The 4 considerations to make when managing emails

When you hear the term “email management,” what does that mean to you? My guess is that in  asking that question to different IT groups either within the same company or different companies, I would receive many different responses. In this article, I will do my best to explain it as generically as possible, though I will sprinkle in some Domino-specific examples, since that is the foundation of my email management experience.

Probably the first thing that comes to mind is managing the messages themselves; though you would think that once you have said message management that nothing more needs to be said, there is nothing further from the truth. Message management is a tree with many branches, and realizing that all messages are not created equal is an important part of the overall email management architecture. There are several schools of thought regarding the management of messages.

1. All messages look alike

The most simplistic approach is to assign a single retention, regardless of the message type and/or what folder/view in which it resides, for all users (regardless of role, department, etc.). For instance, all messages older than 180 days are automatically archived or deleted. Though this seems like a logical and simple approach, there are many reasons why refining this approach would be for the best: first off, just like messages, not all users are created equal. Users within specific business areas (e.g. legal, HR etc.) might very well need a different retention than the general populace. That is not to say that those specific users are more important, but their role could very well require a different retention. The second reason is that messages (such as memos and replies) might need a different retention than calendar entries (e.g. invitation, appointments, etc.), especially for repeating entries. Other types of message to consider are drafts; some companies regard a draft as a discoverable piece of information, while others only regard a message that has been sent to be so.

2. Use folders/views to segregate retention

A slightly more complex approach would be to assign retentions based upon where a message is located. This means that a message within the Inbox folder could be assigned a different retention than those within the Sent folder. A better example would be to assign the same retention to Inbox and Sent, but messages that have been placed within a personal folder would have a different retention. The rationale behind this would be to reward the user for their due diligence, meaning that if they took the time to place a message within a personal folder, that message is treated differently (e.g. longer retention) than those that have not been assigned a spot. For instance, any message that resides within the Inbox or Sent older than 180 days is automatically archived or deleted, unless the message is also within a personal folder, which would have a retention of 365 days. The caveat on this process is that just because a message is within the Inbox, doesn’t mean that all messages are equal. The Inbox can contain memo, replies etc. but could also contain meeting invitations. You will need to decide if all messages within each folder/view should be assigned the same retention.

Have I just made this more confusing? If so, that is not my intention, but there are many things to consider. Let’s move on to the next option.

3. Types by folder

This option uses the previous example as a basis and then augments it. For instance, assign 180 days to Inbox and Sent, and 365 days to all messages within personal folders; however, do not manage any calendar entries within any of these. Instead, manage the calendar entries separately. You could even take this a step further and treat each different calendar entry uniquely. For example, in Domino, there are distinct calendar entry types: All day events, appointments, anniversaries and reminders are personal entries and are not sent or received, while meetings are sent and received. The other important thing to remember about calendar entries is that they can repeat and you need to implement an email management solution that will acknowledge and respect the repeating entries, especially those where the date when the meeting is created is older than the assigned retention, but the meeting date is in the future.

4. User-assigned classification

This is probably the most complex architecture, though it has a lot of merit. The basis for this approach is that the user is responsible for assigning a classification to each message; for instance, the user would have a drop-down list of the available classifications and would assign one classification per message. Examples of classifications would be “business record,” “departmental” or “personal.” Instead of assigning retention amounts to Inbox or Sent, the retentions would be assigned to the classification types. This means that the user can still place messages within personal folders, but that process has no bearing on the retention. Therefore, a message classified as “business record” could be assigned a retention of three years before it is archived/deleted, while a message that is classified as “personal” would be deleted after 180 days. The caveat here is that you are fully depending on the users properly classifying the messages.

I have just given you four ways to assign retention to messages, and every company has many variables to weigh to decide what is best for them. Outside influences affecting this are any type of regulations that must be followed. Though this is ultimately legal’s decision, they would be wise to receive input from other departments as well. Also, don’t forget to include IT; they are the ones that will ensure that the retention policy being created has a basis in a technical reality. Those constraints must be understood and appreciated.

Coming soon: I will continue this series with an article on attachments and how to manage them.

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