Data jail lacks key

Executives are deluged with 7 megabytes of email every day, putting corporate storage systems under strain

Are you sitting in data jail -- trapped in a world of email demands from an impatient head office or needless missives from staff intent on bombarding you with information so that they can convince themselves they have covered their backs?

Data jail is an increasingly unpopular yet populous destination for executives whose inboxes are inundated with the valuable and the worthless -- with no way of telling which is which.

Executives receive an average of 7 megabytes of email data every day, fuelling the demand for corporate storage systems to the point where they now double every year, according to US-based Osterman Research.

For those suffering data overload, the bad news is the situation will not improve. Leading analyst firm IDC predicts that daily email numbers will increase from 2.6tn to 9.2tn within two years.

"We have just seen the first wave," says Peter Williams, chief executive of Australia's largest Web development company, The Eclipse Group. "The arrival of ubiquitous high-speed wireless broadband networks and 3G phones will make today's email volumes appear small indeed."

At least a third of email is occupational spam, according to Tony Hughes, local boss of specialist email software vendor, Hummingbird. Garbage in the inbox, like e-Christmas cards and notes announcing a lady in reception selling books, is weighing down networks.

John Duckett, general manager for IT at law firm Phillips Fox, confirms Hughes's assertion, saying that of 13,000 emails received externally each day, an average of 3500 are caught in his anti-spam net.

Delete mail, go to jail
Yet companies are reluctant to press the "delete" button for fear of breaching new corporate regulations aimed at stopping horror episodes such as the HIH and OneTel collapses, which were in large part due to a lack of corporate accountability and governance.

The Corporations Law Economic Reform Policy -- Australia's toned-down version of the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act -- has chief executives demanding that every scrap of data is kept just in case something bad happens and an auditor from the Australian Security and Investments Commission (ASIC) takes the lift up to their office.

"The Australian legislation is a more principled approach than the prescriptive stand taken in America," says Hughes. "However, there remains an obligation to not just report the financial figures accurately but to show the substance behind those figures. Email threads discussing ways in which fiscal results should be reported would be covered by the legislation." This means almost all corporate emails are now captured and stored because this is the medium where so much management and decision-making is conducted. IT research specialist Gartner claims 35 percent of any large company's "know-how" resides on email.