How Modern Email Software Helps You With Open Records Requests

March 30, 2016

Nathan Eisner, COO, Sophicity

This article is posted with permission from Sophicity’s CitySmart blog and shares non-technical, municipal-relevant insights about critical technology issues, focusing on how technology reduces costs, helps better serve citizens, and lessens cybersecurity risks. Sophicity is solely responsible for the article’s content.
This article originally appeared on Sophicity's CitySmart blog. 

Want to ruin a city clerk’s day? Say the words, “Open records request for an email.” These kinds of information requests are a giant hassle and we’ve written about their excessive cost. In many cases, cities are at an extreme disadvantage because they use obsolete, outdated email systems or consumer grade email systems that not only make email records hard to find but also may place the city at legal risk.

A modern email system with enterprise-class features will eliminate many of the worries that cities go through when fearing an email open records request. While we’ve talked more about the cost reductions of a modern email system in the past, here we discuss four specific ways that a modern email system will help with open records requests.
  1. Centralized and managed emails. If you have an older email system, you might have limited storage on your email server. That means employees will often store emails on their own computers in local archives. When that happens, it’s difficult to retrieve emails and keep them secure. You also risk losing emails because you’re relying on non-technical employees to archive this information as well as hoping their workstation doesn’t experience a failure. And if you happen to use a consumer-grade, cheap email solution, then you risk issues not only with reliability but also compliance. A modern email system will allow your IT staff or vendor to host the system in a secure compliant location, centralize emails, and manage security, permissions, and archiving.
  2. Ability to retain emails. Modern email systems can be configured to store emails for however long your city deems appropriate—and even retain them indefinitely if you’d like. For example, you can set up your email system to automatically retain emails for a specific length of time, notify you when that period expires, and purge the emails for you.
  3. Advanced email search ability. One problem with many inferior email systems is search and retrieval. When you search emails, you often need to find specific words, phrases, conversations, attachments, and other granular information. For example, modern email software would help you with queries like finding all emails that mention “123 Main Street,” all emails sent between John Doe and Jane Doe, or all emails with Form X attached.
  4. Ability to prevent email deletion. Without a properly managed email system, it’s easier for employees to delete emails accidentally or maliciously. That makes the city liable if someone requests to see those emails as open records. A modern email system offers ways for emails to be retained and searchable even if an individual employee decides to delete them on his or her computer. For example, you might consider putting a “legal hold” on emails so that they cannot be purged or altered accidentally.
Ideally, you should not only modernize your email system to make open records management easier but also rely on IT staff or a vendor with extensive experience in retrieving those kinds of emails. With a modern email system and the right expertise supporting your city, you will be able to significantly cut down on the time and cost in processing an open records request.

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