Microsoft Exchange Online and Shared Folders

As previous visitors will probably have noticed, I’m quite a fan of Microsoft’s Online Services AKA Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). I spend a fair amount of my time talking to customers about how they can online services to better serve their business and how BPOS can fit their needs.

Something that everyone needs to be aware of is that the online versions of the products aren’t quite as fully featured as their regular, on-site relatives. This means there can be certain situations where the MS hosted version just isn’t a viable option…however MS are constantly working to give them parity with the on-site versions, but it takes time transferring them into a multi-tenant environment. Exchange Online is very nearly feature complete but the biggest missing feature is Public Folders…

What are Public Folders?

“Public folders provide an effective way to collect, organize, and share information with others in your organization. They are central, shared folders that anyone can view to share information and ideas. Public folders can contain any Outlook item type, such as messages, appointments, contacts, tasks, journal entries, notes, forms, files, and posts.”

We use them at work for a number of purposes but once common use is as a repository for licence certificates, agreement details etc that can be accessed by the software team, sales account managers, customers services dept etc-without there being any duplication. Different people have different permissions so us in the software team have full permissions while others have just read only access. Sure, we could do this with Sharepoint (and for some things we do) but as these documents are all emailed-it is, at the minute, easier to keep them within Outlook.

A good guide to Public Folders can be found here.

Other things that aren’t technically Public Folders tasks but are inextricably linked are:

E-Mail Delegates: Delegate access to your mailbox to another individual, or delegate access to particular data with particular privileges. For example, allow an administrative assistant to accept or create calendar appointments on behalf of a manager.

Send As: Allow someone else to send mail from your mailbox. Your name will appear on the sent from line. For example, allow an administrator to send e-mail as a user (not on behalf of).

Shared Mailbox: Provide a group of people common access to a specific mailbox. For example, allow a single support alias to be monitored by multiple users.

Up until a few days ago-these were all impossible to do with Exchange online and that was often a stumbling block in discussions with customers. As the beginning of that sentence suggests-this has now changed 🙂

I was speaking to a customer last week who was looking for the Shared Mailbox functionality and, after a call with MS, I was able to determine that this feature will become available “this quarter” so by the end of September. This made the customer very happy 🙂

Shared mailboxes and email delegates will be available as standard functionality whereas Send As will need to be enabled via a Support escalation request.

A great whitepaper on Public Folders and BPOS can be found here.

Exchange Online & Sharepoint Online:

While the lack of Public Folders can at first, seem like a big hurdle to adopting BPOS-in many cases using Sharepoint Online instead is as good if not better!

Scenario Description

Exchange public folders are frequently used to set up calendars, task lists, and contact lists for team or company-wide collaboration. People with appropriate permissions are able to view and edit the lists.

While the Shared Mailbox feature is the traditional way of doing this and, for many people, will continue to be-it can also be done with Sharepoint Online:

  • SharePoint lists provide more contexts for the data, and more flexible ways of working with the data, including combining data from multiple lists and rolling up summaries for reporting.
  • Moderation workflows are built into SharePoint lists, so items can be optionally made visible only after they are approved.
  • Item-level version history can be optionally enabled to track changes to individual items in these lists.
  • Users can subscribe to alerts and feeds to have change notifications automatically sent to them.

There are many different ways of using Sharepoint Online as a replacement for Exchange Public Folders which are covered in the whitepaper here.

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