Learning from Boston's E-Mail Retention Mistakes

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If the e-records nightmares I've written about in the last few days haven't quite convinced you that corporate policies and staff training surrounding electronic records management and retention are essential, take one more reminder for the week from the city of Boston.


According to city policy, all records are to be retained for at least two years, but upon trying to fulfill a records request, officials found that at least one employee had been double deleting her e-mail. She believed the e-mails were automatically saved elsewhere for purposes of the retention requirement, but they were not. As a result, the city's e-mail policies and procedures are being thoroughly evaluated. Officials have gone so far as to release an e-mail policy guide detailing what the ciity's procedures used to be and how things have changed since the gaps were revealed.


Taking things a step further in the name of clarity, SearchCIO.com's Linda Tucci spoke with Boston CIO Bill Oates. Oates explained that though the city had an e-mail use policy in place, there was not enough communication to employees regarding the two-year retention requirement and what that meant for them. He said:

In our situation, we clearly had a disconnect between the expectations of our users and what our systems were doing in terms of email retention ... We found an expectation around retaining e-mails that was not consistent with what the systems were doing at that time.

In a move to correct the problem, Oates said Boston's system now enables journaling, which enables messages to be copied as they come into or go out and then saved in a central location -- separate from the user inboxes or sent boxes.


It's a start, certainly. But it is also important for companies (or the City of Boston, in this case) to communicate with employees as to what the system will and won't do, as well as what will be required of them in terms of e-mail retention.