E-mail Management – Part 1 of 2

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This article is the first in a two part series by Boomer Consulting on understanding the best way to manage your e-mail flow. Please also see AccountingWEB's recent article on how anti-spam efforts may inhibit YOUR ability to send mail.

The average e-mail user will receive 1,466 unsolicited e-mails this year, as stated by Doreen Hemlock in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Perhaps Ms. Hemlock is under estimating this number by a few thousand. Whether it is 1,400 or 14,000, it is this very argument that makes e-mail management such an important topic in today's business world.

Four Key Points

The definition of e-mail management can vary from person to person. E-mail management is composed of at least four key points:

  • To block unnecessary or inappropriate messages.
  • To ensure the integrity of inbound and outbound messages.
  • To ensure compliance with all firm and regulatory policies.
  • To achieve indexing and retrieval of knowledge contained in archived messages.

Common Methods of Management

The three most common methods of e-mail management are the use of personal mailboxes, print and store, or the most common - nothing. The weaknesses in doing nothing should be apparent.

Personal Mailboxes

Personal mailboxes were never meant to be long-term repositories for firm knowledge. Many of you are now saying, what firm knowledge; we are only speaking about e-mail? Consider this statistic: Critical Networks reports that 60% of business critical information is stored within messaging systems; this is key relationship knowledge that is generated in our day-to-day tasks. Yet, we allow this knowledge to be captured and available to one individual through e-mail. What happens when this person leaves the firm? In most firms, this knowledge is destroyed along with any benefits that it may have provided. In this model, we have to rely on our end-users to determine what to keep and what to delete. It is difficult enough at a personal level to determine what may be of value in the future; but from the firm level, determining what to retain and for how long to retain it can be very difficult. To do this would require not just an e-mail use processes and procedures policy, but also a policy and training on what constitutes firm e-mail and how to file it for retention. As you can see, this model is expensive in terms of training and labor; it is also open to misinterpretation and error.

Print and Store

The print and store method is even worse. You suffer from all of the weaknesses of personal mailboxes plus the nonexistent capability to index and search the knowledge contained in the messages, even on a personal level. This also defeats the whole "paperless" or "less paper" trend that we see in the industry today.

With all of these negatives, it is no wonder that the most common form of e-mail management is to do nothing.

How Should e-mail be Managed?

When it comes to establishing an e-mail management program, I advocate the use of the “Onion Peel” methodology or layered approach. A comprehensive e-mail management program will consist of three layers; the integrity layer, the warehouse layer, and the wetware layer. Each of these layers has the ability to stand independently of the others, but all are necessary to have a truly comprehensive plan.

The Integrity Layer

The integrity layer is responsible for the integrity of all messages moving into and out of the system. The most common tasks at this layer are: virus checking, including rogue attachments and dangerous embedded scripts; content management, ensuring that both inbound and outbound messages meet the firm's acceptable use and confidential information policies; and spam blocking - the software should support blocking based on known addresses and user defined rules.

There are a variety of software products on the market that work at the integrity layer. At Boomer Consulting, we prefer to use a product suite that can handle as many of these tasks as possible; the other option is to assemble a best of breed solution. Both ways will work, but the less complicated the solution, the lower the cost of ownership. We also recommend that the product you select function as a gateway that sits in front of the mail server. This is beneficial in two ways: first, by using a messaging platform neutral gateway, if you change from Novell GroupWise to MS Exchange, you don't have to reinvest in a new gateway. Second, you want to intercept any harmful messages prior to reaching your server. Two products that take differing approaches to the same problem are Mail Essentials from GFI Software (http://www.gfi.com) and SkyScan Service from Message Labs (http://www.messagelabs.com).

Both of these products provide for anti-virus scanning, content filtering, and spam blocking; the difference is in the delivery platform. Mail Essentials is a traditional package that resides on a computer in your environment and the SkyScan Service is an outsourced service.

The Warehouse Layer

The warehouse layer is responsible for capturing, storing, and indexing all inbound and outbound messaging traffic, ensuring that each message meets all predefined policies. We have to be very careful that the software we install at this layer has true indexing and retrieval capabilities and is not just an e-mail mover that transfers e-mail from the messaging server to a secondary storage server. While e-mail movers may do some filtering that is beneficial, it doesn't provide the management capabilities needed.

Samples of the products that operate at this layer are TrueArc for Microsoft Exchange (http://www.truearc.com), EmailXaminer from OTG software (http://www.otg.com), and ASaP with the e-mail management module (http://www.esystemsonline.com). Except for TrueArc, which works only with Microsoft Exchange, these products are messaging platform independent. Other products are available but these are probably the most common. They are not cheap but compare this to the cost of losing vital firm knowledge.

E-Mail Management – Part 2 of 2

Eric D. McMillen, MCSE, CCA
Boomer Consulting, Inc.

Eric D. McMillen is a Consultant and Technology Director at Boomer Consulting, Inc., an organization devoted to the application of computer technology and management consulting, located in Manhattan, Kansas.

On a technical level, Eric is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and a Citrix Certified Administrator. Eric is also certified as a Systems Administrator by Sequent Computer Systems. He also has over ten years of experience in network and imaging system administration.

He has extensive experience in leadership positions in the training, management and logistics fields. Eric is also essential in the research and development of new applications and systems. He is the key technical contact for all of Boomer Consulting's clients.

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