Email volume is continuing to grow at an rapid rate - bringing with it an increasing array of spam, viruses, and security risks.
Offensive and inappropriate content, combined with the flotsam and jetsam of digital lifestyles, threatens to clog email systems, spread malware, and expose organisations to litigation and unnecessary risk.
And yet corporate email systems are lacking in what the Butler Group, an independent IT and research advisory organisation, says is basic management functionality.
This is one of the key conclusions in the firm's latest report, titled EMail Management Vendor Solutions.
"Email is now accepted as evidence in litigation," said Sue Clarke, senior research analyst with Butler Group and author of the report.
"The punishment for misdemeanours is at best a fine or at worst a prison sentence, brand damage, and possibly a loss of job.
"It is imperative that organisations implement additional solutions themselves to adequately protect and manage their email systems. Organisations must turn to a combination of technology and business policies to manage the problem."
Ms Clarke says that most large organisations are being asked to retrieve historic emails on an almost daily basis, whether for litigation or regulatory purposes, and authorities are becoming more stringent
There are numerous examples of breaches of noncompliance related to email.
To date most of these have occurred not because of the content of the emails themselves, but due to the fact that the organisations involved were unable to retrieve the emails requested within the timescale demanded.
Five US banks were fined $1.25 million each for being unable to retrieve emails that were demanded of them - they were stored on back-up tapes.
One Fortune 500 company had to spend $750,000 to locate emails from an archive in response to a subpoena.
In the UK, Norwich Union was forced to make an out of court settlement of £450,000, after it was found that staff had been sending defamatory emails about a competitor. By the time the writ had been issued the emails had been deleted.
Sadly, while realising that email has become a business critical application and a valuable tool, most boards fail to realise that it can also be highly dangerous if used inappropriately.
It cannot be assumed that employees realise the implications of deleting emails, or even which emails need to be retained, and this task must not be left in their hands.
"There is a general failure to appreciate that the buck ultimately stops at the top of the organisation," said Ms Clarke.
"It may be the chief executive, chief information officer or chief technology officer, who will be held responsible for non- compliant or illegal emails."
Butler says organisations must turn to a combination of technology and business policies to manage the problem
And it regards email management as very much a business rather than an IT issue, but believes that this view is not shared by many organisations, which continue to throw technology at the problem.
Butler Group's report focuses on the solutions that enable organisations to implement an effective email management strategy.
It groups the solutions into three sections: corporate email systems, security and policy management, and email lifecycle management, focusing on the key players in each category.
Email lifecycle management technology audits include email archiving products and records management solutions that support the archiving of emails, and enable organisations to discover emails in response to litigation or requests for discovery from regulators.
It also allows the knowledge capital contained within emails to be leveraged within the organisation. Also included are information lifecycle management (ILM) solutions and storage products that support email archiving.
Security management solutions now incorporate some policy management capabilities. These products provide the functionality to protect the corporate email system from the threats of spam and viruses, and also non-compliance risks by providing the ability to block contentious or non-compliant messages.
Unfortunately, Butler says there is no single vendor that provides a complete email management solution.
Organisations will need to implement products from more than one category to achieve total email management.
In Butler Group's opinion it will be the vendors that provide email management as part of a total information management approach that will ultimately own the corporate email systems.
Ms Clarke said: "Organisations need to regain control of their email systems. It is the Butler Group view that the approach organisations should be taking is to examine the business reasons behind the problem and to investigate the business implications of any proposed email management solutions.
"Any solution should include implementing business policies as well as technology products."