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I have been banging the email archiving drum for many years, urging organizations of all sizes and across all industries to archive their email. Just as individuals archive their tax and other important records, business records should be archived for as long as necessary. However, many organizations are still resistant to archiving for reasons that range from a perception of excessive TCO for archiving technology to a desire not to retain “smoking guns” that might portray a company in a negative light during a legal action.

In most cases, the adoption of email archiving is driven by a need to address e-discovery, legal hold or regulatory compliance—much of it driven by specific regulators’ demands or an impending lawsuit—and less by IT’s desire to let users access their own archived content on a self-service basis. However, Dr. Nathaniel Borenstein, the chief scientist at Mimecast, is touting the real time use of archived email in a novel way: as a means of improving decision making when composing new emails.

Borenstein cites an example of typing an email and having real time information from the corporate archive pop up alongside the email based on a real time, semantic analysis of the content.  Used in this way, an archive could inform email senders of relevant information, such as others’ communications with the recipient of the email, the recipient organization’s sales history, or its customer service history. As but one example, a salesperson who is composing an email to a key client could be presented with information as they type about a problem that the client is experiencing—information that might change the wording or tone of the email.

Using an email archive in combination with semantic analysis could provide enormous benefits, including faster and better informed decision making, fewer compliance problems, better customer service, and more accurate communications with clients, business partners and others. Of course, it would require a number of things that most organizations don’t have right now, including the archival of content in at least near real time and retention of content that today would probably be discarded. The latter point, for example, could result in significantly greater storage requirements and would require lots of computing horsepower so that relevant information could be identified and presented in real time.

More difficult, however, might be justifying these types of capabilities to senior management. For example, archiving to reduce the cost of e-discovery or to comply with regulatory obligations is a relatively easy sell given that the penalties for not doing so can be significant and a compelling ROI can be made. However, enabling real-time archiving to help users send better informed emails – while extremely valuable—offers “soft” benefits that are much more difficult to justify. That said, this evolution of archiving is among the more novel and interesting that we have heard about and one that I look forward to seeing in action.

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