When I first started office work my desk was surrounded by large metal filing cabinets. There wasn’t any need for office dividers because there were so many cabinets. Filing cabinet space was a constant pressure even though we had no idea what was in most of those reams and reams of paper. There was a saying in the office at that time: “the amount of paper will always grow to fill the amount of available space.”

We don’t have large filing cabinets full of paper anymore, we have hard drives for that, but the sentiment of the saying still applies: “the capacity of data will always grow to fill the amount of available storage.”

The move to the email utility is allowing us to have massive mailboxes, even unlimited mailboxes. There’s no longer a need to delete anything, we can now retain everything. There’s no need to spend half our week managing within the constraints of a few megabytes, we can sit back and let it all build up. We don’t have to strip out email attachments and store them somewhere else, we can leave them in our mailbox.

By Graham Chastney, Principal Solution Architect

Using Data to Go Beyond Email

For the providers of email utilities (Google Apps for Work, Microsoft Office 365, IBM Connections, etc.) this mountain of data provides a whole new set of opportunities to add value. The relational map that we create as we interact provides the potential to generate all sorts of insights. We are already seeing the various utility providers giving a form of ranking to mail based on how we normally interact with the person who has sent us the mail, but that’s just a first step. The work that Microsoft are doing with Office Graph is an example of the next steps that each of the vendors will have to take to continue to be regarded as a viable utility.

“Office Graph has mapped over a billion actions and interactions within Office 365, making it clear that organizations have been sitting on an untapped gold mine of business value.”

Imagine the value that a machine might be able to drive from knowing all of your interactions with someone else. In my case I’d quite like that machine to remind me that I had forgotten to do something for a person before my next interaction with them.

“Graham, you’ve got a meeting scheduled with your boss in 2 hours, in your last interaction with your boss you promised to send them some information on holiday destinations in Italy.”

Or even:

“Graham I’ve noticed that you ignore all emails from John Doe, I’d like to highlight to you that John Doe has just been promoted to be your bosses boss.”

The growth of the data mountain within our mailboxes isn’t going to stop, at least not for a long while, but it’s not without its challenges. Like many things in life an advance in one area can create problems elsewhere.

Email retention, legal hold and eDiscovery

Barely a day goes by without email communication being used in the press either as a result of some scandal or legal activity. Estimates vary, but somewhere around 80% of all enterprise communication happens on email, still. These emails provide a rich set of evidence for legal action.

Most countries and legal jurisdictions have a form of legislation to enable emails to be used as evidence in legal activities. Some countries have legal frameworks for the mandated retention of email along with a corresponding approach to disclosure. The regulations are different around the globe regulations are also changing regularly, generally becoming more restrictive. These different legal constructs have led to different approaches in different jurisdictions. In some areas organization have created a policy where they retain everything for everyone, in other areas the policy mandates that data is either declared as a record for retention or it’s deleted.

As our email data mountains grow the costs of eDiscovery activities increase massively, even exponentially. eDiscovery is the activity that organizations go through to release information in a legal case, these activities tend to go through a number of iterative stages:

  • Identification – locating sources of information.
  • Preservation and Collection – protecting data from alteration or destruction and gathering the data for further use.
  • Processing, Review and Analysis – assessing and reducing the data to the relevant information.
  • Production – delivering the information to those who need it.
  • Presentation – displaying the information to an audience.

Estimates from 2012 put the cost of eDiscovery at $18,000 per Gigabyte produced on average, but also highlighted costs of $350,000 per Gigabyte produced.

These high costs provide an opportunity for innovation within and around the email utilities. There’s already a shift toward Software-as-a-Service eDiscovery, making use of the functionality that the email utilities are making available. Google as an example, provides eDiscovery capabilities via Vault, who better to provide advanced search capabilities, other SaaS providers (like Everlaw, Logikcull, Zapproved) then expand these capabilities, in the cloud, to support other stages of eDiscovery.

Email Etiquette

The limits on mailbox sizes meant that people built an etiquette for what they would, and wouldn’t send people. They knew that if they sent someone a large file that the person on the other end wouldn’t be happy if the file wasn’t relevant to them. That thought, in turn, became a natural constraint on the types of messages the people would send. Without that constraint the amount of email goes up, but the relevance and value of that email goes down. There’s also a whole new set of communications options available to us for which we are only just building an etiquette, but I think that’s a discussion for another day.


Graham Chastney is a Technologist in CSC’s Global Infrastructure Services. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for over 25 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with CSC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.

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