In this blog post we will look a solution for managing emails as records that has proven to be effective. This solution uses MacroView Message or MacroView DMF as a user-friendly front-end to Office 365 / SharePoint Online or to an on-premises SharePoint Server.
When implemented with Office 365 / SharePoint Online the solution takes advantage of the Labels facility of Office 365, such that emails stored in SharePoint Online are automatically assigned a Label. This label in turn causes the file that contains the email to be an in-place record, protected from modification or deletion for a specified time period.
When implemented with on-premises SharePoint Server the solution uses a workflow that in turn utilizes the In Place Records Declaration capability of SharePoint.
The blog post goes on to identify several Key Success Factors that are addressed by the MacroView Email Records solution:
- Intuitive viewing of the email records
- Zero profiling fatigue as users save emails
- Coping with large volumes of emails
- Automated saving of emails
- Documents as well as emails
Emails Usually Need Better Management
For a great many organizations email is the part of the information resource that is in greatest need of improved management. Emails can be an important part of the documentation trail for transactions, yet are often ‘managed’ by having users save them in private folders within their Outlook mailboxes.
What organizations need is for each email that is important to the organization be saved in a secure corporate store, locked to prevent amendment or deletion and accompanied by additional details that will assist in subsequent retrieval of that email. In other words, a way of managing important emails as records.
Knowing Which Emails Are Important
It’s nice to think that maintaining records is a priority for users and that they will take the time to identify the emails that are important and take steps to save them in a special way. However in my experience this does not happen reliably. When a user is busy – and isn’t this always the case – there is a very real tendency to ignore anything that requires additional effort, such as going through a set of steps to declare an email as a record. It is also tempting for a user to think that someone else who has also received the email will do the record declaration.
In a nutshell, if users have to make a conscious decision to declare an email as a record, and especially if the declaration requires additional effort, there is a very real risk that some important emails NEVER get declared as records.
MacroView Makes Users Happy to Save Emails
The MacroView Email Records solution takes a different approach, which is to make it so easy to save and declare emails that users are happy to save any and all emails, except those that are of a personal / private nature. How easy? MacroView Message and MacroView DMF make saving an email as a record take no more effort than saving it to a private folder in their Outlook mailbox. The solution takes care of making the email into a record so that it is safe and available for discovery in the future. The need to consciously identify important emails is removed.
Automatically Applied Labels Ensure Retention
The Labels feature of Office 365 is a very flexible tool for declaring files as records to ensure the retention of those files. The Expiration Policy mechanism that was supported in on-premises SharePoint 2010, 2013 and 2016 lets you define retention and disposition (i.e. what happens to the file after the record retention period ends) for each Content Type in a document library.
Office 365 Labels and Label Policies can also be applied automatically as files are saved to SharePoint, but the retention and disposition can be much more granular – e.g. you can have a file saved in a particular area of SharePoint Online retained for 7 years if it contains sensitive content and other files saved to the same area with the same content type retained for 5 years.
The next screenshot shows details of the Record 5 label as defined in the Office 365 Security and Compliance Center.
If you activated the Records Management feature for your on-premises SharePoint Server you could manually declare individual files as in-place records. Office 365 Labels can also be applied manually to ensure that files are retained as records. By manually applying a different Label, the retention period and disposition action after the retention period can be different for different files stored in the same area, with the same content type.
The screenshot below shows a SharePoint Online document library that contains several emails, each of which has a Retention Label applied. One of the emails has a Record label, which will retain that email for 7 years from the date it was saved. That label was applied automatically by a Label Policy because that body of the email contained the word “invoice”. The other emails were automatically assigned a Record 5 label, which will ensure their retention for 5 years from the date they were saved.
Intuitive Viewing of the Email records
As it happens, all the emails were saved to SharePoint by dragging and dropping to the Saved Emails document library displayed in the MacroView pane on the right of the Outlook Mail window, which is added when either MacroView Message or MacroView DMF is installed.
MacroView enables intuitive viewing of the saved emails, which the user can do without needing to jump out of Outlook to the SharePoint web browser UI. The screenshot below shows how MacroView displays the default Email Messages view of the same Saved Emails library as we saw in the previous screenshot.
Selecting the Saved Emails document library in the MacroView pane displays the default Email Messages view of that library in the central pane of Outlook. Note the formatted preview of a selected email that contains the word “Invoice”, which caused that email to have a different label applied. Note also the display of the structure of the Office 365 tenant in the MacroView pane.
The intuitive viewing is not limited to the contents of the document library. MacroView also makes it easy and intuitive to view the overall structure of the Office 365 email and document store. From the screenshot above you can see where the Saved Emails library sits in the overall tree.
The MacroView pane in Browse mode automatically discovers and displays all the areas of the Office 365 tenant for which the current user has permission. By displaying a complete and accurate tree-view, MacroView makes working with an Office 365-based email store feel as familiar as working with a tree of folders in Outlook or in a Windows file share.
Zero Profiling Fatigue as Users Save Emails
We have seen that MacroView enables saving of emails to Office 365 / SharePoint Online by drag and drop. This is one reason why we say that MacroView makes saving an email as a record takes no more effort than saving an email to a private folder in the user’s Outlook mailbox.
The other key reason is that the MacroView solution does not prompt the user to enter metadata as it saves an email – instead it captures extensive metadata automatically.
As noted in the introduction, capturing additional metadata is a key requirement for effective records management, because the additional metadata supplements the content of the email (and its attachments) when it comes time to search and discover wanted emails in the email records store. When you save an email to a private folder in your Outlook mailbox you do not get prompted for additional information. As it saves an email to Office 365, MacroView provides the same ‘Zero Profiling Fatigue’ experience, while at the same time automatically capturing even more metadata to assist with subsequent discovery.
MacroView automatically records the attributes of an email (e.g. To, From, SentOn, Subject, etc.) as metadata. Depending on business requirements, other metadata is also captured automatically – e.g. Customer Name, Project Code, Project Name, Project Type, etc. MacroView also automatically captures the file system attributes of attachments (such as Author, Created Date and Last Modified Date) – useful information that is normally lost as a document is uploaded to SharePoint.
This capture and recording of metadata without prompting the user is a key success factor for the MacroView Email Records solution.
Automated saving of emails
Another key success factor for the MacroView Email Records solution is the way it uses auto-filing rules to reduce or even eliminate the user effort associated with saving an email.
MacroView auto-filing rules can be personal – i.e. each user can have their own rules – and they can apply to both incoming and outgoing emails. If an incoming or outgoing email satisfies a rule, it is saved to a specific location in Office 365 / SharePoint Online. Saving to a location allows metadata specific to that location to be automatically recorded for the saved email. It also streamlines the application of the appropriate Labels, which in turn ensures the retention of the saved email as a record.
MacroView is working towards the release of MacroView Corporate Email Filing, which will be an optional module for MacroView Message and MacroView DMF. MacroView Corporate Email Filing rules are stored in a central SharePoint library, which eliminates the administrative overhead involved in deploying the rules to each user.
MacroView Corporate Email Filing will introduce an exciting new type of rule, which will file incoming and outgoing emails automatically to Office 365 based on special filing (or luggage) tags embedded in their Subjects. These tracking tags identify the Office 365 location where an incoming email or a copy of an outgoing email should be saved. As new emails are saved a filing tag can be added to its Subject so that subsequent emails in the same conversation are saved automatically.
If the Office 365 email and document store is consistently structured, it will not be necessary to define a new Corporate Email Filing rule for each new Project / Transaction / Matter. This is important because it will minimize the effort associated with ongoing operation of the solution.
Coping with large volumes of emails
The idea of saving all emails related to current operations raises an obvious issue, which is how to cope with the resulting large volume of emails. In this regard the MacroView + Office 365 labels solution helps in three ways.
- by preventing duplicate copies of any one email in any one area of Office 365 / SharePoint Online. As users save emails to the email store MacroView Message names the resulting MSG files so that duplicates are prevented.
- By enabling searches for email records stored in Office 365 direct from Outlook. When a user wants to find an email that has been saved as a record, MacroView Message harnesses the power of the SharePoint search engine. The resulting indexed search generates results rapidly even when there are very large volumes of email records.
- By enabling efficient navigation of a large Office 365 / SharePoint Online document and email store – i.e. one that that contains a large number of areas. The Search Site Tree command of MacroView allows a user to rapidly find and auto-navigate to an area where they want to work using part of the name or title of that area.
Documents as well as Emails
The MacroView Email Records Solution also makes it easy to save other types of file – e.g. attachments to emails, Office documents and files from Windows file shares – into a secure corporate store based on Office 365. All the documents and emails for a Project are stored in the same area of SharePoint. The solution can readily be customized so that these other file types are also labelled and protected as records.
Migrating to the New Solution
One of the biggest challenges associated with an email records management solution is how to migrate existing emails into the new solution. MacroView Professional Services has the skills and the software tools to assist with these migrations.
But often, the best solution is not to do a full migration at all.
The MacroView software makes it easy to drag and drop multiple emails from a private or public folder in Outlook and save them in appropriate new areas in Office 365 / SharePoint Online. Business users can use this technique to move the emails for just their current or active projects.
Another relevant approach is to have the SharePoint Online search engine crawl and index the emails stored in existing Public Folders. Searches for emails in closed or archived projects can then be performed using the Search mode of MacroView. The great advantage of this approach is that it enables discovery of the emails without the significant effort that would otherwise be required to migrate all those emails to SharePoint Online.
For information about solutions for generating and managing documents and emails using Microsoft Office and SharePoint contact MacroView Solutions.