July 5, 2023

Leveraging Metadata for Email Management

Putting things in writing has consequences for organizations subject to any number of regulatory compliance, security, or data governance policies. The second pen hits paper, a document gets saved, or an email is sent, the clock starts ticking on how to handle those records going forward.

The scope of complying with both internal and industry regulations is daunting for IT professionals trying to shepherd their organization through this never-ending gauntlet. And while files and documents provide their own particular nuances, emails present a unique challenge.

Why email is trickier

First and foremost, most people send and receive exponentially more business-related emails compared to actual files they deal with, but most of those emails don’t matter very much. Additionally, collaboration platforms such as SharePoint and Microsoft Teams have made huge leaps in managing version control issues so now there are far fewer iterations and copies of those files floating around.

Aside from the sheer volume of emails compared to other artifacts that may fall under a retention or destruction policy, emails also don’t have standard naming conventions. Whatever someone put in the subject line at the beginning of the thread will remain at the top, even when the conversation veers into other territories.

And since emails are communication between two or more people, they often end up in multiple inboxes within your organization. This leaves employees with uncertainty regarding how others in the conversation are handling those messages.

How metadata helps

Archiving emails on SharePoint or Microsoft Teams gets messages out of Outlook and into a superior environment for retention, management, and (eventually) destruction. It also allows organizations to utilize metadata for a more holistic and comprehensive approach to understanding what those emails contain and what that means in terms of compliance.

Metadata is particularly valuable for emails for a few reasons:

  • Individual emails may touch on multiple topics, customers, products, or transactions. This makes filing them in a single location problematic if different aspects of the email fall under multiple policies based on the contents.
  • Emails also often lack key identifying information in their subject lines. While each message could be manually renamed to reflect its contents, that’s not a particularly scalable or reliable solution.
  • Emails are also—in comparison to other file types—kind of weird. They may have other files attached, they could contain images and/or text, but they don’t always have either of them. One message might just say “Sounds good” in response to a prior email in the thread, while another could contain thousands of words of formatted text. All this variability makes it difficult to always have the perfect “box” to store it in.

By enabling emails to get tagged with multiple values, metadata creates a holistic topography of information to aid in retention and destruction policy compliance. Each individual email can be tagged across multiple dimensions and—if applicable—with multiple values for each property.

For example, when an employee at a law firm archives an email related to a case, multiple metadata tags can be applied, such as:

  • Client
  • Case Number
  • Case Phase (i.e. discovery, trial, appeal)
  • Venue (i.e. county, state, federal)
  • Topic (i.e. physical evidence, deposition, accounts receivable, travel logistics)
  • Assigned Staff

By assigning those different metadata tags, that email is now properly categorized across a few dimensions, and other metadata (including time stamps and contract lengths) will inform the more calendar-based aspects of your policies. This provides much-needed context when implementing both manual and automated retention and destruction policies on SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.

Streamlining compliance for end users with harmon.ie

While the benefits of tagging archived emails with metadata is obvious, getting this to happen consistently in real life is another matter. Getting users to archive their emails appropriately is hard enough… Now you want them to add metadata every time?

Luckily, there’s a simple solution that will make everyone’s lives easier. With the harmon.ie 365 Suite, archiving emails to SharePoint or Microsoft Teams is a quick drag-and-drop experience right from Outlook.

Not only that, but organizations can configure harmon.ie to make defining some metadata fields mandatory to complete the archiving process. This injects metadata tagging directly into the end-user workflow as part of that step, rather than making it a follow-on task that may or may not get completed.

Eliminate the excuses and get your colleagues categorizing and classifying their emails every time! Learn more about how harmon.ie can help or begin your free trial today.

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