What is ROI?

Not a hard question, right?  We all know ROI stands for Return on Investment, but what does that really mean?  Given the fact that IT departments are being asked to demonstrate ROI on their IT decisions more than ever, it is becoming an increasingly important question.
Financial ROI is what most people think of and it’s pretty easy to measure.  Simply divide the benefit of the investment by the cost of the investment or some other financial formula.  But that’s not always so easy in the IT world and it doesn’t tell the whole story.  More often than not, we are actually being asked to report on the non-financial ROI. This term refers to the intangible or soft benefits of a technology solution which are ofter very hard to quantify.

Resource Management Systems refers to this type of ROI as the non-financial benefits realized by an organization including impact on operations or mission, performance and results, e.g. improved customer satisfaction, better information, shorter cycle time, etc.  Pretty important considerations when trying to justify the value of your decisions.

So, how can we apply these principals to IT and specifically Notes mail archiving, ediscovery solutions, compliance and email?  A good start is the following article by Rob Axelrod recently published in “Clippings,” the official newsletter for Lotus certified professionals.


If you are running Domino as your messaging system, you probably didn’t start yesterday. Most Domino environments have been around for many years and many versions. This means that your users have potentially been collecting mail for quite a long time. I have to confess that I still have a copy somewhere of the first email welcoming me to my first Domino-related job in 1995. The thought of a hoarder like me might be horrifying to a number of people in your organization. First, people like me make administrators want to cry because not only do I hoard my email, but I’m also not a folderizer. I just leave things in my inbox because I’m a very strong believer in full text search to find documents that I need. Any Domino Admin worth his or her salt knows that people like me are the bane of server performance. For full disclosure I will stipulate that I do archive regularly and search the archive. The other people who might be distressed by users like me are your lawyers and compliance officers. Depending on the type of organization that you are in, keeping documents for the long haul might be 100% mandatory or 100% misery-producing during discovery proceedings. The question of whether and how to archive, and where its benefits are, is bound up in three areas: compliance, user productivity, and server/client performance. Here, in Part 1 of my three-part article, I will discuss these areas.

If you were to forget about your role as an admin or a compliance officer and just think about what would make most users happiest and most productive related to email retention you would probably come to one conclusion: Retain every business-related email forever and make them easily searchable and accessible. On a regular basis I refer to documents that I sent or received in 2002, a piece of code I wrote, an old statement of work that is similar to something I’m working on now, even some contact information of a long-lost colleague. Since I’m not subject to either performance or compliance constraints, I can derive serious time-savings and a productivity boost by popping into the All Documents view of my archive and full-text searching for just the info that I need.

Of course, most corporations will want to take compliance, cost, and performance into account, so they may limit their users’ ability to keep everything, but all things being equal it is hard to argue that having a complete record of communications that is easily searchable is of significant benefit to users.

Regulatory and legal compliance is usually the driver of most archiving schemes. Interestingly, depending on the company, these drivers will send different organizations in opposite directions. We probably have an equal number of customers that utilize their archiving/document management systems to delete documents as we have that use them to archive and retain documents. The crucial thing in this area is for the legal/compliance team to come up with clear practical guidelines and then to develop a technical solution that can deliver them.

This is the area that having a well-designed archiving system will deliver the easiest to quantify ROI. I have more than one customer who, because of poorly or loosely defined archiving systems, has high-level technical employees working almost full-time on doing discovery for legal and HR proceedings. When you allow and encourage users to archive locally, that makes those repositories fair game for legal discovery. Imagine the cost in time and resources to search out those local nsf files on the workstations, decrypt them, index them and search them for relevant data to provide that information to counsel or HR. It is an unpleasant task that will generally not be performed by low-level employees both due to its technical complexity and also because of its sensitivity to the organization. Having a server-based, well-structured archiving system that is in alignment with the compliance rules of the organization will significantly reduce those costs and reduce the likelihood of very expensive mistakes.

From a technical perspective, when you lay out the options, having a good server-based archiving system and methodology becomes the clear choice. The alternatives to this are: setting a quota on users’ mail files on the server and letting them archive locally, or letting their mail files grow indefinitely on the server. Local archives are the worst of all scenarios. They are incredibly expensive in the legal discovery process and they are vulnerable to loss when there is a hard drive failure. If you have made local archiving a standard practice in your organization, your users would be well within their rights to be furious with you when they lose critical business data from a laptop hard drive failure.

Allowing users to just keep mail in their primary mail files and have them grow and grow is also a technical challenge. As users mail files grow into the tens of gigs, they become a greater drag on server performance and become less stable. From a management perspective, it is much harder and more time-consuming to manage exceptionally large files. While new space-saving features like DAOS do improve this situation, they actually make server-based archiving more attractive. The more consolidation of mail/archive files you can do on a server, the more benefits are derived from DAOS. You can host many more users on an archive server than you can on a mail server since the utilization will be significantly less.

Having a well-defined and articulated archiving and retention policy and then translating it into a technical solution will quickly deliver both hard and soft ROI to the organization. First, there will be opportunities to reduce legal risk and costs associated with discovery. Second, and in many ways more importantly, you will increase user productivity and satisfaction by giving users easy access to the data they need to do their jobs.

Other articles in the series:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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