A certified public accountant recently told me how happy she was that her company retained a lot of electronic mail. Her company is a small contractor for the department of defense.
Auditors from the department of defense arrived unexpectedly. They wanted to review records from eight years ago. The company did not retain the specific records that the auditors want to see. It is not unusual for a company to fail to keep very specific records in a shoe box - for eight years.
Email Contains Detail
However, this company did have a lot of electronic mail. It dated back more than eight years. Electronic mail is extremely valuable. It is the daily diary of the modern enterprise. It contains great detail about exactly what people were doing and exactly when they were doing it.
Therefore, this certified public accountant was able to satisfy the auditors by showing them all the detail in the electronic mail. The electronic mail contained documents. It showed a beautiful chronology of events connected with the project under audit. It showed who worked on the project. It showed how they did the work. It showed how they discussed the work. It showed the milestones in the work. It showed how people corrected their mistakes as they went along.
Company Passed the Audit!
The auditors were happy. They could see with great specificity that the work had been performed correctly eight years ago. They did not need to see the records they had originally asked for. The electronic mail was more than good enough.
Demands for Records Can Be Unexpected
In our modern age, there may be many demands for records. Those demands can come from auditors, from a courtroom subpoena or from a discovery request in a lawsuit. It is difficult for any firm to predict who will demand records and which records will be demanded.
If a firm is retaining electronic mail (of important people) in a centralized archive, it is very likely retaining key records that will satisfy many legal/financial demands.
Even though the firm may not have all of the precise records demanded by law, it can show legal authorities that it has acted in good faith. It has retained excellent records of great detail that can easily be searched.
Good Email Archives Can Prevent Demands for Deeper Search
The firm can argue to legal authorities that it should not be expected to undertake the expense of finding records beyond its electronic mail archive. It can argue that searching through the archive is reasonable; it can argue that anything beyond that is too expensive and unreasonable.
Although some professionals prefer destroying electronic mail quickly, they often fail to understand archived electronic mail is an asset that can be used to satisfy a wide range of legal, financial and operational demands. This asset can be used to avoid expensive searches for records in and diverse places, such as hard drives, mobile phones and backup tapes.
Good Archives Protect Against Liability
Furthermore, this asset can be used to reduce liability. It can be used to show that – even though sometimes people make mistakes – on balance the firm and its employees were behaving responsibly in any given situation.