Q&A: Archiving Tools Apply BI to E-mail

Sophisticated e-mail archiving solutions can generate business intelligence from stored e-mail messages.

Most companies use only the most basic tools to archive e-mail messages -- yet that stored data can contain a wealth of useful information about the business, including communication trends, inactive accounts, response times, and other patterns. Sophisticated e-mail archiving solutions can help by generating business intelligence from stored e-mail messages

In this interview, Phil Bousfield, general manager of the Infrastructure Business Unit at GFI Software, explains why companies make such poor use of e-mail data and how new tools can extract BI from archived e-mail. GFI’s MailArchiver is an e-mail management solution for Microsoft Exchange Server that allows users to produce business intelligence-type reports based on e-mail flow, usage, storage, responsiveness, and other factors.

BI This Week: What are some of the challenges businesses face in managing their e-mail systems?

Phil Bousfield: Businesses can face a number of challenges associated with their e-mail systems, such as managing increasing volumes of e-mail and attachments, maintaining the performance of Microsoft Exchange servers, relying too heavily on PST files or tape backup to retrieve old or deleted e-mails, and complying with data retention requirements and regulations. Another challenge is ensuring that sensitive information contained in e-mail can be restored for business continuity purposes in the event of systems failures, malicious attacks, or natural disasters.

Mail archiving solutions can be a very effective way for companies to address and overcome these challenges. Yet recent research commissioned by GFI Software and conducted by Opinion Matters found that many companies are using only the most basic tools to archive their e-mail. This represents a major missed opportunity.

Archiving solutions are evolving and now provide IT administrators with a range of capabilities that allow them to maximize the wealth of information contained within their e-mail. Ultimately, that allows them to do more with less.

What are some of the ways in which businesses are trying to use their e-mail applications as a business intelligence tool? What kinds of data are businesses pulling from e-mail?

Advanced mail archiving solutions enable users to generate their own business intelligence from archived e-mail, allowing the business to better understand operations. Forward-thinking companies are using the information derived from e-mail analytics to do things like:

  • Analyze communication trends by identifying who a user or group of users are communicating with most often, whether inside or outside of an organization.

  • Improve customer service by providing insight into how long it takes employees to reply to internal and external e-mail. This is especially useful in sales-driven environments where response times to customer queries can greatly impact customer service.

  • Enhance productivity and operations by identifying inactive e-mail accounts, taking corrective action, and rerouting incoming messages.

  • Strengthen security and compliance by tracking inappropriate language and specific key words in e-mail to identify potential violations of company usage and information disclosure policies. Companies can also identify which employees are exchanging the most e-mail with Web mail services -- this could indicate inappropriate access and risk of a data leak.

  • Manage e-mail storage capacity by identifying large attachments, enforcing retention policies, and identifying those users and groups of users who are consuming the most storage resources.

What are some of the difficulties in extracting that kind of information from e-mail, and how does the right e-mail archiving solution help address those challenges?

The biggest factor that prevents companies from leveraging analytics and business intelligence insights is a lack of adequate e-mail archiving solutions that offer these types of automated capabilities. In fact, GFI’s survey data found that 45 percent of respondents have no IT solution in place at all for managing and automating e-mail archive retention and retrieval. In addition, more than one-third (37 percent) of those surveyed still employ manual processes for e-mail retention with server-side storage of Microsoft Outlook PST archive files. Twenty-nine percent retain archives on individual users’ machines.

What does this mean? First, it may seem obvious, but if you don’t archive your e-mail, you can’t access the intelligence it provides. Additionally, retrieving and analyzing old e-mail messages can take much longer for companies that manually archive e-mails or store them on local PST files, on users’ machines, or in Web mail. Deploying an automated mail archiving solution allows IT administrators to search through all archived e-mail messages in one centralized database. That makes the task faster and easier, freeing up IT resources to focus on other business issues.

What were some other highlights on e-mail use and BI in your recent survey?

We surveyed 200 IT decision makers in the U.S. to understand how organizations retain and reuse e-mail data, what solutions they have in place for doing this, and what value they place on information contained in e-mail archives.

The survey found that although nearly one in five organizations (19 percent) considers the information housed within archived e-mail to be priceless -- and another 75 percent value it at upwards of $100,000 -- they are failing to efficiently extract useful business intelligence from this data.

Out of the businesses that are making e-mail data part of their overall business intelligence strategy, respondents said their current e-mail archives do not currently provide them with business intelligence on employee response times to incoming e-mails (18 percent), trends in who is e-mailing the organization and why (17 percent), data leakage control (21 percent), or storage capacity consumed per user (15 percent). However, those business that are making e-mail data part of their overall BI strategy did believe that these would be important tools to have.

Another major survey finding was that 69 percent of respondents indicated that employee requests for assistance in retrieving deleted e-mails limits the productivity of their IT staff. As I mentioned earlier, that can hamper their availability to utilize archiving solutions for other purposes such as business intelligence.

What does GFI MailArchiver bring to this conversation?

GFI Software recently announced that its e-mail archiving solution, GFI MailArchiver, now includes MailInsights, a data analysis tool that provides small and medium businesses (SMBs) with insight into critical operations. As the first e-mail archiving solution with advanced BI capabilities, GFI MailArchiver expands traditional archiving and recovery capabilities and analyzes e-mail archives to provide users with real, actionable data that they can use to better understand their organization and its behaviors as well as to improve operations, enhance productivity, and better support customers.

By applying BI capabilities to the treasure trove of company and customer data stored within archives, companies can turn this existing asset into a mission-critical tool that delivers significant, long-term value to organizations seeking to do more with less.

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