Information Governance Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines
December 29, 2014
Eight Metrics Your EIM Program Should Track
January 12, 2015

A Pragmatic Approach to Email Management

The “three-bucket” approach to managing email – and to getting employee acceptance of email management.

The most important step in email management (EMM) is to sort your existing and future email into categories for proper retention and disposition. The most important lesson folks have learned about such sorting is that you should make it simple.

The simplest segmentation of email based on retention period that works for most mid-sized organizations in the early phases of EMM is fairly standard today. Probably the clearest articulation and terminology for it was introduced by the EMM vendor Integro, although the methodology can be used regardless of terminology and without any technology aside from Exchange (and I’m going to assume that most of you use Exchange as the enterprise email system).

Here’s how it works.

Divide your email into three classes or virtual “zones”: 1) transient, 2) working and 3) long-term. These may make up 80 percent, 15 percent, and 5 percent of your organization’s email volume, respectively.

  1. The primary EMM requirement for transient email is that it should be deleted when no longer needed.
  2. The primary EMM requirement for working email is that it can be kept (for a period), and that the employee’s use of it not be disrupted.
  3. The primary EMM requirement for long-term email is that it be properly retained and governed.

A mature, optimal target EMM state typically looks like the following:

  • Transient emails are retained 90 days and then are either reclassified by the user or automatically deleted from Exchange.
  • Working emails are retained for 2 years and then either reclassified by the user or automatically deleted. (Most email retrievals have trailed off by 2 years in most organizations.)
  • Working emails are typically retained in the email system (“mixed” with transient emails or segregated into different folders), but may be retained in Exchange Personal Archive if desired.
  • Long-term emails are retained in an archive separate from the primary email mailboxes. It may be an Exchange archive or a third-party EMM or enterprise content management (ECM) system.
  • Long-term emails may be all be given the same retention period with little to differentiate them, or they may be assigned more complex ECM and records management (RM) metadata and then separated into several different retention periods.
  • The simplest setting is to initially assign long-term email a single long retention period — e.g. 7 years — which gets refined and differentiated in subsequent phases of the EMM initiative.

I suggest that you consider adopting a version of the three virtual zone approach (for transient, working, and long term email), but lengthen the retention periods on transient and working email to encourage adoption without defection and to facilitate change management.