an organization set a policy
on e-mail to be saved? It is easy to delete trivial messages,
but much harder to identify the important e-mail to save
following is a list of suggestions to help identify important
messages that should be saved, suitable for a small CPA
Internal operating policies: Definitions of appropriate
policies and procedures, and changes to them.
n Personnel: A manager could identify important e-mails
that define changes to travel policy, and then tag that
e-mail so that it is archived. Later, a manager could
use a search engine to easily retrieve the message and
make appropriate changes to the policies and procedures
The office manager could request that a purchase be made
online from the lowest-cost vendor rather than the local
store. That e-mail could be the documentation for a new
Assume that credit is extended to a client based on a
credit-reporting agency’s score of 700. A partner
might decide that the score should be lowered to 680,
and send an e-mail to the office manager. That e-mail
should be saved and included in documentation for a new
requirements: Certain governmental or regulatory agencies
require e-mail archiving. Current SEC policies require
that filers keep securities sales and purchase information
for six years.
Client correspondence: Managers could identify e-mail
that contains important correspondence with clients that
relates to policy. If an e-mail contains correspondence
with a client about fees for a tax return, it should be
archived with the client name as one keyword and the IRS
form number as another keyword.
keywords: In the process of saving e-mail, many archiving
software packages have a list of keywords that identify
content important to the particular business (e.g., “working
papers” and “IRS Form 1040”).
and Searching E-mail
managers use e-mail on a daily basis. If there is a need
to find an important change in policy, then it is imperative
to easily and quickly search e-mail. To search e-mail, it
must first be stored.
e-mail. Storage of e-mail can take many forms,
such as on the user’s hard drive, on a server, or
on a storage area network (SAN). There are two problems
with storage on a user’s hard drive: backups and space.
Companies typically do not regularly back up PCs’
hard drives. Second, if e-mail is archived to a hard drive,
as with Microsoft Outlook, the space consumed by the e-mail
files soon causes slow system processing.
can also be saved on the company’s or the Internet
service provider’s (ISP) mail server. This method
allows scheduled backups and more storage space. Even though
more storage space can be allotted, there is still a limit.
Changing ISPs can also present a potential storage problem.
most advanced method for storing e-mail is through archiving
with a SAN. A copy of the e-mail plus any attachments can
be sent to a centralized storage network consisting of a
reliable, high-capacity, high-speed server that is separate
from but seamlessly linked to the user’s network.
The network is invisible to users. When a user wants to
permanently save the e-mail from a client or coworker, a
stub (a small file) can be left in the user’s inbox
as a link from the PC’s hard drive to the SAN. This
system can be designed with enough storage space to archive
e-mails for as long as necessary.
an “information life-cycle management” system,
the SAN consists of a three-tiered layer of storage devices.
The highest, state-of-the-art hardware layer is used to
store current critical information that may be needed online,
real time. This layer is easiest to search but the most
expensive tier to operate. Once that information has been
processed, specialized software moves the message to a secondary
layer, typically an older server. After an appropriate time,
the message would be archived to a tape system. Tape is
the least expensive tier, but also the hardest to search.
e-mail. The most basic method to search e-mail
is to manually browse by date or sender, a tedious and daunting
task. Simple keyword searching of messages represents an
improvement, but searches will still be limited to the e-mail
that has been saved. There is always a risk that storage
limitations may lead to an e-mail being deleted and later
found to be valuable. Without SAN archiving, there is little
hope of finding archived messages. SAN archives can also
allow more robust searching of both messages and attachments.
e-mail is archived to the SAN, copies of the messages could
be kept for an appropriate length of time. If vital business
processes are involved, management could archive files in
perpetuity. SAN e-mail archive solutions can require hardware
and software that a company installs itself or rents from
an application service provider (ASP). ASPs maintain the
hardware and software needed for the technology function
offsite, while the user leases the technology while maintaining
ownership of the data. For examples of e-mail archiving
software, see the Exhibit.
E-mail and Processes
companies have a policies and procedures manual in place.
offers advice on developing one.
a manual is in place, how should process rules be written
to incorporate e-mail messages into the manual? For example,
assume that a sales manager sends an e-mail to all salespersons
announcing a bonus for sales of the new line of widgets.
Transforming this e-mail into a procedure would involve
Stating the message clearly; for example, “The bonus
is for sales of the ABC line,” rather than “The
bonus is for new customers if they buy only the ABC product.”
each statement to one rule; for example, “The bonus
is for sales to new customers,” rather than “The
bonus is for sales to new and existing customers that
are current in their accounts receivable or that have
a good credit rating from a credit bureau.”
Writing the procedure in business language; for example,
“The bonus is 10% of ABC sales,” rather than
“If sales of ABC affect the sales of the current
XYZ product line, then the bonus will be 50%–80%,
depending on the decrease in XYZ sales.”
should be written clearly and concisely as a business rule,
and then be incorporated into the formal policies and procedures
a Policies and Procedures Manual
many companies, once a policies and procedures manual is
written, it sits on the shelf. If a manager makes adjustments,
the changes may be communicated only via e-mail and may
never be submitted to the manual.
solution is to store e-mails concerning daily operations
in a file on the SAN, making changes to the manual available
to managers who have a “need to know.” The optimal
solution is to use the e-mails as documentation and make
appropriate changes to the manual.
complex solution is to store the manual online, using group
software such as Lotus Notes. Then authorized managers have
access and the ability to post and make changes to the manual.
e-mail that supports the policies and procedures manual
could be identified and also stored by keyword on the SAN.
This online solution could be combined with a system to
disseminate real-time financial, operating, and industry
information to managers concerning vital processes.
represents a significant corporate investment in the intellectual
property of a company. Many vital procedures may be hidden
in an attachment, or changes to processes communicated from
one employee to another, without establishing a permanent
record. E-mail archiving and permanent documentation can
provide a solution that protects this investment.
Scheidt, DBA, CMA, is a UC Foundation Professor in
Accounting and Greg Thibadoux, PhD, is a
professor in accounting, both at the University of Tennessee