$18 million to recover lost emails?

The Congressional inquiry into lost IRS emails shines a bright light on misguided IT investment priorities. Is your organization making the same mistake?


What's wrong with this picture? The IRS has stated that its spent $16-$18 million to recover lost emails for this one inquiry. Why? 

According to estimates, it would cost well over ten million dollars to upgrade the IRS information technology infrastructure in order to save and store all email ever sent or received by the approximately 90,000 current IRS employees.

That estimate sounds low, but a million will buy a large tape library for archiving. But even if the cost were 3 times that, the IRS would have a nice return on its investment based on the savings from this one incident. How many other, smaller Congressional requests are incurring similar costs due to poor archiving practice?

But this isn't just a government problem. All companies are potentially subject to the process of legal discovery in a lawsuit, not unlike the process Congress is forcing on the IRS. 

As soon as litigation can be reasonably expected, companies have a responsibility to protect relevant data. Company lawyers place a "legal hold" corporate data, notifying officers and employees of the requirement. Then that data needs to be segregated and preserved. Not doing so can have costly legal consequences.

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In this case, the IRS placed the responsibility for archiving emails on individual employees instead of an automated and searchable archive. Employees typically responded by saving .PST files on their disk drives and when those crashed the "archives" were lost. By the way, Microsoft specifically recommends against using .PST files as archives.

The Storage Bits take  "Penny wise, pound foolish" applies here. We underfund and undermanage critical IT infrastructures and then wonder why things blow up. 

It is ironic that anti-government/anti-tax conservatives, reluctant to fund government properly, are frustrated by the results of their penny-pinching.  But ultimately it is we, the tax payers, who foot the bill for their fake budgetary heroics.

For enterprise IT, this highlights the importance of enlisting support from other stakeholders - such as legal - for making needed investments. It's too easy for the CFO to look at a big capital expense request and just say no - unless other parts of the company are also saying "yes!"

Comments welcome, of course. What's your favorite missed investment opportunity story?