Reference protector

Did you know those instant messages that pop up on your PC screen instructing you to proceed with whatever it is you do for a living may be considered business documents?

So, where are they now?

This is the question federal regulators are asking an increasing number of companies. And as these inquires expand outward from Wall Street, firms as large as Salomon Smith Barney Holdings Inc. are coming up short when instructed to produce electronic correspondences. Bad news, say the Feds.

Reference data -- those e-mails, instant messages, and other digitized information -- traveling across a company's network is easily deleted. So new technology is hitting the market to help companies meet the three-year federal requirement for retaining electronic business correspondence, making it possible for businesses to ensure they stay out of regulatory hot water. For instance, Digital Safe technology from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Zantaz Inc. can capture and archive e-mails, instant messages, and other electronic files automatically and without customer intervention.

An outsourced service available direct from Zantaz, or from Zantaz partner IBM Corp., Digital Safe works as a remote watchdog, intercepting e-mail and instant messages flowing through a customer site and storing them safely and remotely off-site. A single dedicated server installed on the customer site running Zantaz's secure, proprietary software is all that's required to capture millions of messages a day from multiple clients.

Of course, safely storing reference documents is pointless unless they can easily be retrieved. To that end, Zantaz provides a Web portal and their own document indexing technology, dubbed BDI (Biased Dimensional Indexing), which uses a Web-search paradigm for tracking and retrieving data.

With the stigma of the Enron accounting debacle fresh in the minds of potential customers, Digital Safe has enormous appeal for firms operating under heavy regulatory discipline. But a wider range of companies is beginning to see the advantage of having products such as Digital Safe police their reference data before regulators potentially step in to do it for them.

Why? Because Digital Safe's 24-hour sentinel can't be turned off, not even by a customer's highest-ranking employee. Nothing gets past Digital Safe without being captured and stored, making it impossible to hide "smoking gun" messages about moving looted funds off-shore to Bermuda.

This notion of protecting yourself from yourself is actually part of the SLA (service-level agreement) of Digital Safe, and one of the reasons the technology fares so well with regulators.

So, heads up.

Experts predict that reference files will account for more than half of all stored corporate data by 2004, a full year before you'll be able to delete the reference files you create today.

Where are your reference files? E-mail us at dan_neel@infoworld.com and mario_apicella@infoworld.com.

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