E-mail management in SharePoint – why third party software is required

I have recently been working with a case management solution for a client. One of the most important requirements was that the e-mail conversations related to the case needed to be stored in a structured way that allows other people in the organization to access it if needed. The content of the e-mails also needs to be searchable, which the SharePoint search engine will do out of the box.

Even though SharePoint has a quite sophisticated integration with Outlook, it’s not as easy as one might think to move incoming and outgoing e-mail messages from the user’s personal inboxes to SharePoint. Sure, you can connect a document library in SharePoint to Outlook, but that will only give you read access to the files. If you want to store e-mails in a document library you need to use the explorer view or upload the msg files manually. That’s just not good enough if you want the end users to really adopt the tool and not just continue as usual, storing e-mails in their own exchange folders!

After trying out a few different options, we decided to go with a third party add in to Outlook called Colligo Add-In for Outlook. This component allows you to connect SharePoint libraries to Outlook and work with them just as folders in your mailbox. It also automatically extracts metadata about the e-mail such as subject, recipient, sender, etc and stores it in corresponding SharePoint columns. The possibility to just drag and drop e-mails to from the mailbox to SharePoint makes a world of difference for the end users.

There are a few other third party components available as well, but we decided to go with Colligo mainly because it’s a client solution that doesn’t require any server side component at all in the SharePoint environment.

Of course, the best thing would be if Microsoft could refine their Outlook integration a bit, and provide this functionality out of the box. Until that happens, we’re really happy that there are plenty of third party software vendors that can provide solutions for SharePoint’s weak points.