Applying recordkeeping policies to email – Microsoft Messaging Records Management (MRM)

The problem

The problem of managing emails as records is summed up in the following statements:

“Many organizations have yet to define an email retention policy. More than one‐quarter of organizations have not yet established any sort of email retention policy despite the fact that there are a growing body of statutory requirements and legal obligations to preserve business records, including those stored in email. Among the nearly three‐quarters of organizations that have established an email retention policy, only two‐thirds of these organizations indicate that their users are fully aware of the policy.” Michael Osterman, “Messaging Archiving and Document Management Markets Trends, 2009-20112”, dated May 2009.

‘Over 40 years after the invention of email, relatively few institutions have developed policies, implementation strategies, procedures, tools and services that support the longterm preservation of records generated via this transformative communication mechanism.’  Christopher J Prom, ‘Preserving Email’, DPC Technology Watch Report 11-01 Decemer 2011. www.dpconline.org/component/docman/doc_download/739-dpctw11-01.pdf

Storing business records in context

Traditional records management theory recommends that there should be a clear relationship between records about a particular subject or issue, regardless of format, and the business context that originated it. (AS ISO 15489-2002: 9.3 Records Capture)

In the paper world, this was achieved by the co-location of related records in a physical file.

In the electronic world, this is usually achieved through the application of metadata. Business classification and naming systems applied to electronic folders generally achieve this; as well, electronic systems also allow for a range of cross-subject metadata that allows records to be organised in different contexts.

Additional, business context-specific metadata can be applied to emails (including from integrated business applications – for example, an email saved to TRIM will show the TRIM record number in its email metadata properties).  However, this ability (as with Properties in Office documents) is rarely enabled or used.

Instead, and as with Office documents, we tend to let users ‘categorise’ their emails (and documents on network shares) through folders – although not all users do this.  (Interestingly, online email systems like Google’s gmail use tags instead of folders).

Are emails documents?

The short answer is yes (in the Australian legal evidence context), but they are documents that, in a way like xml-based Office documents like docx, are made up of structured data that displays as a single ‘document’.

Part of the problem with emails as records is the perception (on the part of users who have never had to face court) that they are not documents, but messages.  The ability to use the system to send or receive ‘private’ messages exacerbates this perception.

The problem of storing emails as records

Emails have been a constant problem and challenge for records managers and recordkeeping since they first appeared in the early 1990s.

The three main approaches to keeping emails have been to (a) print to paper, (b) save to a recordkeeping system, and (c) save to a drive.

Print to paper, while relatively common in many organisations even now, is probably the poorest (and some might say ‘silliest’) option in the digital world as (a) it is dependent on users, (b) emails usually lose their message headers, (c) emails are unsearchable in their electronic form, (d) emails remain on the Exchange system and are discoverable.

Saving emails to a recordkeeping system, while better than printing, is an inadequate option because (a) it is usually dependent on users to do it, (b) the email still remains in the Exchange system, and (c) it can sometimes result in the email being saved in a different format that is not necessarily suitable for long-term preservation (e.g., TRIM’s .vmbx).  There is also the problem of users saving ‘dumb’ emails with (valuable) attachments, which can make the attachment harder to find, identify or access.  Some systems (such as SharePoint 2010) include email-enabled storage locations.

Chris Prom, in a blog posting titled ‘Practical E-Records ‘Facilitating the Generation of Archives in the Facebook Age’, notes that:

‘…the formal recordkeeping systems previously used by many organizations for electronic records have died or have one foot firmly in the grave.  At the same time, the habits that individuals use in producing, consuming, storing, filing, searching, and interpreting records are themselves undergoing constant change.  People adopt new communication technologies at an ever-quickening pace.   Divergent personal practices, rather than the centralized electronic systems, are the harsh reality that confronts our profession’.

Saving to a drive is also a poor option, and is usually based on user preferences to want to ‘keep’ emails.  Emails saved to drives (a) will still remain in the Exchange system, (b) may lose their header information, and (c) are not necessarily saved in appropriate or accessible formats.

In relation to the last point, Outlook does not make it easy for an end user to decide, with usually five options to choose from – which is the right one?  Users will usually choose whatever is the default (.msg), but this isn’t necessarily the best long term option (which is MIME or EML – the latter described by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) as ‘an acceptable open file format for long term storage).

In all cases, keeping these emails in the business context to which they relate has been a constant problem for records managers.  As a consequence, there is a tendency on the part of almost all businesses to leave and manage emails where they are (i.e., in Exchange).

Microsoft Exchange 2010 – Messaging Records Management

To try to address this problem, Microsoft introduced ‘Mailbox Manager Policies’ in Exchange Server 2003.

This was followed by ‘Message Records Management’ with Managed Folders in Exchange Server 2007 (a feature that remains in Exchange 2010).

Exchange Server 2010 includes a new model of managing emails as records, called ‘Messaging Records Management’.  Microsoft describe it as follows:

‘Messaging records management (MRM) is the records management technology in Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 that helps organizations reduce the legal risks associated with e-mail. MRM makes it easier to keep the messages needed to comply with company policy, government regulations, or legal needs, and to remove content that has no legal or business value. This is accomplished through the use of retention policies or managed folders’. (Source: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd335093)

As Microsoft notes, however (on the same page), MRM does not prevent users from deleting messaging; it is really only designed to remove them at the end of a given period.  Microsoft recommend ‘journaling’ emails where there are specific business reasons to keep them for longer (such as legal proceedings or the need to ensure specific email is kept), or applying the Legal Holds functionality.

The key elements of MRM are Retention Policy Tags (RPTs) and Retention Policies.

There are three types of Retention Tags: (1) Default Policy Tags (DPT), (2) Retention Policy Tags, and (3) Personal  Tags (which are an ‘opt-in’ on the email client).

  • Retention Policy Tags (RPTs) are used on default folders (e.g., inbox, junk mail, sent, deleted). Users cannot change the RPT but can override it with a Personal Tag.
  • Default Policy Tags can be applied by users to untagged items.  A Retention Policy can contain only one default policy tag.
  • Personal Tags can be applied by users to their own custom folders or individual emails.

In most cases, users make the decision, and the retention applies on where the email is located.  If there is actual or anticipated litigation, a Retention Hold can be applied to the user’s mailbox; however, this does not prevent users deleting emails, it only overrides any retention policies.  The Legal Hold option should be applied to prevent deletion.  Once this option is applied, Legal Hold ‘captures any deleted or edited items into a special folder that’s neither accessible nor changeable by the user’.

All retention tags include: a Tag Name, a Tag Type, an age limit (in days) with an action to take, and comments.

The actions available are:

  • Delete And Allow Recovery – This action will perform a hard delete, sending the message to the dumpster. The user will be able to recover the item using the Recover Deleted Items dialog box in Outlook 2010 or Outlook Web App.
  • Mark As Past Retention Limit – This action will mark an item as past the retention limit, displaying the message using strikethrough text in Outlook 2007, 2010 or Outlook Web App.
  • Move To Archive – This action moves the message to the users archive mailbox.(see below)
  • Move To Deleted Items – This action will move the message to the Deleted Items folder.
  • Permanently Delete – This action will permanently delete the message and cannot be restored using the Recover Deleted Items dialog box.

Once the tags are created, they can be added to a Retention Policy and this policy, in turn, is then applied to specific mailboxes – one policy per mailbox.

The ‘auto-tagging’ feature, once 500 items have been tagged, will automatically tag items in a user’s mailox based on their past tagging activities.

So, is MRM the answer to managing emails as records? 

Yes and no.  From a recordkeeping perspective, MRM:

  • Does nothing to ensure that records are kept in the business activity or functional context to which they relate, unless (of course) the emails are the only form of record that exists for the business activity.
  • Does not stop users from deleting emails.

On a positive note, MRM:

  • Attempts to address the problem of email retention.
  • Allows the application of a retention policy to emails that might be stored in a business context Outlook mailbox or fold As well, Exchange features like Legal Hold and Journaling allow further controls to be implemented.

Archiving

Exchange 2010 now includes a ‘personal archives feature’, which allows users to save emails to their own archive instead of saving emails to drives or using Personal Storage (.pst). A good article on this subject can be found at this location: http://mohamedridha.com/2011/11/07/exchange-2010-online-archiving-and-retention-tagspolicies-a-practical-example/

Sources (all retrieved 1 June 2012)

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3 Responses to “Applying recordkeeping policies to email – Microsoft Messaging Records Management (MRM)”

  1. Mary Ann Rosenthal Says:

    HI Andrew, I know its a long time ago but I finally got round to reading some of my email today. I think Microsoft’s approach is probably the way to to ‘manage’ email in the long term. I really don’t think our (records managers) approach of treating emails as individual documents/records is sustainable. I think if Microsoft can further develop this with options such as ‘Move to Corporate Archive’ and a sound search tool for the corporate archive then that is the way to go.

    • Andrew Warland Says:

      Thanks Mary Ann. We attempted to apply MRM where I work and discovered, a bit surprisingly, that it has somewhat limited capability, at least for what we need. The biggest problem was that our users may not work in the organisation for a long time so even if we applied MRM, we would find that they left before any of the retention periods applied, and their email would be archived. So we are focussing instead on applying MRM to records with short-term retention requirements, where the user would like to be sure that the record will be destroyed after 1 or 2 years, to save them having to worry about it.

  2. Applying (new) Retention Policies to Office 365 Content | Records about the world Says:

    […] Summarizes the existing ‘out of the box’ retention and disposal options in SharePoint, but not Exchange (see my earlier post on this subject). […]

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