Are Your E-Policies In Place?
With changing requirements for digital content, it may be time to establish some email retention rules.
When should you delete email? Since the average number of incoming emails per office worker surpasses 145 per day, your construction IT (information technology) department is now setting mailbox size restrictions on your users. You may have email hoarders in your firm. Your employees are creating PSTs (personal storage folders) in Microsoft Outlook and/or copying their valuable attachments into their ‘My Documents’ folder. This makes more copies and exacerbates disk storage and backup challenges.
According to the 2009 AIIM Email Survey from the Assn. for Information and Image Management, www.aiim.org, Silver Spring, Md., one-third of organizations have no legal discovery policy, 40% would likely have to search tapes, and 23% believe they would have gaps from deleted emails. Only 16% have retention policies that would justify deleted emails.
A discussion I had with a member of the IT department for a large general contractor revealed that the company’s unwritten policy for emails is to “keep it forever.” Why an unwritten policy? Many are of the belief that you’re better off having no policy than one that you don’t or can’t enforce. To enforce a retention policy you must educate your employees and be diligent in discipline.
In speaking with attorney James Sienicki at Snell & Wilmer LLP, www.swlaw.com, Phoenix, Ariz., he points out the bulk of documents produced in litigation relate to project claims that are subject to the Statute of Repose of the state where the project is located. That can be anywhere between three and 20 or more years. You should consult with a knowledgeable construction attorney in all of the states in which you perform projects for the specific time period.
Email archiving, legal discovery, the ability to find an email, and storage volumes are the biggest current concerns within organizations since the passage of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in 2006. A good email archiving should address these issues and can also help in an electronic discovery case. These systems can compress data, provide single instance storage, and offer legal hold capabilities as well.
The most difficult portion of having an email retention policy is enforceability. Not allowing PSTs, rogue copies, locking down external email systems, and erasing of tape backups containing email is paramount to success.
Here are suggestions when attempting to write email policies that should keep you out of trouble:
• Access your risks with cross department discussions. Include legal, IT, compliance, and records management in the conversation.
• Do not leave it up to the individual user to determine what to keep or delete. This is not to say that we do not trust our employees, but that it is too easy for your project manager to accidentally or intentionally remove an email.
• Make the policy clear to understand. You will need to explain it to your employees and teach them how to access archived email so they don’t start hoarding once again. Build in the benefits the user will see immediately.
• Do not confuse backup with archiving. Backups are designed for disaster recovery while archiving facilitates quick retrieval. In a 2002 breach of contract suit, a court ordered Fluor Daniel, part of Fluor, www.fluor.com, Irving, Texas, to restore 93 backup tapes, each with about 25,000 emails on them, convert them to TIFF files and print them out. It was estimated the process would require six months and cost $6.2 million.
• When researching email archiving systems ensure they have the ability to establish a litigation hold and the data is kept in a non-proprietary format. This will prevent spoliation claims provided the holds are applied while minimizing your electronic discovery fees with no conversion process necessary.
With the proliferation of social networks and blogs, you may want to tackle an overall “e-policy.” Since you’ll be educating everyone you can minimize other risks simultaneously.
Carol Hagen is the owner of Hagen Business Systems Inc., www.hagenbusiness.com, Chandler, Ariz., which specializes in IT solutions and consulting to the construction industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, http://carolhagen.wordpress.com/