Ever had to provide email for legal evidence? If not, good… but one day, you might have to do that. How will you find it?
Email is serious stuff and you need to look after it. In this blog, I’ll explain how I set myself up with email for a balance of keeping my primary email mailbox small and archiving my email for fast retrieval when I need it. I use Microsoft Office365 archiving, Microsoft Flow and Google Drive to help put together a system I’m happy with.
So here is the back story. I used to be an Artificial Intelligence consultant for a small company called Brightware, who were eventually bought by Oracle. My focus was mainly on natural language processing in emails. The idea was that we used algorithms and a knowledge base which worked out the meaning, or the intent of the email message. The Program, known as Answer Agent, would conduct the calculations using the model I’d built.
As part of my work, I learned a lot about Microsoft Exchange and other email systems which were in vogue at the time, such as Lotus Notes, Pegasus and Mercury Transport Systems. In order to split data into training and test sets, I was usually given a huge PST file which I could split out for testing and training my models.
Even after I left the organization in 2002 after a five year stint as an AI consultant, I’ve continued to practice many of the things that I learned in that time. It was great to get fantastic consulting experience with big name companies, and the people that I was working with then, are now in senior positions now as we’ve all ‘grown up’ together. It’s very true that ‘people may not remember what you did or what you said, but they remember how you made them feel’. One contact, who hadn’t been in touch for almost 20 years, got in touch to say that he is a Director of a small AI firm and they needed some extra help with a strategic direction and Microsoft technology roadmap, so he got in touch with me to help them with their growth trajectory. It’s funny how you work closely together, don’t see each other for 20 years and when you meet, the years just roll away.
So, throughout my career, I continued to back everything up to Outlook PST archives; not just for myself, but for people who sent emails as part of my company as well. Email really is a huge part of our lives, and what we email says so much about us: the good and the bad. Having read so many emails over my life, I’m amazed what people will type and commit to email in a professional setting. Email does not belong to you; it belongs to the company, particularly if the company paid for your network, laptop, email account and your time spent reasonably during the working day sending the email. You are what you write!
You never know when it’s going to come back on you, which is where this email is going. Recently, I learned that a former employee of the client was being accused of something illegal. I was summoned to a client that I hadn’t seen for a very long time, as a witness to an internal investigation. Reading the details, I was stunned but I was happy to help, of course. The client needed to get a fair and external understanding of what had happened. I won’t go into details, but the accusation focused on illegal behaviour. Note that I was entirely innocent but I could comment and show evidence on people’s behaviour, and that was my relationship with the issue. I had not been at the client for at least a year, so I really needed to dig back in my memory.
The thing is, we tend to assume that an accusation is the same as evidence, and it is not. It’s the same with gossip; the assumption goes along the lines of ‘well so and so said it, so it must be true’ even though there is no data to support it. With gossip, people don’t tend to go back and validate its veracity over time, and it gets forgotten about but the vestiges still remain. It gets tucked into our mindset as some sort of evidence, which is likely used to support another piece of gossip as it comes our way. We don’t always see the silliness of the gossip, but we do sometimes remember that the gossiper made us feel ‘bad’ so we don’t always remember what they said or what they did, but we remember how they made us feel. So gossip, and accusations with no data, are foundless. They are not evidence.
Fortunately, accusations require proof in the legal system, and I was asked to provide evidence on the behaviour of other individuals. To my relief, I had backed up all of my emails and it was easy to go through them. I could submit them as I had been the cc recipient of some relevant conversations, and this helped to bring the issue to a close.
As a consultant, I run into toxic situations now and again, and these are the situations that help you to grow as a consultant and as a person. I like to believe that emotions should not dictate our decisions, but this can be easy to say but more difficult and challenging to put into practice. Having been an advisor in some internal company cases on racial and sexual harassment has meant that I really have to put my own experiences and feelings aside, and look at the facts. It is a sobering experience, but it means I have to rise to be the leader that I would want to be leading me if I was the focus of these investigations.
I’ve also found two other ways of backing up email using Office 365 and Google. I’m going to lay them out here, and I hope it helps.
Archiving your Email
Why does Microsoft have more than one Archive folder (it seems!), and how are they different? There is the Archive folder and the In Place Archiving functionality. Essentially, the Archive folder in Outlook 2016 is available from your devices, but the In Place Archiving isn’t available on your device in your mail client. It’s that simple. In Place Archiving is for real archive, but you can find email again easily. Plus it keeps your mailbox small, which has got to be good, right?
Archive items in Outlook 2016
The ‘Archive’ folder is accessible on the left hand side of Outlook or through the Archive button in the Delete group on the ribbon. You can move one or more messages to your Archive folder without deleting them. The main benefit is that you can still access these emails on your phone and tablet, so they are still easy to find. Here’s how you do it:
- Select one or more messages that you want archive, but still find if you’re looking for them on your phone etc.
- In the Delete group, choose Archive.
- You can also use the Backspace key to immediately archive one or more selected messages.
- Your message(s) will be moved to the Archive folder. If you archive a message by mistake, go to the Archive folder and move the message back to your Inbox.
Note: The Archive button is only visible in Outlook 2016. Your Archive folder already exists, even if you’ve never used the feature before. If you can’t find it, go to File > Office Account > Update Options > Update Now.
I don’t use this feature, because when I want to archive, I really want to archive. So I use the In Place Archiving Feature instead.
In Place Archiving in Office 365
An In-Place Archive in Exchange Online in Office 365 helps people to file emails by providing additional email storage. It’s not in your device mail by default, but you can find it using Outlook or Outlook Web App.
You can view emails in your archive mailbox and move or copy messages between their primary and archive mailboxes.
Here’s a screenshot from Technet. I’ve used this screenshot since I don’t want to display my own email.
You can find out more by visiting the Technet Site.
What about email attachments? Using Microsoft Flow to archive inbound documents to Google Drive
I use MIcrosoft Flow to automatically store inbound attachments to Google Drive, as a ‘cold storage’ mechanism. I use OneDrive and Google to store data. If, for some reason, I can’t access OneDrive, then I know I can find things in my cold storage.
Google Drive is a file storage and synchronization service created by Google. It allows users to store files in the cloud, share files, and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with collaborators.
To find out more about the Microsoft Flow connector, click here.
You can set up a Flow quite easily, and here’s the page that will take you through the wizard for Microsoft Flow:
Here is the final flow:
I hope that helps you to see how to store email easily. You never know when you, or someone else, might need it badly.