Imagine a World without Attachments

Imagine for a second a world without any email attachments. Got to thinking yesterday about this whole thing we call email and how SharePoint plays a major role today inside of organizations trying to get rid of email attachments.

I was thinking of the “why” behind email attachments. What was the main reason behind having such a feature?

  • Was it simply to let be?
  • Was it to allow people who are trying to communicate over a network to have the ability to share notes and documents they’re working on?
  • Was it to get information stored in various forms over to the other side quickly?
  • Was storage cheap back then?
  • Was it laziness with no one caring about the implications of adding a feature like this?
  • Was it that we all need context and that for me to understand what you’re really saying, I need to look at a screen shot?
  • Was it I just don’t have the time to visit in person and sign your letter of intent, so just fax me it or you know what just send it to me in an attachment, I’ll sign it, scan it, and send it back the same way
  • Was it to let developers share code
  • I don’t know….

Email servers, in their simplest form, should be able to allow the transfer of email messages back and forth from client to client. That’s it. Email messages. Electronic mail. Mail should be only text. So where did we add this attachment thing? When did it come along? I’m still looking for the actual set of requirements that I may never find.

Challenges

Yes. With every new feature a new set of problems get introduced. We solve something and we bring something else to life. Some of the issues we encounter when it comes to dealing with and managing email attachments are:

  • Attachment size and limits on the client and server side
  • Virus and scanning for virus introduced by attachments
  • Various File Formats and Rich content that may introduce a viewing or rendering issues
  • Email client limitations
  • Storage and retrieval
  • Retention and auditing issues
  • Information management
  • Not all recipients of an email message with attachments need those attachments
  • More… believe me

How can Exchange and SharePoint help

As an organization, think about email and how your users use it. Think about what information is contained in email messages that may help you make better decisions. There could be very important key information contained in email messages and attachments that you may like to track, organize and categorize.

Think about the unstructured and try to make it structured.

So, given the above challenges and assumed requirements, how can we use what’s at our disposal from a technology perspective to help mitigate and automate the communication and processes that surround email attachments.

Enter, Exchange Managed Folders and SharePoint Content and Document Management features.

My ultimate goal is to have the following:

  1. 1. No more attachments in email messages
  2. 2. Extract attachments and send them over to SharePoint with some metadata
  3. 3. Users behind the firewall utilize SharePoint for content and document management
  4. 4. Partners and Clients outside of the firewall utilize project workspaces and extranet sites for collaboration and communication
  5. 5. Integrate the Outlook, Exchange, SharePoint, and the file system experience

Let’s paint the picture of a perfect world.

Let’s talk scenarios. Here are few scenarios along with their respective alternatives.

Scenario Alternative
Developer to Developer sending a piece of code hidden inside of a zip file renamed to TXT file extension Some mail servers and filtering agents are smart enough to know what’s going on. But in a perfect world, let’s think about an alternative here.1. Use Code repositories
Sharing a Sales presentation with a prospective client 2. View / Publish presentation so you can view it inside of a browser from anywhere
Communicating with an external project team member 1. Use externally facing project workspace
Internal employees collaborating on a project 1. Use project workspaces
Human Resources department communicating to employees about Policy changes 1. Use department workspace

Technically speaking, the following set of technologies may be deployed to meet and enhance the user experience when managing email and attachments.

Technology / Platform Features
Exchange 2010 Managed Folders
Inbox Rules
Forward Mailboxes / Email Forwarding
SharePoint 2010 SMTP Server
Incoming Email
SharePoint Directory Management Service
Content Organizer
In-Place Records Managements
Managed Metadata
Advanced Routing
Digital Asset Management
PowerPoint 2010 Broadcast
Office Web Applications
Workflows
Alerts
Announcements
SharePoint Workspace 2010 Offline Content
Team/Partner collaboration

Given time, I am hoping to follow up with additional posts that will dig into some of the features I listed above and how we would actually use them. Meanwhile, take a look at the following references to get you started.

Reference Topic Link
Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2010 SP1 Understanding Managed Folders
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee364744.aspxMessaging Records Management
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb123507.aspx

Mail Forwarding
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd351134.aspx

SharePoint 2010 Plan Incoming Email
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc263260.aspxPlan for SharePoint Workspace 2010
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee649106.aspx

What’s New in ECM
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee559353.aspx

Office Web Applications
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff431687.aspx

Configure Broadcast site
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee837423.aspx

Plan Digital Asset Libraries
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee414275.aspx

Take it easy.

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About jharbieh

I'm an IW Solutions Architect with background in requirements gathering, planning, design, architecture, and development (not necessarily in the right order). Currently, my focus is on the Microsoft Cloud, Productivity and Collaboration space. Hope you enjoy what I write about here. Thanks for visiting. Johnny Harbieh
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