User Survey: E-mail maintenance inadequate

By Ann Silverthorn

Even as organizations become more dependent on e-mail to run their businesses, many don’t dedicate enough staff or technology to prevent downtime, according to a recent King Research survey. The survey, conducted by ApplicationContinuity.org and sponsored by Teneros, indicates—not surprisingly—that when e-mail systems go down, employee productivity decreases significantly.

A total of 220 respondents completed the survey in February 2007. Of those respondents, 96% reported that during an e-mail outage, there is a huge drop in productivity, and some employees cannot work at all.

A proactive approach with preventive maintenance of the e-mail system can prevent many unexpected outages. IT staffs, however, are finding it increasingly difficult to schedule downtime for server and application updates and maintenance. At the same time, 71% of participants report they spend two hours or less per month on maintenance.

As e-mail becomes more important for doing business and as the number and frequency of e-mails grow, it’s interesting to note that staffing to manage messaging applications is flat. For example, 77% of the survey respondents report that their staffs have not increased in the past 12 months. And 5% report that their staffs have actually decreased in size.

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Many organizations try to manage e-mail by limiting the size of their employees’ mailboxes. Of these, only 20% limit all mailboxes in a consistent way. And 12% of respondents make exceptions for executives, 56% increase mailbox size for any employee at the request of an executive, and 11% increase mailbox size for anyone who requests an increase.

Limiting the size of mailboxes only solves part of the problem. Employees might empty out their mailboxes creating .pst files and storing them on flash drives, CDs, or on other types of unsecured media. In the case of litigation, organizations might lose track of where evidence is. Worse, though, the e-mails that employees remove from the e-mail server might contain evidence that could be used against the company—for instance, in an employee/employer dispute.

Archiving e-mail can reduce the stress on the e-mail server by moving older e-mails to another location—often to less-expensive storage. Most archiving systems are transparent so that users can still access archived e-mails. Although there are a number of archiving products on the market, 45% of the respondents to this survey have not implemented and do not plan to implement an archiving product as part of their e-mail continuity planning.

Brian Babineau, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), says there’s more benefit to archiving e-mails than in the past because of the recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) that state electronic evidence can be produced in native format. “This means an organization can present .pst files as is to opposing council, whereas before, e-mails had to be converted from .pst to a serialized TIFF process and then the TIFFs remained online or they were all printed out.

“The issue to argue is whether organizations should be looking at every e-mail that comes in or goes out,” adds Babineau. “Monitoring doesn’t affect productivity very much and employers always have use-case rules for their own business assets, which include the Internet. They typically have a policy that if employees use e-mail for inappropriate purposes, they can be terminated.”

Babineau says that archiving is just one action users can take as a part of managing overall e-mail. “There’s security action also, which includes encryption and filtering to be sure that non-business-related content doesn’t make it through. Searching e-mail used to be done for business intelligence, but now companies also have to search e-mail for litigation support purposes.”

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Organizations should review their own e-mail management policies and also make sure staffing is adequate. Then the various e-mail management and archiving solutions on the market today can be evaluated rationally.

In addition, many organizations perform routine proactive maintenance on the weekend in the early hours of the morning. Although there may be a small number of employees who are inconvenienced by this maintenance, this is a small trade-off compared to a company-wide outage in the middle of a busy weekday.

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