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The email management problem (and how to solve it)

21 March, 2022

Managing emails in highly regulated environments as well, such as life science, healthcare, local government and construction is essential. But unfortunately in many businesses, there is no email management tool or process in place, meaning it's incredibly easy to experience email overload, poor productivity, lack of visibility over important updates, or even losing the information you desperately need. 

The way we see it is that businesses have three options on how to address the email management problem. They can:

  1. Purchase a non-Microsoft email management solution 

  2. Utilise Microsoft's various email and document applications

  3. Implement SharePoint throughout their organisation to store emails and documents

All three of these choices can benefit firms who are already investing in Microsoft's wide technology offerings. In this blog, we dive into the different ways you can address the email management problem in your organisation.

Option 1: Purchasing a non-Microsoft email solution

When business leaders are initially faced with the email management problem, their first response (from our experience) is to look beyond the Microsoft capabilities they already have. They look to invest in third-party applications and software that have dedicated email functionality like Mimecast or Newforma. The main advantage of these third-parties is they are often industry-aligned and allow you to get on top of your email management company wide.

While these tools do offer unique capabilities for email management, we often find you're burdened with unnecessary costs. Some of these include a large overhead to deploying this into your company's infrastructure, training and roll-out initiatives to get your staff using the tools, paying for additional features you don't need, plus it's an extra product to maintain for your overworked IT team.

"An email can sometimes be your only defence two years after an event so they are critical, more so than anything else, and that's what spurred us to start looking around. It [Deltek] also wasn't a streamlined interface with Outlook and so in order to store or file away the emails, it was a little bit involved and not quite as intuitive. Something we found ultimately was that the engineers couldn't be bothered to go through all the steps and all the hoops to store their emails. So, we ended up paying for a very expensive system that no one was using and having the same issue we were always having on the server with people storing 20,000 emails on their desktops." - Graeme Parker, Director at In2 Engineering Design Partnership

Option 2: Utilise Microsoft's existing applications

To avoid the costs of investing in a third-party solution, Microsoft already has an abundance of tools at your disposal. Organisations have three main out-of-the-box combinations they can use to make the most of their Office 365 investment:

Storing emails in Exchange and documents in SharePoint

In this scenario, businesses store emails in Exchange via Outlook and store their documents in SharePoint or OneDrive. Generally speaking, everyone in an organisation has experience using Outlook or Exchange so this can be a quick fix. You won't need to spend a heap of time and money training your team, Outlook rules can automatically archive emails in Exchange and you can use the Outlook search function to look for emails you need.

However, when you're emails are saved in a different location to important documents and contracts, your business-critical information remains in silos, locked away in individual inboxes and contributing to the email management problem. There is also no classification capabilities for your emails making it almost impossible to find the information you need, and it doesn't provide a way to save attachments as records. This can cause huge compliance issues and might be the deciding factor in a dispute if you don't have access to the information you need.

Using advanced email features in Outlook and other applications

As a working professional, you may be no stranger to using advanced Outlook features like Group mailboxes while using tools like Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive for document storage. In these situations, emails are stored in Microsoft Exchange and then duplicated to every group member. Then using Teams (and SharePoint), you can store files but they're generally only accessible via the Teams interface. Documents here remain unclassified (without metadata) and can be easily lost amongst conversations.

The benefits of using this email management option is that you can make use of your existing Microsoft tools that staff already use, it's relatively easy to get started and you can use the Office 365 eDiscovery tool to find the information you need. But on the flip side, you cannot classify emails meaning it's almost impossible to find related emails and documents, you can't structure your content in subgroups with permissions, emails are again kept separate from other documents, and users need to manually move their emails into the group mailboxes that have been set up. This still carries a high-level of risk and opens you up to human error.

Using Office 365 labels

Office 365 labels can be used to classify your content as a record, making it easy for you to identify what emails need further attention. Plus, with labels you have the opportunity to create rules to automatically carry out the actions you want, e.g. moving emails from certain domains into specific folders. And, they can be applied to Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive and Groups, giving a level of control that ensures appropriate emails are deleted, retained or marked as a record.

Unfortunately though, these controls are quite limited and can be hard to set up correctly. It's not an easy solution for users with limited classification options, and for records, labels need to be applied manually which becomes quite time-intensive. It can be easy to make mistakes in this process with conflicting label policies and in some cases, it's taken up to 7 days for automatic labels to be applied.

Option 3: Make use of SharePoint to store emails & documents

From reading this, you may have come to the conclusion that SharePoint is the only viable option for your firm as it can be used as a central repository for your emails and documents. And you'd be correct. By utilising SharePoint, you can capture important emails and documents in one central location with the added benefit of using metadata. You can set up Outlook rules to automatically tag emails as documents of record and upload these directly to SharePoint, use eDiscovery to find information, and you can see the latest version of documents. This has wide-reaching benefits for everyone in the company as they have access to the information they need, when they need it, boosting productivity, collaboration and overall compliance. But, similarly to the other options, users still need to manually upload and apply metadata for their emails.

You may also be interested in: Transform your projects by embracing SharePoint

The missing piece of the puzzle

In all of the options outlined in this blog, your team's experience is the only thing that falls by the wayside. Each alternative presented relies heavily on the user following a manual process which can often get left until later or forgotten about completely. As a result, email management initiatives can fail. Fixing this is the final piece of the email management puzzle.

Book in a meeting with our team today to see how Mail Manager can automate your email filing to your server, SharePoint, or wherever you store your important information. We're also offering free trials of the tool so you can see for yourself how easy email management can be.

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