To comply with the recent Supreme Court mandate for the storage of electronic records, the Auburn-Washburn School District (AWSD) of Topeka, Kan., needed to implement an e-mail archiving system. The 2006 amendment to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that public entities, including school districts, be able to produce electronically stored information from staff members, such as e-mail and other digital communications, during the " discovery process" in lawsuits. With 900 staff members sending an average of 12,000 to 14,000 e-mails every day at AWSD, finding a way to archive records was a challenging but vital task.
District Director of Technology Don Williams was responsible for finding a software solution that would meet the federal requirements. Williams and his staff had suspected that the amendment would pass and had been reviewing options for about a year prior to the implementation date of December 1, 2006. After months of legal consultation to properly interpret the law and ensure compliance, and after considering a number of options, in March of this year AWSD chose the View- Wise Enterprise Document Management System from Novell partner Computhink, which includes an e-mail archiving module. The district selected ViewWise software because it was directly compatible with their existing Novell Groupwise e-mail system and had adequate technical support for such a large application. Now, after installing ViewWise, every e-mail message sent through the system is copied and stored on the local server, which has an immense 3 terabytes of storage space. In approximately six months, just 10 gigabytes of space has been used, and administrators expect the current servers will have sufficient space for a number of years.
With this amount of information, the system also requires a search engine so that specific messages can be found quickly by searching the archive by keyword, date, sender or recipient. This feature is the most important difference between this data "archive" system, designed to be accessed easily as needed, and the more common data "backup" systems, which store information to be restored only in an emergency. In addition, the archive has advanced security features, such as encryption and controlled access, and auditing capabilities, which record archive activity and any changes made to the content. Furthermore, a spam blocker ensures that only relevant e-mail is stored. Overall, it is an archiving system that requires little to no user intervention. "The process is all automatic.
The software archives automatically and does not permit a user to delete any e-mail before it is archived," said Mark Mitchell, network specialist for the district.
Preparing for E-Discovery
The Supreme Court mandate reflects the new reality of archiving for school districts, namely, that in legal proceedings electronic records are as important as paper documents. In the early "discovery" stage of a lawsuit, both parties are required to produce all evidence relevant to the case. Failure to produce important e-mail when prompted in the discovery process- known legally as "e-discovery"- could mean an immediate loss of a case or a forced out-of-court settlement. Administrators may be dismayed by the added cost of installing an electronic archiving system, but according to Williams, "If we are responsible for e-discovery, then the cost of this installation will be minimal compared to potential savings in civil judgments or federal noncompliance fines. People need to know this is a law and must be taken seriously.
Kurt O. Dyrli is a contributing writer for District Administration.