Magazine article The CPA Journal

Why Archiving E-Mail Is Important

Magazine article The CPA Journal

Why Archiving E-Mail Is Important

Article excerpt

Many organizations primarily consider legal issues when setting policy for saving e-mail. While legal precautions are prudent for all, in small to medium-size service organizations, a more relevant reason for saving e-mails is because they often contain crucial information about changes to company policies and procedures not documented elsewhere. Policy is a set of rules and guidelines that determine how a company operates and how the staff will carry out their duties. Often policy and the accompanying rules and procedures are formally stated in manuals, but many companies operate with a combination of written policy and informally adopted procedures and rules. Policies must be continually revised to reflect externally and internally imposed changes.

There are many forms of documentation, such as formal amendments to the policy manual, written internal memos, and letters to clients. But increasingly, e-mail is becoming a primary form of documentation. If relevant e-mails are not stored and made accessible, there will be no primary source documentation for policy changes. It is also important that policy changes documented in e-mail receive the same approvals as other documentation before they can be made policy. To ensure that e-mail can be ultimately used to support policy changes, managers must do the following:

* Identify relevant e-mail;

* Provide storage and searching capability for e-mail;

* Integrate e-mail into policy; and

* Document changes in written policies.

Identifying Important E-mail

Saving and searching e-mail consumes time and other resources. Saving all e-mail messages would consume massive storage, require lengthy CPU processing time for searching and retrieving messages, and unnecessarily burden systems networks with unimportant traffic. How should an organization set a policy on e-mail to be saved? It is easy to delete trivial messages, but much harder to identify the important e-mail to save and store.

The following is a list of suggestions to help identify important messages that should be saved, suitable for a small CPA firm.

* Internal operating policies: Definitions of appropriate policies and procedures, and changes to them.

* Personnel: A manager could identify important e-mails that define changes to travel policy, and then tag that e-mail so that it is archived. Later, a manager could use a search engine to easily retrieve the message and make appropriate changes to the policies and procedures manual.

* Procurement: The office manager could request that a purchase be made online from the lowest-cost vendor rather than the local store. That e-mail could be the documentation for a new purchasing procedure.

* Credit: Assume that credit is extended to a client based on a credit-reporting agency's score of 700. A partner might decide that the score should be lowered to 680, and send an e-mail to the office manager. That e-mail should be saved and included in documentation for a new credit policy.

* External requirements: Certain governmental or regulatory agencies require email archiving. Current SEC policies require that filers keep securities sales and purchase information for six years.

* Client correspondence: Managers could identify e-mail that contains important correspondence with clients that relates to policy. If an e-mail contains correspondence with a client about fees for a tax return, it should be archived with the client name as one keyword and the IRS form number as another keyword.

* Industry-specific keywords: In the process of saving e-mail, many archiving software packages have a list of keywords that identify content important to the particular business (e.g., "working papers" and "IRS Form 1040").

Storing and Searching E-mail

Most managers use e-mail on a daily basis. If there is a need to find an important change in policy, then it is imperative to easily and quickly search e-mail. …

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