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People- vs. Project-Centric Email Workflow

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Posted by Ken
Nov 29, 2021 at 09:40 PM

 

This topic has been on my mind for the past few months as our office has been trying to increase utilization of MS Sharepoint for collaborative workspaces and storage of documents and communication.  My apologies if this post is a bit long or seems slightly OT, but I think that many regulars here will have some thoughts on this issue.  I work in a large municipal government that is runs on Microsoft Office products.  Our email system pre-dated Outlook when it ran on Novel’s GroupWise, so I have a fairly old archive of messages that has been migrated over the years.  Messages are retained for legal and informational purposes, and were often considered a departmental responsibility.  When a person left, their email account was to be preserved, and if their replacement was reasonably sharp, they might have asked for access to that account so they had some history to reference if need be.  In short, the messages were stored with the person.  If you wanted find out something, you had to know who might have worked on a project.  Files were stored in a somewhat similar fashion, but at least MS File Manager offered shared folder prior to the existence of SharePoint.

Today, we still store email and person files by person, but given the more recent rate of turnover in the work environment, this has made less and less sense.  And, with Teams being rolled out on top of SharePoint, it is quite easy to store files and chats by project rather than by individual persons (or in addition to individual persons).  This makes a lot of sense for an organization since questions most often arise about specific projects rather than specific people.  But, the issue I struggle with is how to easily store large number of email messages (with internal and external parties) with a project rather than a person’s account.  I have seen examples of where IT staff have dissembled messages into metadata and then tried to put them in some type of SP database that is searchable, but that seems like a Frankenstein approach that is not at all user friendly.

I realize that I am constrained by our departmental policies, but I am still curious as to how others have handled this issue.  One thought I had was to ask if we could create email accounts for projects, but I suspect that will get shot down.  Any thoughts or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

—Ken

 


Posted by Larry_in_Bangkok
Nov 30, 2021 at 06:50 AM

 

Ken wrote:
> My apologies if
>this post is a bit long or seems slightly OT, but I think that many
>regulars here will have some thoughts on this issue.

///


...Excellent post, Ken.
Thank you for taking your time to prepare it.

... I view this forum as a source of tools for people who organize ideas.
Outliners certainly are one of the prime tools for that, but not the only tool.


>When a person
>left, their email account was to be preserved, and if their replacement
>was reasonably sharp, they might have asked for access to that account
>so they had some history to reference if need be.  In short, the
>messages were stored with the person. 


... Have you considered a system of email aliases?

    Jim@project-A.engineering.city.org
    Mike@project-A.engineering.city.org
    Betty@project-A.accounting.city.org
 
    Jim@project-B.engineering.city.org
    Alex@project-B.legal.city.org
    Charlie@project-B.personnel.city.org
    Bill@project-B.sanitation.city.org

    Jim@engineering.city.org
    Mike@engineering.city.org
    Betty@accounting.city.org
    Alex@legal.city.org
    Charlie@personnel.city.org
    Bill@sanitation.city.org


... No new software.
No programming.
No cost.
Negligible training time.
1/2 page handout of instructions.
And a heavy wood ruler for Ken to walk around and slap the knuckles of those who don’t follow instructions.

 

 


Posted by Paul Korm
Nov 30, 2021 at 12:00 PM

 

@Ken, I have worked at implementing very large M365 (nee O365) installations in government—I assume that is what your agency is running on.  The short story is that the underlying infrastructure to do what you want to do is there.  M365 has very robust tools and metadata that can be used to mark the data (emails, documents, messages, etc.) in multiple ways.  You might want to look into, for example, the advanced e-discovery features of M365. 

Specifically on the creation and management of project mailboxes—that is a very common approach that is accomplished with group mailboxes.  Many agencies settle on a naming convention for these mailboxes, and they need administrator(s), but you should be able to find plenty of use cases describing that in the public domain.  We considered group mailboxes—for projects, or deparments, or other non-personal uses—as a way to avoid storing email with institutional importance in personal mailboxes that later get abandoned when the inevitable retirement or resignation occurs. 

If you can get your technical staff involved with users in a conversation with your agency’s Microsoft technical account team, you will probably be able to work toward a solution.  One interesting thing is that a lot of the security and data administration underpinnings of O/M365, from a user perspective, were designed with a heavy hand from Microsoft’s legal departments.  If anyone knows the value and challenges of lost data, it is the legal team.

 


Posted by Ken
Nov 30, 2021 at 03:44 PM

 

Larry_in_Bangkok wrote:

>...Excellent post, Ken.
>Thank you for taking your time to prepare it.
> >... I view this forum as a source of tools for people who organize ideas.
>Outliners certainly are one of the prime tools for that, but not the only tool.
> >
> >
>... Have you considered a system of email aliases?
> >    Jim@project-A.engineering.city.org
>    Mike@project-A.engineering.city.org
>    Betty@project-A.accounting.city.org

>    Jim@project-B.engineering.city.org
>    Alex@project-B.legal.city.org
>    Charlie@project-B.personnel.city.org
>    Bill@project-B.sanitation.city.org
> >    Jim@engineering.city.org
>    Mike@engineering.city.org
>    Betty@accounting.city.org
>    Alex@legal.city.org
>    Charlie@personnel.city.org
>    Bill@sanitation.city.org
> >
>... No new software.
>No programming.
>No cost.
>Negligible training time.
>1/2 page handout of instructions.
>And a heavy wood ruler for Ken to walk around and slap the knuckles of
>those who don’t follow instructions.
>

Thank you for indulging this question.  I would agree that this is a great place to tools to help us organize data, ideas and information.  And it is a great archive for me as well since I can search back to many a thread.

I agree that alias mailboxes would be a great option, but I am far down in the pecking order, so I can suggest and encourage, but would probably need to carry around a box of chocolates instead of a stick!

—Ken

 


Posted by Ken
Nov 30, 2021 at 03:50 PM

 

Paul Korm wrote:
@Ken, I have worked at implementing very large M365 (nee O365)
>installations in government—I assume that is what your agency is
>running on.  The short story is that the underlying infrastructure to do
>what you want to do is there.  M365 has very robust tools and metadata
>that can be used to mark the data (emails, documents, messages, etc.) in
>multiple ways.  You might want to look into, for example, the advanced
>e-discovery features of M365. 
> >Specifically on the creation and management of project mailboxes—that
>is a very common approach that is accomplished with group mailboxes.
>Many agencies settle on a naming convention for these mailboxes, and
>they need administrator(s), but you should be able to find plenty of use
>cases describing that in the public domain.  We considered group
>mailboxes—for projects, or deparments, or other non-personal uses—
>as a way to avoid storing email with institutional importance in
>personal mailboxes that later get abandoned when the inevitable
>retirement or resignation occurs. 
> >If you can get your technical staff involved with users in a
>conversation with your agency’s Microsoft technical account team, you
>will probably be able to work toward a solution.  One interesting thing
>is that a lot of the security and data administration underpinnings of
>O/M365, from a user perspective, were designed with a heavy hand from
>Microsoft’s legal departments.  If anyone knows the value and
>challenges of lost data, it is the legal team.

Yes, you have described our setup pretty well.  I do sit on a working group for technology implementation, so I do have some access to mid-level staff who can help me shape up a possible proposal.  Ironically, we had originally outsourced our archive software when we moved to Outlook to meet our legal retention requirements, but that is a whole other story.  So, I believe that MS is handling some of our current retention features.  I just need to find a user-friendly way of getting project files to a common project repository, most likely in SP with a Teams front end that meets approval.  It is not going to be an easy sell, but with some background research here, at least I will hopefully not be barking up the wrong tree.

Thanks,

—Ken

 


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