Every day IT managers are bombarded with requests to help email users locate missing or deleted messages. On an almost hourly basis people will be desperately trying to find vital information from clients or colleagues. As a result, businesses regularly trawl through thousands of emails to find the ones needed for employee tribunals or legal cases. Managing this process in-house can be a nightmare.

This is because we are drowning in emails; the number of worldwide email accounts is projected to increase from over 2.9 billion in 2010 to over 3.8 billion by 2014[i], and email traffic is set to grow to 507 billion a day by 2013[ii]. Therefore it is increasingly difficult to pinpoint information quickly using outdated home-grown software, which reduces efficiency and costs businesses dearly.

In fact, it is estimated that the cost to organisations of not being able to pinpoint information is on average £15,000, yet only half have an email archiving system in place to help them deal with the email explosion. Cutting £15,000 from a company’s budget, while also being able to free-up people’s time to become more efficient, could have a major impact on a business. Profits can be increased, the firm can expand into new markets and drive economic growth.

As a result, email storage software delivered as a service should be a cornerstone of a well-run organisation. A robust, fit-for-purpose outsourced email storage system should never be seen as a discretionary feature of any organisation’s IT architecture. That approach can only serve to increase the burden – and cost – of email while also leaving companies unable to deal with the key issues that all businesses now face.

The first of these challenges is regulation and legislation. There is an increasing onus on businesses to safeguard electronic data in their possession while being able to produce it quickly whenever required by authorities, clients or courts. With 75 percent of legal cases now requiring submission of email evidence[iv], emails are established as legal documents – and court fines and assumption of guilt (not to mention rocketing lawyers’ fees) may result from a delay or failure in meeting an e-discovery demand.

Secondly, there is security and confidentiality. Cyber threats have ramped up remorselessly recently. Symantec detected more than 286 million new threats last year alone[v]. So too has the potential vulnerability of sensitive electronic data to loss caused by malware infection – quite apart from the parallel threat of loss resulting from deliberate or accidental employee misconduct.

Mobility and flexibility is the third key issue. People are working more flexibly and in a more fragmented way than ever, characterised by dispersed workforces and mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. This has created a new array of opportunities for data to be lost, mislaid or misused.

All this begs the question: what can organisations do? Managing vast oceans of email – and the potential liabilities and vulnerabilities they contain – can seem a complex and daunting task. But what a business needs from an email storage system actually boils down to five fundamentally straightforward criteria: the A to E of email storage.

This comprises affordability, business agility, compliance, data security and ease of set-up. When considering the A to E, businesses need to look at costs, the ability to stay light on your feet when responding to new opportunities, and being able to meet regulatory and legislative demands. They should also ensure data is stored safely and whether the implementation of the technology is easy to so.

To meet these criteria there are two approaches that an organisation can take: go for it alone and continue to use an in-house solution or outsource the job to a specialist who can deliver the software as a service. Firms taking the in-house approach can do so in a number of different ways, one of which is to ask employees to do it themselves.

They are given mailbox limits, attachment limits and have to set up ad-hoc personal archives using Personal Storage Table (PST) files, optical disks and USBs. Or there is the email client option where a business relies on archiving features incorporated in Microsoft Exchange 2010. Alternatively, there are email backup tapes and storage hardware.

Historically, many organisations have felt more comfortable satisfying their archiving requirements entirely in-house, because they didn’t have to send their data out of the organisation. But with the increasing adoption of cloud services (i.e. at internet level, beyond your corporate network), firms are now outsourcing their email storage more. This also mitigates against the weaknesses inherent in these approaches – especially the DIY strategy – that can actually make it risky.

Managed archiving services, using expertise and technology to manage data in the cloud, offer numerous benefits and is just as easy as using any other web-based software such as Salesforce, web-based mail or even Facebook. It can remove the dead weight of data burdening your in-house IT infrastructure – and in-house IT teams.

It also means there is minimal or no hardware or software installed on-site, eliminating the need for organisations to meet the associated space, power and maintenance requirements. Essentially, it provides a secure computing environment, delivering ongoing access to critical email applications and data while driving cost efficiencies – simply and easily.

An outsourced solution can help a business plan its operating expenditure, avoiding use of capital expenditure to cater for (and anticipate uncertain future) storage needs. Perhaps most importantly – and the entire raison d’être of email data storage – it allows automated searches for stored emails, ending the purgatory of manual searches through storage files and devices. And it is this that helps a business cut its costs and increase efficiency.

So, next time you find yourself trying to dig out a pivotal email that confirms an agreed action, a delivery date or a cost, remember that you could avoid all of this, and the potential financial burden that comes with it, by ensuring your business has an email data storage system handled in the cloud by an expert. If not, email can actually stop being an enabling form of communication and become a burden and a liability that can cost businesses dearly.