"In one case, we discovered thousands of emails dating back to 2001," Bertolini recalls. "And the real problem is that most of them dealt with trivia like meeting for lunch. There's a cost to maintaining and managing email over time."
IT's biggest email-related burden is simply uptime, says Radicati. "The overriding concern for IT is making sure that it's up and running and available," she says.
Email's People Problem
Is the enterprise's email addiction rooted in technology or in user behavior? Both, analysts say. "Email is only as good as the person who organizes it," observes Sara Radicati, president and CEO of The Radicati Group, which tracks use of email and other messaging media.
Over the years, enterprise email systems have added an ever-increasing number of sophisticated organizational tools, but "users still have to train the system, which is where it breaks down," Radicati explains. "Users forget how they set it up a certain way, and why. Somebody who is highly organized and structured will do well with these tools, and someone who is naturally chaotic will be chaotic."
Adam Glick, Microsoft's product manager for Exchange and Outlook, acknowledges that "you can change the tools, but you can't change the people." Citing one example of how the tools are changing, he notes that the current version of Office 2013 has an option that lets users ignore any email with a particular subject line if that thread has become irrelevant to the recipient. On a grander scale, Exchange and Outlook are becoming more of a communication hub, with greater integration of chat and unified communications, Glick says.
But all those advances will be meaningless if people don't take advantage of the new functionality -- and IT must help them do that.
"IT needs to explain how and when to use these features," says Radicati, "and people need to learn to improve their efficiency."
- Howard Baldwin
Email in the Cloud
So what's IT supposed to do? Certainly, the cloud offers one of several ways to view email differently. Radicati is optimistic about email in the cloud. "It's absolutely the way to go," she says. "A lot of cloud-based email providers have archiving and compliance capabilities in place, and if you want more features, you can purchase them as an additional capability."
In Oakland County, Bertolini is investigating using Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud. "There's still a cost associated with storage, but part of our ROI analysis will be comparing the cost of storage in the cloud versus letting people keep more email," he says, adding that he's worried that if "you give them more storage, they will fill it up."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.