Anita Fritz

Replacing Notes for Managing Documents and Emails for Projects

By dramatically improving the integration of SharePoint with Outlook and other rich-client applications, and by providing efficient ways to view and navigate a large SharePoint document store, MacroView DMF makes it feasible to use SharePoint to replace legacy Notes solutions for managing project emails and documents.

It wasn’t that long ago that many organizations – including some very large multi-nationals – were using Lotus Notes to manage their emails. Now that most of those environments have moved from Notes Mail to Exchange + Outlook a question that arises is how to bring back the project-centric functionality aspects that Notes used to provide, but which are not really available with Exchange + Outlook.  In the old Notes environment is was easy to click on a project workspace and see all the emails and documents for a particular project.  Notes also enabled quite powerful searching across huge document stores to find emails and documents based on project metadata as well as keyword content.

With Microsoft SharePoint you can use a site for each project instead of a Notes workspace for each project. A document library or libraries within each project site can be used to store the emails and documents for the project.  The web-based nature of SharePoint means that project members can collaborate from anywhere – much as they used to be able to collaborate using Notes.  This access-from-anywhere is particularly easy to achieve with Office 365 SharePoint Online, where the documents and emails are stored in the Microsoft Cloud.

So at first glance, SharePoint appears to be the way to replace Notes for the project-centric storage of emails and documents.

But can SharePoint cope with a very large email and document store?  Maybe it is better to store the emails and documents in a line of business project management system (such as SAP or Microsoft Dynamics CRM) and use SharePoint to provide just the collaboration and search components of the overall solution?

At MacroView we have a lot of success with using SharePoint as a large scale document (and email) store. In this blog article we outline how our MacroView DMF add-on enables SharePoint-based solutions that have the functionality, usability and volume handling to be a viable replacement for any legacy Notes-based solution.

Thousands of Site Collections in On-premises SharePoint Server

With on-premises SharePoint Server a key technique for coping with a large volume of documents is to provision more Site Collections. This is because each Site Collection can be mapped to a different content database, so having more site collections lets you avoid storing too much in any one content database. Technical opinions vary as to how much is too much in a content database, but the most frequently quoted limit is 200GB – more than that can lead to problems with backup and restore.

If you are using the OOB SharePoint web browser UI, having a large number of Site Collections makes it more awkward to navigate to the document library (or document set or folder) that contains the documents and emails for a particular project.  You have to use an IE favorite or alternatively you need to key in the URL of the root site in the site collection – there is no way to pick the site collection from a list of all available site collections.

MacroView DMF makes it much more intuitive to work with a document store that contains a large number of site collections.  You can key in part of the title for the site collection that you want to work with and DMF then efficiently filters the display of site collections so that you can quickly drill down to see the sites and libraries contained in that site collection. You can also filter the list of site collections to show only those that contain your favorite areas. Using these techniques makes it very feasible to work with thousands of site collections, mapped to dozens of content databases.

Large Site Collections in SharePoint Online

With Office 365 SharePoint Online, Microsoft has significantly increased the maximum size of site collections.  A site collection and now be up to 25TB – i.e. 25 million megabytes.  An organization can have up to 500,000 site collections in their SharePoint Online tenant, and Microsoft recommends a maximum of 2,000 sites in any one site collection (the performance of the web browser UI starts to degrade as you try to display more than 2,000 sites).  The end result is that your SharePoint Online tenant can contain a very large number of ‘nodes’ (i.e. site collections, sites, document libraries, etc). 

With MacroView DMF viewing and navigating such large tenants is much easier than with the OOB SharePoint web browser UI.  MacroView automatically discovers all the areas for which you have access permission and displays them in an accurate tree-view. MacroView enables efficient navigation to an area that you want to work with, no matter how many node are contained in your SharePoint Online environment.  The limit of 2,000 sites does not apply,because MacroView renders sites so much more efficiently.

Why Not Store Project Emails in the Project Management System?

At first glance, this sounds like a good idea. Many project management and CRM systems have the capability of store emails and documents for customers and projects, and it is definitely useful to be able to access those emails and documents when you open the record for a customer or project.

In practice however, project management and CRM systems typically do not provide the functionality and capacity that is required for managing emails and documents for large projects and / or large organizations. That’s not surprising because these systems are not focussed on email management or document management.

An approach that works much better is illustrated in the diagram below:

MacroView integrates Line of Business system with SharePoint for documents and email

MacroView makes SharePoint feasible as the store for Project emails and documents

The key elements of this approach are:

  • Store the emails and documents in SharePoint (using site collections and content databases as described above to accommodate volume).
  • Update each customer and project record in the Project Management / CRM system to contain a Smart Link to the SharePoint container wherein the emails and documents for that a project are stored.  These Smart Links enable one-click access to the emails and documents – as convenient as if the emails and documents were stored in the Project Management / CRM system.
  • Use MacroView DMF to enhance the integration between this SharePoint document store and the rich client applications where business users spend a lot of their time – specifically Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Reader and Windows itself. The result is that users can save and retrieve emails and documents without needing to go into the Project Management / CRM system.

Smart Links to Documents and Emails

To create a Smart Link to a document library, document set or folder you simply add a dmf: prefix to its URL. Clicking the resulting smart link will cause the MacroView DMF Explorer application to get focus, with the default view of the document library / document set / folder already displayed. You can then use standard DMF techniques to display other views, filter the file list, search for a particular document, etc. This smart link technique is described in more detail in One-click Access to the Documents for a Project.

The experience that Business Users expect

Importantly you can also save emails and attachments to the customer / project area in SharePoint by dragging them from Outlook and dropping them to MacroView DMF Explorer.  You can also drag and drop to DMF Explorer from your Desktop or any Windows folder.  As it saves to SharePoint MacroView DMF will capture email attributes automatically and prompt for any other metadata defined in the destination SharePoint libraries.  If you drag and drop multiple emails the save is performed in the background so that you can keep working in Outlook as the save proceeds. See Best-in-class Bulk Saving of Emails to SharePoint.

With MacroView DMF searching for documents stored in SharePoint is much more intuitive and convenient than searching using the SharePoint web browser UI. DMF lets you search based on content and / or metadata while you continue to work in familiar rich-client applications such as Outlook, Word, etc. The DMF Search panels can even be customized to reflect the requirements and metadata usage of different areas within an organization.  For more information see How Users Really Want to Search SharePoint for Documents.