The archiving of emails and other types of digital communication data is often viewed as a regulatory compliance and storage management issue. While compliance and storage are definitely important factors, they’re not the only reasons to archive this type of unstructured data. Namely, much of the information contained in emails, instant messages, social media posts and other forms of digital communication has a continuing value for businesses far beyond the first time it’s shared.
If analyzed correctly, archived communication data can reveal meaningful insights about many different facets of your business operations in a way no other information can. Your archive contains all of your employees’ corporate digital communications, both internal and external, meaning it can reveal the ins and outs of your business and its information flows, as well as the way your team represents your company when dealing with clients or customers.
In this eBook, we will look at the difference between defensive and proactive archiving, that is, between the traditional reasons for archiving and the way archiving can be used proactively and analytically. We’ll take a look at the various ways you can turn your archived data into a business resource for key decision makers as well as different stakeholders in your company, from the HR and Sales departments to the end user. Finally, we will consider the importance of developing a strategy for extracting insights from your archive — you can only get the right answers if you ask the right questions.
What Is an Archive?
An archiving solution automatically obtains messages, attachments, and information about the messages and then indexes and stores the given information in a read-only, tamper-proof format for a specified period of time.
The difference between an archive and a simple backup is that, while a backup does store your emails, it does so in an unorganized way and without indexing, which makes your data practically unsearchable. Plus, backed up emails are non-compliant with regulatory requirements as they remain alterable after being stored.
Archived emails and messages, unlike backed up ones, can be searched thoroughly and located quickly and easily thanks to comprehensive indexing. Having an archiving system also means having an automated process, rather than leaving this task to your IT department.
The Traditional (Defensive) Reasons for Archiving
The traditional role of archiving has primarily been defensive in nature – to retain information in order to defend the company in legal actions. The primary traditional reasons for archiving include:
Most regulations now governing the protection and preservation of data in industries across the spectrum require the retention of emails and other communications in a read-only format, including their metadata (date of creation, last modification, etc.), for a certain amount of time. Although some industries, such as financial services, healthcare and government, are subject to stricter regulatory obligations than others, every company has an obligation to retain certain types of information.
Organizations have traditionally used archiving solutions to retain data in case it has to be produced to defend the company in legal actions or if the company needs to pursue legal action. The duty to produce information could be based on an eDiscovery request from a court, or it can arise when a company becomes aware of an upcoming litigation. The company is then required to place a litigation hold on relevant information in order to prevent it from being deleted.
Helping IT to manage storage on email and other servers more effectively is another traditional application of archiving. This is because an archive allows companies to store their older information without the need to keep it on a live server or in an email inbox. However, the decreasing price of storage and the resulting growth in mailbox sizes means that storage reduction is becoming a less important reason for archiving.
Preservation of corporate history
Another important reason for archiving is the retention of information in order to preserve corporate memory. Namely, an archive can maintain a record of a company’s whole history contained in all of its employees’ corporate communications.
How Archiving Can Be Used Proactively
While defensive archiving is critical and is certainly an important best practice for every organization, decision makers should consider the proactive role of archiving, that is, the way they can extract additional value and meaningful business intelligence from the archive the company already possesses. When used proactively and turned into a business resource, an archive can provide insights that can help you make informed decisions about your business and get ahead of regulatory issues and litigation by monitoring communications for potential issues before they become an actual problem.
The demand for proactive archiving mainly comes from non-IT sections of the company, such as Operations, Sales, Marketing, and HR, as it is these departments that can leverage the insights that can be extracted from an archive. Let’s look at some ways a company can turn its archive into a valued business resource.
Insights for Management ‒ Understand Your Business
When analyzed in a targeted way, the information contained in an archive can help decision makers gain a level of understanding about their company’s information flows that can’t be captured in any other corporate system. It allows them to see how their organization really operates on the inside and how its staff communicate with clients and partners.
This can help decision makers to identify strong points or potential problems and aspects of their operation that can be improved. It also allows them to glean the social relationships that exist between colleagues and to identify weak links as well as employees who excel and who everyone goes to when they need a problem solved or a task done.
There is an incredible wealth of insight that key stakeholders can obtain from archived communications, allowing them to make better decisions about their business and their team. Analyzing archived data can deliver actionable results and give companies a competitive advantage in a way no other solution can.
Insights for Sales ‒ Figure Out What Sells
A customer relationship management (CRM) system is an essential tool for managing sales, but there is some information about customer and prospect interactions that a CRM system simply can’t capture. This information includes the time elapsed between receiving a sales inquiry and responding to it or the tone of an inquiry and a response.
If archived communication data is analyzed in the appropriate way, it can help you identify techniques that work and best practices to later be implemented across the entire team. It can also help you understand your company’s sales process by answering some important questions such as:
- How long does it take for a salesperson to reply to a prospect’s or customer’s inquiry or complaint?
- Is there a connection between the time elapsed between the inquiry and the response and the likelihood of closing a sale?
- Is there a connection between the salesperson’s tone and the likelihood of closing a sale?
- Is your Sales team prioritizing the correct opportunities?
Insights for HR ‒ Understand Your Employees
For HR, the department focused on employee engagement, health, performance and other hard-to-define metrics, the insights that can be gleaned from archived corporate communications could be invaluable. There is a variety of HR metrics that are less than completely quantifiable, like the potential for growth as opposed to sales or output figures. Success in measuring this type of metrics, despite the fact that they can’t be specifically defined, also depends on the use of new approaches and systems to better understand both employee sentiment and performance.
Analyzing archived data to determine various metrics related to performance and potential is an approach that could significantly complement subjective ranking methods. In terms of employee sentiment and engagement, as well as compliance and some other important HR fields, archived communication data could be especially valuable. It could provide a deep level of insight into the minds of employees. With access to sentiment and engagement data that employees share in a genuine manner – and not influenced by a need to assess others – it’s easier for HR to move past general action and more accurately make adjustments that reflect the unique circumstances inside the organization.
For instance, analyzing archived communications between managers and employees or between employees themselves is a way to discover how managers treat their employees and how employees interact. This could reveal both malpractices and best practices, and could help HR understand employee dynamics better.
Employee sentiment analysis can help reveal recurring issues that lead to low employee morale or high turnover. If HR can identify and understand the concerns that employees have, they will be able to address problems before they can fester.
Insights for Legal Purposes ‒ Prevent Data Breaches and Ensure Compliance
Archived data can be used to detect and prevent legal issues. Data breaches, for instance, are increasingly common and can be very problematic for any company, potentially costing millions of dollars to settle. Analyzing archived data can be useful in helping companies identify anomalous information flows, such as accounts accessing data sources they would not normally need to access or email accounts being used to send unusually large amounts of data.
The analysis of archived data can also be used to identify potential issues so that violations of the law or corporate policy can be addressed before they get out of hand. For instance, compliance officers could search for evidence of cheating, lying to customers, sexual harassment, or any other activity that might result in a lawsuit or regulatory action.
Insights that Improve Organizational Knowledge and Record Keeping
An archiving solution also provides an advantage in terms of organizational knowledge. Easy access to past emails, chat logs, social media posts and other forms of unstructured digital communications means that staff can check on established deadlines, share previously provided instructions, refer to past conversations with clients and suppliers and generally locate valuable pieces of information that would otherwise be inaccessible. Whether it’s recalling a great idea developed during a brainstorming session or determining a client’s preference for a project, a quick search in your archive makes delving into past conversations a simple, result-driven process.
Record keeping is also important in case of workflow interruptions or personnel changes, as it allows you to maintain business continuity. A centralized archive vastly improves your company’s ability to cope with unforeseen circumstances and problems (for example, in case an employee quits on short notice).
Imagine that an Account Manager in your company took over the clients from a colleague who had to quit on short notice and couldn’t pass on all of their knowledge. Luckily, the great majority of it is contained in their email. With an easily searchable archive that can also be easily analyzed, the new Account Manager would be much better equipped to handle their new clients.
Insights that Boost Efficiency and Productivity
An archive can increase efficiency and productivity when it comes to the numerous tasks that need to be accomplished on a daily basis. On any occasion when we might need insight into past emails in order to complete the task at hand, being able to find them quickly and easily will significantly boost our efficiency. So much time gets spent just looking for older information, time that could be better used on more important projects and tasks.
We all know how easily email messages can multiply and how difficult it can be to locate a particular email or attachment once it gets buried under hundreds of new messages.
Employees who accidentally delete or misplace emails are often forced to ask IT to retrieve them, but an archiving solution allows users to recover their own emails without having to bother IT. This ultimately leads to increased productivity of both the end user and the IT staff. It also helps maximize workflow efficiency, as emails can be located and recovered faster with fewer people involved in the process.
From Data to Insights ‒ Develop a Strategy
Considering all the ways archived communication data can be leveraged, it becomes obvious that an archive can be treated as a corporate intelligence repository offering a wealth of insights about the entire business. However, data means nothing without a strategy.
It’s not the data itself that will give your company the competitive advantage. Rather, it is how you think about that data across your organization and how you use it to drive change.
It is important to start with an understanding of the type of information you are looking for and the kinds of insights you are hoping to draw from the data. The way an archive is leveraged as a business resource will depend on the company and its major concerns and priorities. It is important to know, however, that an archiving solution enables you to get the right answers only if you ask the right questions. It is therefore crucial to develop an appropriate strategy for turning your archived data into insights.
While most of the traditional roles of digital data archiving remain crucial (e.g. regulatory compliance and litigation support), an archive can and should be used proactively ‒ it can be turned into a business resource. An archive contains a wealth of information about an organization’s operations, information flows and many other types of content that, if analyzed properly, can be turned into actionable insights enabling key stakeholders to make informed decisions about their business and giving them a competitive advantage. Businesses that archive their communication data not only improve their obligations in terms of compliance, but they can also turn their archive into a corporate intelligence repository with plenty of valuable insights.
To find out how we can help you leverage your archiving solution as a business intelligence resource, contact us or schedule a personal demo.