Managing your company’s project e-mail in any kind of organized fashion is always a challenge. At the root of the problem, most organizations are simply trying to minimize their risk. Good record keeping is essential if your company is ever involved in any kind of litigation around a project you were involved in. That is a key element of any mail retention or filing system, however there are other areas that are of concern for AEC firms:
- How can I ensure all e-mail relevant to a project is being retained?
- How do I avoid capturing personal or unimportant e-mail?
- Is e-mail filed on a project by project basis or all in one big pool of e-mail
- Does the end-user need to be involved or trained?
- Is e-mail easily searched and retrievable once filed?
There are many products and services available now that focus primarily on retention of e-mail at the Exchange Server level. That is to say they focus on capturing or retaining ALL of your e-mail long term.
For non-project based companies, keeping all of your e-mail, whether that be through a cloud-based service like Global Relay or using some form of appliance based system like Barracuda Network’s Message Archiver, may be a good enough solution. Both offer the ability to capture all e-mail and search it right out of Outlook. But in a project based organization just having every e-mail isn’t always good enough. Think of the following scenarios where you may need to have a complete record of a project’s e-mail:
- A Project Manager leaves the organization and is handing off all of his projects to one or more people
- A new employee or Project Manager is hired and you need them to get up to speed on one or more projects
- You win a proposal for a job similar to one you’ve done in the past and need to refer to all of the e-mail for that job
- Your company would prefer to keep all e-mail filed with all other project documents in your existing network filing system or even in SharePoint
- Your company is involved in litigation surrounding a project you were a part of and you need to produce a complete record of your project e-mails
These are only a few of the challenges project based organizations face with e-mail retention and filing. In theory solutions like those mentioned above could help solve most of these problems but perhaps not as effectively as most AEC firms would prefer. I know because I’ve faced these challenges in firms I’ve worked in and even went as far as developing an in-house solution to meet the business needs. But that isn’t always practical nor economical over the long term.
Some of the above solutions can offer things like e-mail tagging which can help in the search process down the road but that can also become hard to manage and inconsistent tags can mean important e-mails can be hiding right in front of you.
I recently came across a solution which I wish I had found many years ago. A client of mine mentioned they had been using a product called Mail Manager by a company called Oasys based in the UK. I research a lot of software and I was a bit skeptical at first knowing what I know about the unique needs of AEC firms. But as it turns out, Mail Manager was developed by an engineering firm that was also finding it difficult to manage their e-mail filing and retention needs. The result was so good they turned it into a product and started selling it many years ago. The product is now very mature and has some really great features I think AEC firms would like:
- The product is an Outlook Plug-in which allows a user to instantly file outgoing e-mail or mail from their inbox directly to a network location or SharePoint library.
- E-mail is stored in the native MSG file format with all attachments included
- Mail is indexed and easily searchable right from Outlook
- Can use a stand-alone or a shared license model
- Can be deployed using Windows Group Policy by customizing the MSI file (they even give you a tool for it)
- You have the option to centralize your configuration file and enforce specific settings
- The program learns your filing patterns and makes suggestions for where to file
- All filing locations are indexed and searchable right from Outlook
- Filing locations are stored in XML files and pushed to your users based on the central configuration file and can point to any number of specific locations.
The last point is the biggest selling point for me because it means that we can use some automation to develop the list of locations and even make them dynamic based on different end-user needs. For my clients using Deltek Vision (and likely any SQL database driven ERP) this means we can run workflows and stored procedures to generate filing locations for the end-user. If you potentially have 1000’s of project folders your users will likely only want to see the ones most relevant to them. This is completely possible through the Vision DB.
Mail Manager is a very flexible, feature filled product that seems perfectly suited to the AEC world and is by design ready-made to allow automation as described above.
If you have any questions about this product or how you can deploy it in your environment drop me a line at [email protected] or leave a comment!