This is the second post in a guest series I’m doing here on Email Management in SharePoint. The first post was an introduction.
It’s very common for people to think, “I need access to an important document so I’ll email it to myself and then I’ll have it offline in my PST folder.” While this may provide value to a single user, it conflicts with the goals of enterprises that are trying to make content reusable. When important files are stored on individual user desktops or laptops in personal PST files, the information becomes an island that no one else can access.
Worse still, PST files are not generally backed up, which means critical information is lost when files become corrupted through a hard disk crash. Of greater concern are the millions in corporate assets that disappear each year through hardware theft or loss; information on laptops and mobile devices is even more of a liability than the hardware.
In addition to the convenience of mailbox folders, email feels like a safe place to store information. However, since email is usually the first thing exposed to the firewall, there is a risk that critical corporate information can be compromised or stolen by hackers.
In reality, PSTs are a thing of the past. As email evolves, PSTs are being phased out in many corporations. Quotas force mail purging, and the liability of some confidential conversation from years ago can simply get expired.
So what’s the alternative to storing email in mailbox files and PSTs? Why SharePoint, of course. If users can easily save their important emails and attachments in lists and libraries that relate to their projects, teams, and groups, that content becomes searchable and reusable by others in the corporation. Since users can then take advantage of version control and history, emails can evolve to published content in knowledge repositories. Like other documents in SharePoint, emails now inherit a history, and the collaboration around them is tracked and relevant.
The use of SharePoint to manage email at organizations has been growing. Take Microsoft for example. A quick scan of the SharePoint environment returned .MSG/.EML files among the top 10 file types. It followed the ones you’d expect (the common office file types), but ranked higher than Visio and Project files. When stored in SharePoint document libraries, .MSG files can be quite rich and look just the way they appeared in Outlook. They even get the familiar envelope icon and, most importantly, the body and attachments are searchable.
There are a few things to consider when developing email management solutions in SharePoint. If the application is for archival purposes to comply with regulations, content types can be useful to specify an expiration policy so that emails sent to a records center are automatically deleted after a specified hold period. If the application is more about collaboration and content management, there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that important conversations and documents that need to evolve end up in SharePoint, while unimportant information is not stored.
This cannot be accomplished with an automatic push mechanism that just sends everything up to the server. In addition to creating a storage nightmare, that would pose some big security risks. For those reasons, I recommend that emails and attachments saved in SharePoint are selected by proactive information workers who know the relevancy of the content and who want to do the right thing for their team and the company.
If the solution enables users to apply metadata at the time content is moved to SharePoint, documents will have the context that will make them searchable and discoverable in the knowledge repository, document management system, project site, team site, or MySite. This enables the content to live on and reach its potential. We need to learn to share; it’s one of those things we learned in Kindergarten, and it’s a lesson we can apply to our adult life. If we keep email and attachments in our mailbox and don’t share them, the information may well die there.
Truth #1: SharePoint is a better place to store email and attachments for archival and collaboration applications.