E-Mail Management Calculator Tallies Return on Investment

Tool uncovers hidden e-mail costs and the toll on government productivity.

by / July 31, 2008

E-mail is obviously an indispensable business tool, and its prominence in the workplace is only increasing over time. In fact, according to research by The Radicati Group Inc., employees will spend an average of one-third of their workday in 2008 managing e-mail -- writing new messages, replying, forwarding and searching for older correspondence. That figure is projected to jump to 41 percent in 2009.

So it's little surprise that when it comes time for a government agency to address e-mail management, it's more complex than calling a vendor for a price quote. The Association for Image and Information Management (AIIM) recently released an "e-mail return-on-investment (ROI) calculator tool" for CIOs and IT directors who need a little help with the math.

"A lot of organizations don't consider that hidden cost of people having to deal with 27,000 messages in their inbox, so we really wanted to surface that," said Jesse Wilkins, a principal consultant of Access Sciences Corp., an enterprise content and records management consulting firm. "The other point of it was to try and identify what goes into creating an effective e-mail management program. Software? Yes. Hardware? Probably.

"But there's more to it than that, so we broke out migration of those billions of messages that are already sitting in the organization someplace, time required to develop and review policies and procedures, and train users -- all the things they may not think of."

Wilkins designed the e-mail ROI tool, which is built on a Microsoft Excel 2003 spreadsheet. It's free for AIIM members and $125 for nonmembers. AIIM is a nonprofit professional and trade association that is a self-described "industry intermediary," representing all phases of managing documents, content, records and business processes.

ROI calculators for many technologies are available for download on the Internet, but Wilkins said he believes his ROI tool is the first of its kind for e-mail management. He said the calculator is divided into three parts: how much it currently costs the organization to manage e-mail; the prospective cost of a solution (i.e., technology, training, process development); and ideally, a slightly lower cost at the end of that process.

Of course, a "lower cost" can still run millions of dollars for a mid-sized business unit. Wilkins, who also developed AIIM's new e-mail management certificate program, said The Radicati Group found that the average employee sends 150 e-mails a day, which equates to 20 MB of storage. Storage costs money, although it's getting cheaper. Then you have to account for employees' time and productivity spent managing their e-mail, as well as the cost of backup tapes, off-site storage and other expenses. A 1,000-person firm -- or government agency -- should expect to spend an average of $64 million over three years for e-mail management, Wilkins said, and that cost will increase year-to-year because archived e-mail will pile up.

Time and money spent on e-mail affects government productivity, he said. "It means you might actually have to hire more people to get the same amount of citizens' work done, or else you're not getting as much of it done. If that's something important to the organization -- like police, fire, medical, those types of agencies -- you could have real consequences in terms of not being able to find stuff."

And finding stuff -- called e-discovery -- is another hidden factor in the equation. It could be the price of not effectively managing e-mail. It costs big money to hire lawyers to sort through poorly organized e-mail that's needed for a lawsuit, open records act or compliance issue.

"It's not so much [that some IT directors] bury their head in the sand. It's that of all the priorities the CIO has -- all the alligators they're fighting on a day-to-day basis -- e-mail isn't such an immediate pain point unless they get sued. And then when they get sued, it's a major undertaking to produce it. Then once it's done, well, it's back to the swamps."


Matt Williams Associate Editor
Platforms & Programs