E-mail Records Management Part 4: Quota Management and Sending E-mail to the Records Center

Greetings, everyone! In this post, we are going to conclude our discussion of e-mail records management by talking about some of the other policies that can apply to Microsoft Exchange 2007’s managed folders. If you haven’t read the previous posts on e-mail management, I suggest that you start from the beginning.

In this post, we’ll start by talking about mailbox quota management. In the “old days,” quota management was all about enforcing one size quota on an entire mailbox (e.g. all users have 1GB of mail storage). With managed folders, an Exchange administrator can set a quota on each folder. When a particular managed folder is over its quota, Outlook will notify the user directly in the client. There is no need to send an “over quota” e-mail, and, once again, this is an example of the Office user interface educating users about corporate policy.

For instance, suppose that a managed folder, “Non-Work Related,” has a 25 MB quota. When the Non-Work Related folder is over its quota in a user’s mailbox, it is flagged in red, and the policy statement alerts the user:

Note: Red circles were added for clarity.

In this example, the IT-related goal is to minimize the amount of corporate resources dedicated to non-work related e-mail while still giving end users a lot of control over their own inboxes.

While this approach is no panacea, it is a way of encouraging good user behavior. For instance, I know many of us (myself included) take the following approach to managing our mailbox quotas: Sort the inbox by mail size and delete the largest items without regard to corporate retention policy. Folder quotas are a more precise tool to help IT departments manage storage costs while reducing the impact on corporate retention policy.

Now I’d like to switch gears and describe a policy related to managed folders than many readers of this blog have been waiting for: sending e-mail to a records repository. Any managed folder can be configured such that all e-mail sent to that folder will be journaled off to a records repository, such as a SharePoint Records Center.

What does this mean? E-mail messages and their attachments are sent off to SharePoint along with an extract of their metadata (e.g. From, To, CC, BCC, Subject). They are then passed through the same records routing framework that documents from SharePoint go through when they are sent to a Records Center site. By configuring the Records Routing list, records managers can route e-mail messages to particular document libraries based upon a label associated with each managed folder. For example, all e-mail dragged to an “Agreements with Partners” managed folder might be routed to a “Contracts” document library. Once in this library, the e-mail would pick up the same Contract metadata schema and expiration policy as Microsoft Word contracts stored in that library. This allows for the management of e-mail records alongside documents and other types of records using a submittal method that end users already use every day (i.e. dragging and dropping to folders).

One obvious question about this process is, “What about metadata on the e-mail record?” On the one hand, e-mail has a larger amount of system-generated metadata than documents do (To, From, CC, BCC, Subject). However, unlike SharePoint, Exchange and Outlook don’t have a way to collect custom metadata on an item (e.g. “Date this contract was signed.”). By taking the e-mail out of Exchange and into SharePoint, we expose the ability to collect a rich amount of metadata about the items. Not to mention, we also have other advanced records management functionality: complex disposition, workflows, and holds are just a few examples.

How does the user enter that metadata? To decrease the tax on the end user during the submission process, we don’t collect the metadata immediately when the user drags the e-mail to a managed folder. Instead, SharePoint queues the submitted messages in a holding zone. After a specified period of time, SharePoint sends one e-mail to the submitter asking him to fill out the missing metadata on all pending items that he owns. We then provide spreadsheet-like UI for bulk entering metadata:

Organizations can choose how often they want to collect the metadata, and it’s really dependent on the individual business process. Highly regulated organizations with lots of records may send out the e-mail reminders often. Other companies may ask their employees to spend a few minutes on Friday updating the metadata for the e-mail records submitted that week.

Getting users to enter metadata is always a challenge in any records management project, especially e-mail. We’ve designed this process to minimize the impact on the user’s everyday work and to make the bulk entering of metadata as easy as possible.

Of course, if there is no need to collect extra metadata, the email message is sent to the correct document library without any further user intervention.

So that concludes our 4-part tour of e-mail records management. As always, keep the questions and comments coming. We only hit the tip of the iceberg with regards to Exchange 2007’s compliance features. I encourage you to check out a couple Exchange blog posts (here and here) for more information. Their blog is targeted to the Exchange administrator, but there is still good information for records managers in there.


Adam Harmetz

Program Manager