GFT inboxx has developed a unified archive - a single repository which it claimed can store anything that an organisation needs to keep in digital form, whether it be email, ERP data, voice recordings, or faxes.

Called inboxx hyparchiv, the archiving software integrates into source applications and allows any stored document to be searched - even faxes and other images, which can be converted to text via OCR (optical character recognition).

Bernd Höck, the company's marketing director, said that unified archiving could be used to meet regulatory compliance and e-discovery needs, as well as for offloading PCs of old email and for searching retained data.

"Compliance has brought in new types of data to archive, for instance police forces need to archive tapes of interviews, and call centres need to record their calls," he said. "However, although compliance is a driver for archiving, we found that [in Europe] it's not the top one."

For instance, in a survey of UK private sector IT bosses, in every sector the top-rated driver for effective email management was efficiency. In sectors such as retail and distribution, compliance wasn't even the second most important driver, being beaten by cost reduction.

That need not be a problem, Höck said, if an archiving system installed for reasons of efficiency also makes it possible to handle e-discovery requests, say.

"Sometimes people go out to research compliance but never reach the end of it," he continued. "Compliance comes down to the ability to store and search all your documents. We say, get the archiving done first, and only then move on to business policies."

Developed in Germany, the inboxx hyparchiv software includes a range of modules designed to interface with different data sources, such as instant messaging, office packages or ERP systems. Then there is the repository itself, and a set of services. The latter includes indexing, querying and data migration (moving data to new archive hardware), for instance.

Höck highlighted the retention service in particular. He said that having a single archive for everything, instead of separate archives for different applications, not only saves on infrastructure costs, it also allows organisations to manage their retention policies consistently. That means they can delete data that is no longer needed or required to be held.

He added that, according to the survey of IT decision makers, 51 percent of businesses do not set retention times for emails and documents - even in the financial services sector the figure is as high as 40 percent.

"I find that very interesting," he said. "Email is growing by 30 percent a year, and if we don't set retention times, all that information will just stay around. The easy thing is to just save everything, but sometimes you need to get rid of it," either for legal reasons or to prevent others discovering it and using it against you.

The unified archive is a development of GFT inboxx's email archiving software, which has been extended to take in additional types of information. Basic email archiving costs around £40 a seat for 1000 users, with additional fees for other modules.

"Unified archiving is not very difficult from the conceptual point of view, but there are technical challenges," Höck claimed. "First, it needs a very high performance archive - we can store 400,000 documents an hour in a single archive. And secondly, companies normally have very heterogeneous environments - having two or even three different email systems is not unusual."