When supermarket chain Somerfield put in a vaulting system to archive its email and save disk space, it got regulatory compliance for free, according to the store's corporate cost audit controller Colin Clarke.

"You cannot force people to comply, you have to make it a by-product. It's got to be part of the process, not a separate one," he says. "I don't want a process called 'backup' or 'compliance'."

The company has implemented a mixture of software, including Veritas NetBackup for data protection, KVS Enterprise Vault for email archiving, and Symantec for anti-virus. Clarke jokes that he's quite happy about Veritas taking over KVS and then merging with Symantec, as it means he knows it will all work together in the future.

Somerfield's needs centred on business visibility and email archiving. As Clarke explains, tying up orders and invoices is a major challenge that is not, paradoxically, made easier by the use of email.

"I'd like Microsoft to put a 15 minute delay in Exchange, with an 'Are you sure you want to send this?' button," he says. "People send out email on corporate headings and they send it without thinking, so you've got to have records.

"There are companies out there that will go through your paperwork tying up orders and invoices - other supermarket chains have lost a lot of money through not invoicing on time. The vault does that for me, so I'm able to save money by understanding what's available."

He adds that the ability to track what was really said during an email exchange can be a double-edged sword: "I have lost some disputes with suppliers because I was able to find the truth. I've won a lot more than I lost, though."

There are other problems too, not least that the rules and regulations covering archiving may conflict across countries and regions - some experts suggest that elements of Sarbanes Oxley are illegal under EU data protection laws, for instance - as well as differing within countries and across industry sectors.

Another conflict is the requirement to delete personal data after a set length of time, which means not only must it be deleted from the backups, but it won't be available for subsequent regulatory requests.

"Enterprise Vault is a complete record," Clarke says. "If I delete something, how can I confirm it wasn't relevant? The problem is the software power has gone beyond what I can control."

The critical thing though is that an email archive turns raw data into usable information, which is why he is pleased about the increasing integration of NetBackup and Enterprise Vault as each hits version 6.

"The problem is how to get emails out of a backup tape," he says. "There is a difference between files and information - if you retrieve from backup it is useless as information. But by putting the two together, if I get a demand for five year old information I can just restore it and access or exploit it. I can search 11 million emails - 500GB of data - in 15 to 20 seconds, and I can do that on personal folders too.

"Ideally, I'd like IT to scan and vault faxes too," he adds. "I have stopped people using IM though, because although I can vault it, the amount of noise and static is too high. If it's that important, send an email."

A big benefit of the email archive is its ability to save storage space by transparently amalgamating users' stored data - for example, if the same file attachment is sent to several people, it is only stored once. Clarke says this has been so useful that his team is now looking at doing the same for network file shares as well.

"I really do believe British industry has not woken up to the importance of information," he adds. For example, Somerfield's audit department can now use the software to ensure that the company's records are correct, saving both time and money.

"We put the software in because we had a gap," he says. "The driver was business advantage, not compliance. I got compliance as a side benefit."