A large number of organizations rely on public folders for day to day business and they cannot get away from them. This becomes an issue for those organizations in that they are limited in their ability to migrate or upgrade their messaging infrastructure, especially with cloud messaging infrastructure gaining popularity these days.
An obvious solution for these businesses is to remain on Exchange and keep everything on-premise. You might ask “so if my organization wanted to move to Exchange Online and Office 365, are you saying we cannot?” The answer is “of course you can, but you cannot bring your public folders with you to Exchange Online”.
Microsoft does not have any migration tools that can handle the migration of public folders to Office 365. Organizations that require public folders while in Office 365 have a few options depending on how they actually use the public folders currently.
Below are a number of scenarios outlining how public folders are utilized and some possible workarounds:
1. CALENDAR, CONTACTS & TASKS SHARING
The most common use of public folders is to set up calendars, tasks and contact lists for the organization to access. These can be made available using access permissions to teams andor groups of individuals as required.
- Migrate the public folder content to SharePoint Online, which provides rich functionality for managing events, tasks and contacts while maintaining full drag and drop and bidirectional synchronization with Outlook to provide a very similar experience as Exchange public folders.
- Another possible solution is to use an Exchange Online shared mailbox. This is a mailbox that many users can open so as to read its content or send email messages. You can use the shared mailbox features of Exchange Online to store and share calendars, contacts and tasks. Once the mailbox has been created and permissions properly configured, add it to a distribution list so it receives copies of every message sent to that list.
2. ARCHIVING OF EMAIL MESSAGES OR DISCUSSION LISTS
Public folders are sometimes used to share project-related email messages or archive discussion contents on specific distribution lists. This is done in one of two ways:
- Emails that need to be shared are periodically moved, copied or dropped into a specified public folder by a project member. This unfortunately is a manual process but is typically used when only some email messages are relevant for saving or sharing.
- A distribution list is set up and a mail-enabled public folder is added to it. This method is commonly used when all email communication related to a project must be maintained. A mail enabled public folder has a unique SMTP (email) address associated with it so that it can receive email messages just like any regular mailbox.
There are a few ways to configure SharePoint Online or Exchange Online to serve this purpose.
Use SharePoint Online Only
- Create a document library on a SharePoint Online site collection to house the messages.
- Open the document library in Windows Explorer and manually copy or even drag the *.msg files from Outlook into the Explorer window.
Use SharePoint Online and a Synchronization Add-In Client
- Create a document library on a SharePoint Online site collection to house the email messages.
- Install a synchronization add-in such as Colligo Contributor or MacroView Wisdom in Outlook.
- Follow the instructions to connect the document library to your Outlook with the synchronization add-in. Once connected, the SharePoint library will appear in Outlook as a folder and you can simply copy or drag emails directly into it.
Use Exchange Online Shared Mailbox
- Create an Exchange Online shared mailbox.
- Create a security group for users who need access to this shared mailbox.
- Assign the security group Full Access permission to the shared mailbox.
- Add this shared mailbox as a member to a specific distribution group so it receives every message sent to the group.
3. DOCUMENT SHARING
Another common use of Exchange public folders is to share documents, especially when these documents need to be taken offline. As an example, it is convenient to be able to share datasheets and FAQs in a way that can be pushed to a sales person’s laptop when they are on the road.
One of the primary uses for SharePoint Online is document sharing. It is excellent for this as well as offline reading purposes. It can easily be connected to Outlook with similar functionality.
- Create a document library on a SharePoint Online site collection to house the documents.
- You can use all the collaboration functionality of SharePoint in this document library. To distribute the documents for offline use, you can connect the library to Outlook or use Microsoft SharePoint Workspaces. Synchronizing with Outlook or Workspaces ensures you receive the most recent version of the document.
4. MANUAL WORKFLOW
Some public folders are used in a similar way that “shared mailboxes” are used – to initiate a manual workflow. A good example would be an email box like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org that customers can use to request information or assistance. Email messages sent to this folder are reviewed by the necessary staff that either respond directly or store the email messages for further processing.
You can use a shared mailbox in Exchange Online to provide a single email address for multiple people to use and initiate a manual workflow.
Alternatively, SharePoint Online workflows can also be used to provide enhanced workflow functionality over public folders.
5. AUTOMATED WORKFLOW AND CUSTOMER APPLICATIONS
Public folders in Exchange can be used to initiate automated processes. As an example, an alias can be set up to parse scanned forms in email attachments and automatically file them. Public folders can be used to develop custom applications using the Exchange Web Services API. In some cases Organizational Forms are used as the input mechanism to these workflows.
SharePoint Online can be set up to create automated workflows based on inputs provided from forms. Instead of using Organizational Forms with Exchange and Outlook, creating workflows with SharePoint Designer or input forms with Microsoft InfoPath may be a better option.