Technology Update: E-mail Archiving

In 2008, we  released a bulletin entitled “Guidance concerning the use of e-mail archiving applications to store e-mail”. The bulletin recognized that Federal agencies may have a business need for using e-mail archiving products to store e-mail messages in a central repository for later retrieval. These applications are advertised and marketed as solutions to control and search e-mail; however, by themselves, the technologies do not necessarily provide any recordkeeping capabilities. If agencies adopt these kinds of e-mail archiving applications, they still must manage Federal records contained in the systems in accordance with NARA regulations.

As a follow-up to the Bulletin, we conducted research to see how agencies were dealing with recordkeeping issues posed by this technology. We sought to gain an understanding of the current state of e-mail archiving applications in Federal agencies through interviews with several agencies.

We found that these agencies were in various stages of development in their e-mail archiving application deployments. Based on feedback from the interviews, we can make the following conclusions:

  • Beyond considering auto-categorization as part of the records management solution, we did not perceive any general trends across the agencies interviewed that could be construed as ameliorating the recordkeeping issues.
  • Records management was not a driver in deploying e-mail archiving applications. Nearly all of the deployments were initiated by IT departments as a way to manage servers and facilitate search or other processes. However, we also found that agency RM staff is working with IT staff to implement records management functionality in these systems.
  • Agencies who attempted selective deployments in parts of their organizations had more success than those who tried wider deployments. Larger deployments led to greater costs and complexity when adding records management requirements.
  • While vendors and users maintain e-mail archiving software has improved over the last few years, it does not appear that these improvements have addressed recordkeeping issues.

This technology is still evolving and it is possible that newer solutions may incorporate more recordkeeping functionality. Let us know what you are seeing out there. Have you come across an e-mail archiving solution that is in alignment with all of the records management regulations?

About Arian Ravanbakhsh

Records Management Policy Analyst in the Office of the Chief Records Officer.
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