Inbox surveillance

Taking control of the self-propagating entity that is modern email has become a major priority for all businesses. For public sector organisations, however, demonstrating a high level of governance around email usage presents an added challenge, as Michael Knight, CIO for Dorset Police Authority, is all too aware.

Increasingly, he observes, “there is a public expectation that the police should serve the community in an exemplary way, to demonstrate that we can keep our own house in order” – whether on the beat or online.

Added to this burden is the growing trend towards “partnership working”, Knight explains, which encourages police forces to operate in collaboration with a range of other agencies, including the NHS, the Prison Service and the Home Office – collaboration that is largely performed through email.

Also, the Freedom of Information Act requires UK public service providers to retrieve and present certain information on demand, so the police must demonstrate an effective mechanism for pulling emails from the system, says Knight.

That means the use of email has to be tightly controlled: “It is critical to understand what the risks are when not managing employee use of email,” Knight says, risks that were underlined in late 2006, when 140 Hertfordshire officers and civilian staff were disciplined for sending “inappropriate” email.

To gain visibility into the nature of the Dorset force’s email, Knight opted in late 2006 to install an email monitoring and archiving system across the authority’s entire network of around 2,500 users.

The system, MailMeter, from email management specialist Waterford Technologies, is “comprehensive”, in Knight’s view. “It’s not just about security. We needed something that would give us performance information in terms of the email volumes and bandwidth load.”

Following the “relatively easy” implementation, Knight has enforced an effective email policy. The system enables administrators to identify the source of any email and assess the size of attachments, as well as allowing archiving and e-discovery.

Email storage, which Knight admits is a significant issue, is also more efficiently managed using MailMeter. Among other tricks, the package extracts attachments from older emails and stores them separately from the mail server, providing a link from the original email.

That improves security, while simultaneously enabling the optimisation of resources, which Knight felt he was previously unable to pursue. “If you’ve got no means of measuring what your email system is doing then you’ve got no idea what its performance requirements are,” says Knight.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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