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Email Records Management and SharePoint

by Trevor Dyck
Director of Product Management, Colligo Networks

Today the world exchanges over 90 billion emails every year. There is no doubt that email is the predominant form of communications both within and between organizations. Yet, organizations struggle with how to manage emails, the content contained in emails, and attachments- both for collaboration and records management purposes. Lost or "smoking gun" information contained in emails hits the news from time to time, and corporations are held to account for the mishandling of vital emails. If Morgan Stanley had been able to locate and produce all their emails in one case, they may have avoided a $15million fine.

A study conducted in 2010 by AIIM confirms that management of emails shows considerable inconsistency. About one-fourth of the responding organizations reported they maintain everything, nearly one-third have either no policies or non-enforced policies, and another fourth have deletion policies that do not discriminate among emails. In 26 percent of organizations surveyed, email records maintained beyond their retention period affected a court case, and the effect was usually adverse. If this does not make you sit up and think about your company's email records management processes, I don't know what will?

Emails come in all shapes and sizes. Certainly, not all of them are vital to keep on record. So, how do you approach setting up a system where those vital pieces of information are kept so that employees that need access to them can easily search and find what they are looking for? How do you ensure you are compliant with regulations, laws and standards? Why is email management so hard?

Email Management Poses a Challenge to IT
To answer the last question first. Deploying and supporting an effective email management solution can pose significant challenges for the IT department. First on that list is the heavy storage requirements of emails. Emails and their attachments eat up significant amounts of storage on a continuous basis - new information is constantly coming in. Second, serious thought needs to be put into an email management system that supports categorizations of emails and preserves critical email metadata such as "Sent," "Received," "Subject," etc. Third, an email management system will need to support accurate and timely search of content. With the overwhelming number of technology choices and strategies to consider, IT personnel are often left scratching their heads at what solutions to consider.

Let's break this down to its bare essentials and then build a case for using SharePoint for email management. Email management requirements are often driven by three broad scenarios.

  1. Collaboration: members of a team or department who need to share emails as part of a project.
  2. Retention: the need to store and search emails and attachments for business continuity, regulatory or legal reasons.
  3. Archiving: to reduce storage requirements or to prune email archives.

Today, users must sort through thousands of emails to find the critical ones while being pressed to make decisions immediately. It's difficult for individual users to find, categorize and sort content to stay efficient, so data gets lost and time is wasted searching for information.

Considerations for Email Management
Although Mailbox folders are great for storing and organizing emails and their attachments for the individual user, this solution does not make sense for teams, departments and company-wide initiatives. So, how do you manage and retain email records across an entire organization - where do you start?

In one word: planning. Make email management a company-wide initiative. It takes the combined efforts and expertise of each business unit, IT, legal and records management to effectively manage email. Provide clear company-wide policies around email management. Don't let each employee fend for themselves, vital data is lost that way.

Then, implement. Many organizations are adopting the three-zone approach as a best practice for email record management. Simply stated, the three zone approach is:

Zone 1: Emails are automatically deleted from a user's personal inbox after a set time period unless the user marks the email for further use. The common time period is 90 days. This keeps a user's inbox relatively small and current.

Zone 2: Emails in this zone have corporate value, but are not yet records. These emails should be either deleted or declared as a record at some point.

Zone 3: These emails are records and are stored in an enterprise records repository.

Microsoft SharePoint for Email Records Management
Popular collaboration platform, Microsoft SharePoint, is often considered by companies looking for a document management solution. However, there is a case to be made for using SharePoint for email records management.

A few of you might interject here. Wouldn't Microsoft Exchange be the natural choice for managing emails? Compared to its smaller cousin, Exchange Managed Folders, SharePoint does, however, provide a better scenario for retaining emails. While Managed Folders is a viable solution for some basic use-cases, organizations with more sophisticated retention, disposition and compliance requirements need to look at deploying SharePoint. Using the above three zone email management strategy, the recommendation is that SharePoint is used for Zone 2 and Zone 3 email records management.

With that view in mind, let's look through some issues you'll face when retaining email records and how SharePoint solves them.

Central repository for all electronic records: SharePoint supports all content types including email, documents, spreadsheets, etc., so that they can all be stored together in a central repository.

Legal holds: All content types, email included, can have a legal hold applied in a similar manner.

"Send & File" (automatically filing an email as a record while sending): SharePoint in conjunction with an email management plug-in, such as Colligo Contributor Pro, provides "Send & File" functionality, allowing more emails to be captured as records.

Adding additional metadata to an email: SharePoint allows additional metadata to be added to an email or attachment, increasing findability and enabling workflows and retention setting.

Filing of an attachment separate from an email: email and attachments can be filed together or separately with different disposition policies, or an attachment can be filed without the accompanying email.

Multistage retention policy: multistage retention can be set on any email. As well, a retention policy for an email can be set based on the metadata applied to it, rather than just the folder in which it is stored.

Applying workflow on content that originates as email: SharePoint allows workflows to be triggered by email based on where the email is stored, its content type or any other metadata value.

Collaboration and knowledge sharing: SharePoint allows team members to access emails and attachment for better project, matter and program management.

User-driven enterprise search: SharePoint, as a centralized records repository with record-level metadata, enables extremely effective user-driven enterprise search.

Implementation and ongoing administration overhead: SharePoint offers an intuitive GUI for implementation and ongoing administration. Many functions can be enabled by the user, rather than IT.

SharePoint Takes You beyond Records Management
The advantages of using Microsoft SharePoint for email management are clear. They include:

  • Secure records retention (no accidental or purposeful deletion)
  • Complex disposition policies based on different content types
  • Effective legal holds on both email and attachments
  • Advanced metadata capabilities for improved search and e-discovery
  • Advanced workflows triggered via content types or metadata
  • Reduced IT administration burden and overhead

However, the most significant advantage of SharePoint is the collaboration and knowledge sharing capabilities that SharePoint provides to an organization. With email now a critical component of an organization's information assets, the ability to store email alongside other types of content in a centralized repository that can be accessed, searched and shared across the enterprise makes SharePoint the ideal platform for email records management.

Related Reading

Protecting Your Email Infrastructure

Email Continuity: Maintaining Communications in Times of Disaster

Separating Backup and Archiving: Securing Your Digital Information

Email Management

 
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