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Do you know what’s in your Public Folders?

4 Apr 2017 by Emma Robinson

One of the main challenges of any public folder project (whether that’s migrating, eradicating or a ‘clean-up’ task) is finding out how data is being used, and deciding how each item should be dealt with. Public folder hierarchies can be made up of various different file types, which means that they can form a rather confusing web of different workflows, processes, and directories. Think of public folders like that cupboard in your house that needs sorting. It contains a mismatch of different items, you may have no idea what’s buried deep in there, and it’s all tangled up together in some inextricable way, or stacked precariously on top of each other. It’s very tempting to shut the door and leave it. But it’s all still there, and at some point you will need to deal with it: what happens when you need to move? Or when you need the space back?

This is a snapshot of an organization’s public folder hierarchy. As you can see, there’s a wide range of information types, each with different contents, sizes, and uses cases. 

Throughout this post we’ll provide an overview of the most popular items stored in public folders, and following this, the next post will explore the possible targets for public folder data in more detail. Based on analysis of numerous organization’s public folder hierarchies, and the fact that it is the foundation of many business processes and practices – emails are by far the most commonly stored item in public folders – so that’s where we’ll start.

Email
There are a wide number of reasons why users might choose to store emails in public folders, but they tend to center around three aspects: collaboration, knowledge sharing, and visibility. For example, a common use cases for creating a public folder is so that a team or department can collect all related email messages in a centralized, accessible location. Any team member can then search for relevant content, and use the public folder to catch up on any work or details they might have missed. The flexible permissions enable you to add users when required, to create a new folder (if you’re allowed), and define the permissions that you need to allow the necessary people to access your messages. Every user maintains their “own” read status in a public folder, so if one member of a Sales team reads a message in ‘Folder 1’, another user will still see it as unread. This is one of the major differences between public folders and shared mailboxes.

Here’s an example of how we’ve seen these folders being used:

A public folder is created as a common inbox for a Support team (e.g., support@company.com), and everybody that responds to a support email moves that item into a sub-folder called ‘actioned’, so the team know which support issues are ‘open’ and which have been ‘actioned’.

Other uses include:

  • Creating a common folder to hold assorted mail items, enabling shared access to email. This is very common for project teams or sales teams to combine their conversation for a centralized search or lookup.
  • A joint email archive, so that stored items remain accessible to multiple users within a team or group. For example, a company may need to store customers’ emails in a shared system.
  • To collect ‘inbound’ messages that are either addressed to a specific e-mail address, or items that are moved from a user mailbox.
  • Storing mail items from a common ‘request-based’ email address, like support or helpdesk.

Calendars
Calendars are also often created and shared using public folders. Organizations often need to share team/company-wide calendars to record employee holidays, coordinate meeting rooms, or simply as a group schedule, and a public folders can be used to do this effectively.

Notes
Another use for public folders is for storing and sharing notes. For example, if a department has a weekly meeting, any quick, shorthand notes could be placed in a public folder, so that the team can access these details if they’ve missed them.

Announcements
In a similar way to the use case above, teams might share announcements using public folders. Announcements or news feeds can be placed in public folders to share information quickly and easily amongst teams, or even company-wide.

Contacts
One of main reasons for storing contacts in a public folder is to share these contacts between your users or amongst your team. For example, if your Sales team needs to share a list of customers, or your Marketing team have a directory of suppliers, they can share these contact details using public folders.

Contact folders are very commonly found in public folder structures that belong to departments or teams, and are normally part of other item types such as emails and calendar folders.

‘To do’/ Task Lists
Users often store ‘To do’ lists in public folders, so that they are visible within a team – making it clearer to see what has been completed. These can be individual ‘To do’ lists created by each user (and monitored by the team), or group task lists which enable collaboration, as well as visibility.

Files
Finally, public folders can be used for file storage, whether this is as a common file store to share files between users, or as a document management system (although public folders have no real DMS functionality, like versioning). Less commonly public folders are sometimes used for personal file storage.

When analyzing this kind of data (particularly if you’re planning to move, restructure or clean up these repositories) it is crucially important to find out whether the data is being actively used, or whether it has been left for an extended period of time. This information could affect how you choose to interact with the data – whether it should be moved to a new environment (for ‘live’, actively used data), or whether it could be archived or removed (old, stale, unused information).

Deciding where this data should go
As you can see, there are a wide variety of use cases for public folders, but they all center around three overarching uses: collaboration, knowledge sharing and visibility. I’m sure that your organization has specific uses cases which we haven’t included here!

This is a screenshot from our latest product ADAM. The solution processes and analyzes public folder data, using advanced analytics to help organizations define the best target, and then migrate that data into its new location.

What happens when you want to migrate?
Given the diverse content types often found in these folders, when it comes to migrating the data, there are plenty of questions and unique challenges which need to be addressed: Do we need to move everything? What’s being used? What can we archive or remove? Are modern public folders the best option? Is there anywhere else that would be better suited?

As you can imagine, without knowing what’s in your public folders, it can be extremely difficult to answer even these initial questions, and it’s also completely impossible to decide where the contents of the folder should be placed.

The following posts in this blog series will explore where public folder data could be placed, and evaluate each possible target individually. We will consider the benefits and restrictions of each option, as well as the potential obstacles you might face during this process.