Surprising Risks of Not Archiving Email Properly


Recently we took over all the technology needs of “Awesome Realty, Inc.” Awesome Realty purchased Microsoft’s Office 365, before we started with them from “We Can Do IT Cheap” a local IT company. They chose the cheapest plan, and proceeded to move everyone’s email over to the new system. They were told they now had archiving and larger mailboxes. They could also now send larger attachments – they saved money and they felt great! Around two years after moving to this system, Awesome Realty realized they needed access to emails from John Sales, a former employee, that left the company over a year ago, they desperately needed to retrieve for some potential legal issues. “No problem” they thought, “we’ll just go grab those out of our archive.” Except, well – the emails weren’t there.

They were upset, confused and asked “What happened?” Well as it turns out, Awesome Realty made a mistake we see far too often, they didn’t properly understand how Microsoft defined archiving compared to what they thought archiving in an email system to be. And with the overwhelming number of options out there (365 alone has over seven plans to choose from!), they picked a plan they thought did everything they needed, except it didn’t.  This ended in Awesome Realty not being able to prove what John Sales had promised, which was at the heart of their new legal problems.

Keeping A Clean House

Let’s take the metaphor of a house (an Sales) in a neighborhood (a Realty), to explore why this happens way too often. On the most basic level, email is just your Inbox, a spam folder, and a deleted folder right? To compare to a house, let’s say the Inbox is your living room, spam is the closet you throw everything in you don’t want to have to look at, and the deleted folder is your trash can in the kitchen. Simple enough. You bring something into the house (new mail), it either gets thrown away outright in the trashcan (deleted), stashed in the closet and maybe eventually thrown away or used (spam), or you want to keep it and it gets put into the living room (your inbox) to be read later or put somewhere else. 

Where we see most clients get hung up is when you introduce new folders, archiving, and something called Litigation Hold – so let’s add those to our metaphor and see where Awesome Realty went wrong. Many of us have created additional folders under our inbox to sort mail once we’ve read it, this is equivalent to moving something from the living room into one of the bedrooms once you know where you’d like it to go – pretty straightforward. But many email systems have a feature called “archiving”, and it is important to understand exactly what this does. If folders you create are equivalent to rooms in your house to store things in, an archive would be akin to the attic. You can place things there to get them out of the living area and not take up your precious space, but still have them in case you’d like to go rummage through them from time to time. This is exactly what archiving does, when you “archive” something in your email, you move it to a folder that doesn’t count against your used space in your inbox – you’ve stuck it in a different storage location.

Archiving and Litigation Hold

If you recall our story at the beginning, you’ll see Awesome Realty did have archiving!

So what was the problem?

  • They didn’t have Litigation Hold. Litigation Hold is very misunderstood – in our house example Litigation Hold is equivalent to having an underground bunker the whole neighborhood (the entire business) shares. As you bring mail into your house, a copy is made and stored underground in the bunker.

Why is this important?

  • Let’s say you have a fire in your house, it could potentially take out all of your rooms and the attic. You could lose EVERYTHING. This is what we see happen far too often, an employee leaves, or deletes their mail (sometimes just not knowing any better), and everything is lost – including the archived content. By having the underground bunker, you still have a copy of everything you’re looking for protected from the fire (or ignorant / malicious employee), covering you legally and in some cases financially.

Offering A Better Solution

This story gives a great example of why working with a consultant that understands technology strategic planning and risk management is absolutely critical. Had Awesome Realty been told why they would want one plan that includes Litigation Hold over the cheaper plan that didn’t, they would have had those emails when they needed them a year later. Offering true consulting means being willing to step up and defend the interest of the client’s organization, even if that sometimes means the solution is more expensive. After all, true strategy planning looks at the total cost of a decision, including the risks and opportunity cost, not just the upfront cost of the proposed solution.

Let TechBundle help make your business successful. Contact us at (979) 446-0580 or online for a free consultation.

*This material is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.