Next steps for e-mail administrators if your company is hit with a subpoena

"Greed is good," said Gordon Gecko in the movie "Wall Street." Unless, of course you get caught.

Today, we continue with our look at e-mail archiving issues. Last time, we covered retention and disposition. Today the topic is archiving as it pertains to search, discovery and forensics analysis.

In compliance-speak, the term "search, discovery and forensics" refers to a system's ability to perform legal discovery requests. This should extend across all the e-mail assets - online, near-line and off-line. Things have to be findable no matter where they may reside.

Since 2002, financial officers of publicly held businesses have been required to sign a code of ethics. According to the Sarbanes Oxley Act, this includes "such standards as are reasonably necessary to promote honest and ethical conduct, including the ethical handling of actual or apparent conflicts of interest between personal and professional relationships; full, fair, accurate, timely, and understandable disclosure in the periodic reports required to be filed by the issuer; and compliance with applicable governmental rules and regulations."

Corporate officers wanting to prove they have been free of unethical conduct should be well on the way to making sure their e-mail archives are up to snuff. Those who can't prove they have been playing by the rules, well... good luck to them.

E-mail is so crucial to business communication these days that it is always part of the subpoena for business records. If your company were hit with a subpoena, what would your next step be? In many cases, it would involve the brute force searching of hundreds of back-up tapes for old e-mail, a process that is both time-consuming and costly.

Assume your company is being sued, and your corporate legal department has asked you to provide all records associated with a particular business transaction. What would you do? Can you make even the broadest estimate as to what the cost would be, or how much time it would take your team to discover what the appropriate e-mail records were? Would you even know where to begin?

If you are an e-mail administrator, what you most likely will want is a system to capture all content in the Outlook (or Notes) system. This means more than just the messages and their attachments, it also means capturing the calendar items, contacts, notes, to-do lists and all the rest of it. Look for an ability to search intelligently across mailboxes. When it is time to discover e-mail for investigation, legal support and regulatory compliance reasons, intelligent searches will be worth their weight in gold because of the time they save and the accuracy they can deliver. Be warned however that this means more than simple searches. To help provide your company's legal team with a complete analysis of mailboxes for forensics, you will want a system that can follow or reconstruct complex message threads.

Of course, the cleverest among you will opt for a system that allows the users themselves (in this case, the legal department) do their own searching so you can go about your usual IT business. Compliance or legal search, discovery and forensics functions are typically reserved for people within a company who are specifically tagged with auditing responsibilities.

Some vendors have mentioned to me that the cost of a single e-mail discovery would pay for an entire e-mail archive solution. After thinking about the hours involved in the discovery process, and the financial penalties that lie in wait for a company that is unable to execute this process accurately and efficiently, I am starting to believe them.

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