Simple but Effective Email Management

The good news if you are planning email management (EMM) for ensured retention and defensible disposition is that you don’t need to be perfect – you don’t have to perfectly satisfy your retention demands. You do need to use the Principle of Reasonableness and act In Good Faith. As Jim McGann and Julie Colgan explain:

Courts do not ask, expect, or necessarily reward organizations for perfection. Courts do expect, however, that whatever information management tactics an organization undertakes are appropriate to how that particular entity is situated (size, financial resources, regulatory and litigation profile, etc.).

Where to Start

The place to start is by sorting your existing and future email into categories for proper retention and disposition. And the most important lesson folks have learned about such sorting is that you should make it simple.

The simplest segmentation of email is based on retention period. It’s a segmentation that works for most organizations in the early phases of EMM and is fairly standard today. Probably the clearest articulation and terminology for it was introduced by the EMM vendor Integro, although the methodology can be used regardless of terminology and without any technology aside from Microsoft Exchange (and I’m going to assume that most of you use Exchange as your enterprise email system).

Here’s how it works.

Divide your email into three classes or virtual “zones”: 1) transient, 2) working, and 3) long-term. In terms of your total email volume, these may make up 80 percent, 15 percent, and 5 percent, respectively.

  • The primary EMM requirement for transient email is that it should be deleted when no longer needed.
  • The primary EMM requirement for working email is that it can be kept (for a period), and that the employee’s use of it not be disrupted.
  • The primary EMM requirement for long-term email is that it be properly retained and governed.

A mature, optimal target state for EMM typically looks like the following:

  • Transient emails are retained 90 days and then are either reclassified by the user or are automatically deleted from Exchange.
  • Working emails are retained 2 years and are then either reclassified by the user or are automatically deleted. (Most email retrievals have trailed off by 2 years in most organizations.)
  • Working emails are typically retained in the email system (“mixed” with transient emails or segregated into different folders), but may be retained in Exchange Personal Archive if desired.
  • Long-term emails are retained in an archive separate from the primary email mailboxes. It may be an Exchange archive or a third-party EMM or ECM system.
  • Long-term emails may all be given the same retention period, with little to differentiate them – or they may be assigned more complex ECM and RM metadata, and then further separated into several different retention periods.
  • The simplest setting is to initially assign long-term email a single long retention period – e.g. 7 years – which gets refined and differentiated in later phases of the EMM initiative.

Two Caveats, in Closing

So that’s it, but with two additional recommendations.

First, I do believe that most organizations can effectively adopt a version of the three virtual zones approach for transient, working, and long-term email. But consider initially lengthening the retention periods on transient and working email to encourage adoption without defection and to facilitate change management.

Second, I strongly recommend that you consider placing most of your information governance attention on your document repositories. You must have target repositories to put the higher value, higher risk working and long-term emails and attachments; otherwise, most of your EMM efforts won’t pay off.

Rich Medina
Rich Medina
I’m a Principal Consultant and co-founder of Doculabs, and the resident expert in using ECM for information lifecycle management.