This is the third post in a series based on a Colligo whitepaper called “Developing an Effective Email Collaboration Solution in SharePoint”. In the second post we looked at key issues that should be considered when implementing such a solution. In this post we’ll look a bit closer at best practices, summarize the currently available out-of-the-box solutions and conclude with a checklist you can use to evaluate these solutions (and others you may be considering).
It will come as no surprise that the requirements for email collaboration vary widely depending on the scenario that needs to be supported. A common scenario is project management, since emails and attachments often form the critical part of project documentation. Storage in SharePoint ensures that the content is structured so that it can be retained and located easily through search. This also makes it easy for new team members to get up to speed when they join a project mid-stream (rather than having to locate and forward multiple email threads to them). Another common scenario is departmental communications (e.g. all emails from product management) where emails are used to track issues or topics. Yet another is personal email management where emails and attachments are moved out of Exchange to SharePoint MySites for longer term storage, to avoid inbox size limitations and/or to avoid the use of .PST files.
While requirements vary, in practice designers only have a limited number of solutions to choose from for interfacing SharePoint with Outlook. The limitations of each solution vary considerably and can have profound consequences on the key success factors I discussed in the last post. Therefore, it’s important to understand, up front, what the options are. The following list summarizes some of the variables that designers will encounter between different solutions for email management in SharePoint. Where practical, I’ve outlined recommended best practices that will help to achieve an optimal result.
- .msg Email File Type – storing emails directly in .msg format keeps the emails and attachments together (if desired) and enables users to easily open them later in Outlook. Some solutions that move emails to SharePoint from Outlook will strip email attachments off and store the email body in .eml format (which cannot be opened by MS Outlook).
- User Provisioned Library Setup – one of the great advantages of SharePoint is that users can easily setup and configure document libraries and lists on their own, then move content to them without requiring IT support. Solutions that require IT to setup the association between Outlook folders and SharePoint libraries will not gain widespread acceptance by end users and will create a lot of work for IT.
- Drag-and-Drop Within Outlook – the user interface is key to rapid acceptance of any email management solution. MS Outlook users have come to expect they can just drag content into Outlook folders to move it to Exchange or PSTs. Solutions that follow this method for moving content to SharePoint will reduce training time and increase adoption.
- Automatic Metadata Extraction – email metadata (i.e. To:, From: etc.) are critical for the success of any solution since they enable emails to be classified for organization with SharePoint views and search. Emails have over 20 distinct properties, so it is not practical for users to enter these manually. A successful email solution should automatically capture all required email properties and store them in SharePoint. This solution should be configurable so email properties can be properly mapped to SharePoint metadata.
- Support for Custom Properties – requirements often extend beyond the capture of standard email properties to custom metadata properties (such as project #, document type, or workflow). A versatile email management solution should enable users to set custom properties at the time they move emails and attachments into SharePoint. This eliminates the need for them to set custom metadata in SharePoint later – a deterrant to adoption.
- Support for Content Types – SharePoint 2007 Content Types are very powerful for centrally administering document retention policies and defining required metadata. Users should be able to choose (from a list) the Content Type they wish to apply to an email and attachment. The solution should update available metadata fields depending on the content type chosen so that users do not need to set required metadata later in SharePoint
- Offline Access to SharePoint Content – a certain percentage of users will require offline access to email content stored in SharePoint so they can access it when they are traveling (on the plane, at a client site etc.). This need is often high in project teams. Choose a solution that provides users the capability to selectively cache content they have moved into SharePoint.
There are a number of out-of-the-box solutions that come standard with a combination of SharePoint and Microsoft Office. These are very neatly summarized by Kathy Hughes in her recent presentation on the different MOSS email upload alternatives. These solutions are as follows:
- Drag-and-drop to SharePoint Explorer View
- “Connect to Outlook” Discussions
- Send Emails to SharePoint Document Libraries and Lists
- Exchange 2007 Managed Folders
Each of the out-of-the-box methods has it’s own unique set of capabilities. For instance, Colligo Email Manager reinvents Outlook as your interface to SharePoint, and works in conjunction with Colligo Console as the command center for data governance, policy deployment, and monitoring user adoption.
Like to learn more? Read about 4 Email Problems That SharePoint Can Solve Now.
This post was initially published in May 2008, and has been updated.