You’ve done the hard work we outlined in the previous two parts of our series on the email beast, and now you are ready to tackle the summit of your email Everest. There are a variety of reasons to retain email, but they generally fall into two categories: “legal” or “industry/business best practice”.
Interestingly enough, there is no federal mandate (yet) directing US businesses on how much or how long email must be retained. However, if your industry is bound by legal or regulatory requirements to retain certain types of electronic documentation for a certain amount of time, you should consult with your lawyer about where this may intersect with documents and information stored in email. If your company establishes a retention policy, it’s incredibly important to adhere to that policy. Deviations or failures to enforce a formal company policy (“I have no idea where that email is, your Honor,”) are dealt with harshly in court, and will be costly. Relying on a manual process (such as Outlook’s “archiving” functionality) is fraught with failure, so any formal retention policy should be a centrally managed and maintained by an automation process rather than a human. Not all email providers include this capability, especially the consumer “free-mail” services like Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo, etc. Business-class service will typically offer retention capabilities as an add-on service, so make sure that if you need it, you can actually implement it on the server side.
Bottom line: If you have a formal retention policy, you must enforce it or you could face significant consequences in litigation.
If you fall into the broader, less compliance-bound audience that would like to keep track of the information that is contained in your vast email archives, consider a different way of retaining that data rather than relying on Outlook archives and your overstuffed email server hard drives. In most cases, people retain emails in order to track conversations with clients, customers, vendors, etc. If your business relies on this information, you should consider a tool that is built specifically for that purposes, and you’ve probably already realized that Outlook is not that tool. Before you despair, I do have good news for you: there are literally hundreds of Customer/Client Relationship Management (CRM) solutions that integrate very well with Outlook. Implementing a CRM solution for your company is not as easy as the sales videos would have you believe, but it may be very worthwhile in the long run.
The most crucial element in successfully implementing a CRM solution to funnel your customer/client emails into is follow-through and consistency. Everyone needs to be fully trained on how to use the system properly, and then they must use the system consistently. Most CRM implementations fail not because the software is bad, but because the company doesn’t get 100% buy-in from ones that need it the most: executives and the sales team. If everyone has sales responsiblities, then everyone has to use the CRM software.
At the very end of this long climb up “Mount Email”, regardless of what solution you choose to retain, the final consideration should always be data backups. Whether it’s a formal retention platform, CRM solution, or simple PST files, make sure your platform of choice is supported by a solid backup strategy that includes at least 2 different backup mediums. Understand how often your data is backed up, where it’s stored, and how you retrieve it in the event that disaster strikes.
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