Too many companies have a blind spot when it comes to managing e-mails, it is claimed.

Their failure to recognise e-mails and messages as key documents jeopardises legal compliance, some suggest.

Now the annual AIIM Roadshow due in Coventry next month aims to help companies in the Midlands tackle this issue.

AIIM is the international association for enterprise content management.

It supports the interests of users and suppliers of technologies and solutions used to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver information in support of business processes.

According to AIIM, only 21 per cent of companies archive e-mails into their records management system or have dedicated e-mail management software.

Some 53 per cent rely on back-up files instead of true archiving, and 24 per cent admit to not archiving their emails at all.

Just over half of companies surveyed use instant messaging in the office, with no historical records of exchanges to outside parties.

According to the AIIM survey amongst US and European users, 20 per cent of the overall flow of unstructured data in their organisations is accessed via e-mail attachments and a further 37 per cent is accessed from shared network drives and local hard-drives. Only 21 per cent of this important flow of information is securely managed in central repositories.

Paper is still the basis of 21 per cent of information processes.

When respondents were asked if they thought their storage strategies could survive legal scrutiny, less than half were confident that they would.

Of those organisations that have retention policies for destroying records after a set time in order to limit legal disclosure liabilities, nearly 80 per cent are ignoring them and keeping records indefinitely.

Doug Miles, managing director of AIIM UK, said: "Records management processes have for centuries revolved around paper documents and the physical space needed for storage.

"Most organisations have yet to wake up to the recordkeeping implications for electronic files, in particular emails and instant messages. Back-up tapes are notoriously unreliable for retrieving specific documents that may be called for by auditors or legal departments. Policies need to be resolved between records managers and IT departments, and if necessary, investments made in information management systems."

The compliance issues will be discussed at the Roadshow, which visits Coventry's Ricoh Arena on May 10.