Where Is Your Content?

Last Tuesday, I had the privilege to attend an event around the topic of Email Archiving put on by the AIIM New England Chapter. Bill Tolson, Director of Product Marketing for Iron Mountain, and Brett Burney, Lawyer, Burney and Associates talked about the various reasons email archiving is important, best practices around the subject, and as you might expect, the scary realities of eDiscovery requests. There were many interesting and valuable tid-bits offered up during the presentations, but the one statement that stuck in my head was when Bill Tolson said “you have to know what to throw away!
When we build out SharePoint to support ECM goals, we are usually focused on creating a place to put content. I have heard that there are some enlightened ones among us, who add features like retention policies and destruction dates, but that isn’t the kind of “throwing away” I am talking about today. I am thinking about the content that went into SharePoint – was it moved? Was it copied? Does it still exist? Do you know the answer? Well, if you don’t know the answer, then you need to be prepared to search. Searching leads to finding things, things that you find have to be reviewed and things that aren’t privileged need to be served up when a discover request arrives. I have only been involved in one eDiscovery request, but I learned what Brett Burney meant when he said “the answer to what has to be provided in response to a discovery request is – it depends.” Here’s one example:

Among the places we had to search for instances of three specific text strings, were the folders holding old flat-file database tables. In one folder was a table that included one of the search phrases. In a folder below that, was a collection of 10 sorted versions of that table. The sub-folder was called “TempReport” the sorted files all included ‘temp’ in the file name, and we could show that the files held records identical to those in the table, to be used for reporting. None of that mattered, we were ultimately required to convert each file into a spreadsheet, describe it in detail and provide it in response to the request.

When I migrate files from a shared folder into SharePoint, I copy them. After they arrive in SharePoint, I rename the folder structure to indicate that the files were uploaded to SharePoint, and I make the folders read-only. After a few backup cycles, once I can convince the users that I have everything and I shouldn’t be able to lose it, I delete the files from the shared folder. That process works well, but I am in charge of the whole process. What happens when individual employees move content into SharePoint? When my coworkers move email, or email attachments into SharePoint from Outlook (see previous post), do they also move the email into a folder in Outlook? Do they put the content in SharePoint and then send a link around to others, or do they move it after forwarding the email to others? Do we have these answers? Do we have a policy that will allow us to search only SharePoint for those documents? I think we do, but I know that the answer is “it depends.” It depends on the judge at the time the request is made. The only way you can know that it doesn’t depend on anything, is when you know that you threw it away. (yes, I know there are times you can’t throw things away, but I do impose an 800 word limit on myself, so…)

Those are easy examples to wrap our heads around, but they are far from the only things we need to consider. For example, in our latest SharePoint project, we are managing the production, review and disposition of engineering inspection reports. During the creation and review process, we keep minor versions. During the distribution process, we create a major version, delete the minor versions and move a PDF copy of the final version to a Records Center. That’s not just our policy; it is a process that is executed by SharePoint workflows – it is also the first time we’ve automated that process.
After Bill and Brett were done speaking at the AIIM NE event, I was talking to a few other members of the audience. The conclusion we came to is that many of us are only providing the means to proper content management. Even governance rules and strict policies can only go so far. There is no real way to prevent people from making and keeping copies of company records. Solving that problem requires changing behavior, and changing behavior requires education and communication.

The Right Tool

clip_image002In the picture to the right, the tool next to MiMi is an impact driver. Of course, it’s the right tool because it’s black and white, but when you have to drive any type of substantial fastener, it’s the only tool for the job. This past Wednesday, I followed a tweet from John Mancini that said “AIIM Survey Concludes That E-Mail Still a Challenge for Most Organizations” and I realized that once again, I own the perfect tool for the job. The job is email management and the tool is Harmon.ie

Take a look at the AIIM survey, and look at the pitiful status of “integration between Outlook and SharePoint”, a category that should have been a slam-dunk for Microsoft from the get-go. Why does “Copy/Transfer to SharePoint” have the worst results in the survey? Because it’s too damn hard to do! Oh, wait, I meant to put that in the past tense, it was too damn hard to do. In fact, storing emails or email attachments in SharePoint was so hard, that some of my biggest SharePoint fans were about to pronounce the content management solution we built for them to be a failure. Over a year ago, they told me “you have got to find a way to make it easy to include email along with the documents we put in SharePoint”. I promised them I would, and then, like any good manager, I told my Systems Administrator to find just such a solution.

He rounded up the “usual suspects”, i.e. every company that claims to make email integration with SharePoint possible. Borrowing a line from Casablanca, given the importance of this project, he rounded-up twice the normal number of suspects. The results were not encouraging. He installed trial versions of several solutions that I never even saw; he had quickly deemed them too difficult to use, too buggy or too expensive. He installed trial versions of at least two products that I did see. The first one seemed to break Outlook, leaving it in a state where certain context menu options no longer functioned. The second actually seemed to work, and made it onto the desk of one of our users for testing. After a few weeks, our conclusion was “there has to be something easier to use than this”. Enter Harmon.ie

Harmon.ie loads into Outlook, and sits on the side of your inbox, and stands ready to receive email or individual attachments. Using the drag and drop interface, I can quickly move email messages or attachments from an open email into any SharePoint library I have setup in Harmon.ie. Setting up those libraries is easy too; I can easily add new sites or libraries, explore all the libraries on a site and navigate through the folder structure if there is one. In addition, Harmon.ie can be shown in an individual email message. That means that if I can’t determine what to do with the message from the subject line, I can handle it or its attachments while reading the message. Of course, as one of my users pointed out, if I were to turn on the Preview Pane, I could handle everything from the inbox. I watched his setup, and Outlook appeared to be a mail processing system. He would click on a message, take a quick look at the contents and then either drag it or its attachments into a library on SharePoint, via Harmon.ie.

Harmon.ie also provides the ability to set document properties, including managed metadata and to create new documents or folders. You can also access the documents on SharePoint from the Harmon.ie sidebar which prompted one of my users to point out that “some days I don’t even go into SharePoint” he simply works out of Outlook. That fact is mildly disturbing, but an amazing bit of praise for the product.

By far the best thing about Harmon.ie from my point of view is how much our users like it. They were growing impatient with us as we looked for a good solution, but they have come to appreciate the fact that we waited until we found the right solution. It also reinforced the fact that we aren’t total SharePoint zealots, we accepted the consensus opinion that email management in SharePoint was simply harder than it should be and we purchased a solution. Sometimes, admitting that SharePoint needs help is a good move for the IT group.

The Fine Print – American Nuclear Insurers didn’t receive anything of value from Harmon.ie for this blog entry, neither did I. I did receive a tee-shirt for recording a video for them while attending Info360, but that had nothing to do with this blog entry either. As with other vendors/products I have mentioned here, I am talking about Harmon.ie today because they are a good company, with a great product that has served us well.

Capture – Human Content

When I first saw the AIIM roadmap, I was in a class that I wasn’t sure I belonged in, AIIM’s ECM Master Class. When I looked closely at this illustration, I started counting the number of things that our little shop has to deal with and I knew that even small businesses can benefit from proper ECM. The topmost entry point to the roadmap is Human Created Information, and that’s where I am going to start today. A quick look at the four lanes of the on-ramp reveals a lot about our organization:

  • Office Documents – This is the single largest piece of our content pie. The content in this piece has varied over time, from typewritten documents that were filmed to Word documents to email; but it remains the leader of our content creation world.
  • Forms – This is always astonishing to the cold-call salesmen and people on the show floor at AIIM Expo, but we have very few forms. We insure Nuclear Power plants, not Volvos; you don’t walk into our lobby to get a policy. What few forms we do have are related to internal accounting, and personnel, e.g. expense processing, benefits and such.
  • Rich media – Depending on your definition, we have a little bit of rich media or no rich media. Like most organizations, our “documents” include more rich content today than 10 years ago, but they are still documents. We also make use of richer mediums like video conferencing, shared collaboration spaces, etc. I would argue that wikis, white boards and presentations shared around the country are rich media, but perhaps it is poor, lean, dull media transmitted though a rich pipeline. In any case, only the results are being treated as content today.
  • Microfilm – Ugh, yes, we have microfilm. Most of what we have on film, is reference material; documents, tables, charts, drawings that couldn’t be carried by any other medium at the time they were needed. Occasionally, we need to recover some of this stuff, but it does not represent an ongoing flow of content.

How well does SharePoint support this side of capture? Office documents, and in this case I mean “Office 2010”, are riding with an E-Z Pass stuck to the windshield. That is, unless you consider email to be a part of Office. There still seems to be a bit of a turf war going on between the SharePoint and Exchange groups within Microsoft. Public Folders were going away in Exchange 2007, but they are still supported in Exchange 2010. In fact, it appears that in the 2010 versions, it might be easier to render views of public folders in SharePoint than move email into SharePoint. I find this troubling because we have a pressing need to integrate email with documents stored in SharePoint. We have looked at several email archiving solutions for SharePoint, and none really stand out as something we want to use. For now, we are using public folders for organizing email and collaborating around email and then moving email in bulk to SharePoint for archive purposes. I don’t like the solution, but it works.

As I mentioned before the mini-rant, the integration between Office applications and SharePoint is sweet. The applications are aware of the structure, understand check-in/check-out and support the metadata of SharePoint document libraries. The integration between Office and SharePoint that was introduced with MOSS 2007 saved SharePoint in our company. If we had to rely on the manual check-out, do your work, save and check-back-in cycle, SharePoint would have sunk under its own weight. We still have to work like that with the applications in Adobe Creative Suite, but thankfully we don’t create much content there.

Our limited need to capture microfilm has been satisfied by one of the best bits of hardware I ever found, a Scan Pro1000 microfilm scanner. I met these folks at AIIM Expo several years ago and I was blown away by the device. We can view and scan individual pages to PDF (at about 1pg/sec) or we can automatically scan entire rolls of film. We operate by a simple rule: if we scan it to PDF, we save it. Of course, we save it in SharePoint.

Even in our little world, capture presents some challenges and some bright spots. At this point of the roadmap, SharePoint hasn’t started to help us, but the fact that Office is well integrated with SharePoint makes capturing the bulk of our on-going human created information easy enough. Not as easy as the K: drive, I’m told, but easy enough. That brings us to the subject of backfilling; which, in this case study is a success story, but one that can wait to be told.