American Companies Failing to Address Retention of E-mail, Electronic Documents

Nearly half of American companies haven't adopted records retention policies for e-mail and other electronic documents, despite the serious issues raised about corporate records keeping over the past two years.

In a new survey of 2,200 records managers, 47 percent said their company does not include electronic records in its retention and destruction schedules. Nearly six in 10 companies (59 percent) reported having no formal policy concerning the retention of e-mail.

Even more disturbing, 46 percent of companies reported having no system for placing holds on records in the event of pending litigation or a regulatory investigation -- leaving open the possibly that records critical to a legal matter could be destroyed. Moreover, 65 percent said their company's hold order policy, if one existed, did not include electronic records.

"With most business documents and so much correspondence created and sent electronically today, it's amazing that companies are not taking e-records more seriously, especially given what happened to Andersen," said Peter R. Hermann, executive director and CEO of ARMA International. "Records, whether they are on paper or electronic, must be managed in the same fashion to ensure they can be properly retrieved when needed and are purged on a set schedule according to when their useful time has passed."

Unlike paper records being overseen by certified records managers, the information technology department handles oversight for electronic records in 71 percent of companies, the survey found. Yet two thirds (67 percent) of records managers surveyed said their colleagues might be computer experts, but they don't understand the concept of "life cycle management" -- a core principle of records management, which concludes that documents have a life, and ultimately a death.

"E-mail and electronic documents need to be treated as records, not data," said John F. Mancini, president and CEO of AIIM International. "Without a set program for destruction of outdated e-records, a company faces the possibility that a subpoena will require the retrieval and legal review of so many e-mails and other electronic files that the most economical decision is to settle the case."

You may read the full report on electronic records survey.

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