Why Archive Digital Records

Last Updated: June 10, 2019By
[glossary_exclude]Electronic archiving is a long-standing practice, particularly in heavily regulated industries like financial services and healthcare in which regulators have required industry participants retain business records for long periods. However, long-term data retention is a requirement across a wide range of industries – the U.S. Government, for example, has imposed data retention requirements across just about every industry for many different types of records.

The primary, traditional reasons for archiving electronic content are driven by a number of considerations:

Legal obligations: Just about every organization is subject to a variety of legal and contractual requirements. As a result, they need to retain various types of electronic content in the event this content is needed in the future to support their role as a defendant, plaintiff, or third-party participant in legal proceedings.

Regulatory compliance: Many electronic records that relate to an organization’s business activities are subject to a variety of regulatory compliance obligations.

Privacy regulations: There is a growing number of privacy regulations being initiated around the world. Although the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most prominent of these regulations, there are regulations either implemented or soon to be implemented in California, Colorado, Brazil, Australia, Japan, and many other countries.

Storage managenemt: An archiving solution can improve system performance by minimizing the amount of “live” data that must be stored on active servers.

End-user self-service: An employee may need to locate older emails quickly so that he or she can review their own email correspondence or other content such as attachments.


Email and other electronic content are typically one of an organization’s most important sources of corporate knowledge and this content should be retained for long periods.


The “defensive” reasons for archiving electronic content are well-established and fairly straightforward. But how about the “offensive,” or proactive, reasons to retain this content?


There are several use cases for an archiving solution in combination with a powerful analytics capability. Here are just a few examples:

Customer and prospect management The content and timing of every customers’ or prospects’ inquiry, complaint, request for more information, etc. can be tracked. Data on each response can also be tracked, including how long the response took, who provided the response, the tone of the response, whether or not the customer responded, etc. This archived data can provide significantly more information than might be available in some CRM systems, since the archiving solution automatically tracks all of this data.

This data can then be used to determine correlations between the length of time it takes to respond to a prospect’s inquiry and the likelihood of making a sale, or if there is a relationship between customer renewal rates and how quickly their complaints are addressed. This information will help decision-makers understand how to modify the customer management or prospecting process.

Finding likely insider threats The tone and content of manager communications to their employees can be monitored for problematic behavior. For example, employees who are berated by their managers are more likely to steal data or finances, and so examining archived data can help senior decision makers to find and deal with problem managers before an insider threat can occur.

Reduced use of profanity can be an indicator of wrongdoing IBM has developed an analytics capability for monitoring traders for potential signs of wrongdoing. In the United States, IBM has found that traders who reduce their use of profanity may be up to no good 1. Interestingly, just the opposite is true in the United Kingdom – traders who increase their use of profanity may be indicating that they are involved in malicious activity.

Detecting policy violations The use of personal webmail to conduct company business can be tracked either directly or indirectly by searching through archived content to identify violations of corporate policies against use of personal resources to conduct company business.

Conducting investigations Conducting investigations is a key capability for a robust archiving solution. However, a difficult challenge is getting a clear understanding of what took place and when it occurred. Too often, people do not have a clear recollection of what took place or what might have been said. Fortunately, email, text messages, instant messages and other content provide clear evidence of what was said (assuming that chain-of-custody was preserved).

Understanding employee sentiment and behavior A robust archiving solution with good analytics can identify problems so that violations of corporate policy, the law, or best practice can be addressed before they result in a more serious problem. For example, a company’s compliance staff could search for evidence of sexual harassment, illegal downloads, distribution of offensive content, or any of several other activities that might result in a lawsuit, regulatory action, scandal or some other issue.
It’s important to note that a robust archiving-plus-analytics capability does not need to include every communication type used in an organization, since the vast majority of communications in most organizations occurs in email. However, adding additional content types like social media posts, can enable additional insights and corporate intelligence to be extracted from the archive.


Early-generation email archiving solutions were designed with a focus on managing mailbox size. In the early days of email, mailbox size was limited to only tens or hundreds of megabytes. These solutions were designed to remove email and attachments that were consuming a significant amount of storage and replace them with a small “pointer” or “stub” to the archive. This feature allowed users to keep months’ worth of email in their inbox without exceeding the mailbox size limit.

Today, more modern email solutions, like Office 365 support multi-gigabyte mailboxes, capable of holding orders of magnitude more data than older solutions. Consequently, mailbox size management is much less of a driver for email archiving than it used to be and we see its importance in the context of archiving continuing to decline. That doesn’t mean that users no longer need archiving for mailbox management, because some users continue to run into mailbox size limits – this is especially true for users who employ email as their primary file-sharing solution instead of using file-sharing technologies like Microsoft OneDrive or Box.

Many organizations use journaling to retain electronic content. Journaling retains a copy of all email that sent and received for each mailbox. It is the responsibility of the archiving solution to protect the journal email copy. While in Office 365 environments, for example, an Exchange Online mailbox cannot be designated as a journaling mailbox; for organizations that run an Exchange hybrid deployment with mailboxes split between on-premises servers and Office 365, administrators can designate an on-premises mailbox as the journaling mailbox for Exchange Online and on-premises mailboxes.


Any set of recommendations for moving forward with a next-generation archiving approach will be dependent upon a number of factors, but Osterman Research offers the following, high-level recommendations for consideration:

1. Deploy an archiving solution
2. Decide how information should be retained
3. Focus on extracting insight and intelligence from corporate data
4. Sell the use cases


Archiving – the practice of retaining all relevant business records for the appropriate length of time for legal, regulatory and compliance purposes – is a legal requirement for all organization. However, combining a robust archiving solution with an analytics capability is increasingly becoming a best practice because it can enable decision makers to glean insights and intelligence from archived data for purposes of enabling competitive and other advantages.[/glossary_exclude]

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