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Counterintuitive and practical email archiving

What seems to be counterintuitive to software developers, can be perfectly suited for lawyers and other business professionals

Practical email archiving

Recent discussions about GDPR have brought to our attention topics such as data portability and data formats. According to the regulations, we should be able to extract personal data such as customer records and customer correspondence in a commonly used electronic format. So, what is the preferable format for extracting emails? Undoubtedly, EML and PDF are prime candidates.

Which one of these should you be using though? Essentially, both formats preserve the content of an email fully, so in that sense they are equal. However, when you think about how the archived content will be used after the extraction has been completed, then the two formats begin to diverge in their versatility.

“Although counter-intuitive to HTML-oriented developers, PDF’s unique feature-set make the format ideal for archiving email and ‘case files’—arbitrary collections of content.”
— Duff Johnson

You may want to export your emails to EML format if you’re planning on importing them back into your email client at some point. However, if you’re exporting the emails only to generate records to be delivered to a third party, then PDF becomes a much better choice.

The reasons are that PDFs can be opened natively in every modern browser and also PDF readers are as ubiquitous as web browsers. So, when you send a PDF to someone, they will likely have no problems opening it whatsoever.

On top of that, the PDF format has the edge on EML based on a few other grounds too.

“Although counter-intuitive to HTML-oriented developers, PDF’s unique feature-set make the format ideal for archiving email and ‘case files’—arbitrary collections of content,” stated Duff Johnson, the executive director of the PDF Association and a veteran of the electronic document space. “PDF pages and XMP metadata, together with the other enabling features of the Portable Document Format, offer a practical and vendor-neutral, fully interoperable solution to archiving email and other static electronic content.”

“[A preferable format for long-term preservation] is something a manager or attorney or other human person can point to and see meaning.”
— J. Kevin Parker

This ability to store collections of related content (with its full rendering) and data makes PDF the best option for record retention. PDFs are a perfect fit for turning relevant emails into business records. J. Kevin Parker, the president of NCC-AIIM stated: “Is there a preferable format for long-term preservation? […] This is something a manager or attorney or other human person can point to and see meaning.”

As a practical example of how the PDF format works best for email archiving, let’s consider the Canadian Health and Social Services Center (CIUSSS), which recently was looking for a way to extract email records from IBM Domino servers.

Philippe Preville, the IT manager at CIUSSS, said that they had considered various alternatives and formats but most of them fell short in one respect or another. Finally, they opted to export their data to PDF, which guaranteed the best adoption rate by users and satisfied all of their long-term archiving requirements. Since then, CIUSSS had deployed the PDF Converter for Notes add-on to about 1,000 users across 15 locations.

So in the end, the question becomes not whether you should export your emails to PDF, but rather how you should go about it, depending on what email platform your organization uses.

PDF Tools for Microsoft Outlook and IBM Notes/Domino

If you would like to discuss ways to turn email messages into e-records, please contact the SWING Software team. Or, check out our solutions for content transformation and data portability.