What Outlook email search can tell us about OneDrive for Business and metadata

August 16, 2017

Metadata is ‘data about data’—a set of fields and parameters that describe and categorise content. This helps users with four things:

  • Search – metadata tags like author, date of creation and other related keywords are applied to content to make it quicker and easier for users to find files.
  • Distribution – software uses metadata to determine where files will be distributed or shared online.
  • Access – metadata values can also be used for light-level security. Access privileges can be assigned around metadata in SharePoint.
  • Retention – many records management tools use metadata when applying retention policies.

Metadata is particularly useful in SharePoint, where organisations can use it to filter and organise hundreds or thousands of documents for quick access. It’s even present in email, take Outlook for example, the form of ‘to’, ‘from’, subject lines and date sent are all metadata, meaning you’re using it for Outlook email search without even realising.

However, Microsoft’s file synchronisation tool, OneDrive for Business, is lacking when it comes to metadata. This is curious because Microsoft encourages the use of metadata in its other products – either explicitly in the case of SharePoint or implicitly (and automatically) in Outlook email search. Why might this be? Well, perhaps one reason is that a lot of people find metadata intimidating and confusing. So, by removing the need for users to add it to files in OneDrive for Business, Microsoft were, perhaps, trying to make things easier for its users. However, I would argue this isn’t the right approach. Let’s see why.

 

You shouldn’t be scared of metadata

For a lot of people, metadata can feel confusing and daunting, and so they try to avoid dealing with it altogether. Yet just by emailing documents to a colleague, the following metadata fields are added automatically:

  • From;
  • To;
  • Date;
  • Subject;

And, if you’ve ever searched for an email later on, by looking for the sender or the date received, you’ve been using metadata without realising it. For instance, if you remember that the conversation took place Wednesday of last week or was sent to you by Susan, this is metadata which you use to find content. The only downside is you will need to scroll through every email from the same colleague, every email you received on Wednesday of last week, or any email with the same keyword in the subject line.

When you want to be more specific, of course, is when Outlook email search becomes extremely limited. The inability to create more metadata terms (for example, tagging emails by topics like ‘project 1’ or ‘emails containing financial matters’) means you are far more reliant on your memory. If you are dealing with tens or even hundreds of emails over the course of months, for instance, you might struggle to remember who sent you what and when.

Although many people say they find metadata confusing, most are perfectly happy using it most of the time in Outlook email search. So, taking away the possibility of having it at all in OneDrive for Business doesn’t seem to make much sense.

 

Metadata is missing in OneDrive for Business

The ultimate goal of using metadata is to give you multiple ways to find a document. You want to be able to create views (who you’ve shared files with, all documents related to a certain project or within a certain timeframe, for example) and sort by them to give you a more sophisticated and comprehensive view of documents.

SharePoint does this automatically, by assigning metadata tags detailing the document author, date of creation and who it was last modified by. You can also go further than the automatic metadata, and create your own fields.

OneDrive for Business, however, lacks the user interface to allow you to do the same. You can view a list of documents within a folder or list of folders within a library, but if you want to search via the metadata properties of your documents, you can’t. Without that ability, OneDrive for Business’s value is limited in the long term.

 

Document search, made easier

Easier365 from Digilink is an alternative to OneDrive for Business which integrates seamlessly with Office 365 and makes the most of metadata. With Easier365, you get full support of any additional File Properties you have painstakingly created on your Office365 data.

Easier365 supports:

  • Content types (those custom Office templates you created, specific to the different company sites)
  • Views (those custom “Views” you created on Office365 to make it easier to sort and filter)
  • Custom metadata. (those additional File Properties or “Columns” of metadata you added)

And if you want to get more specific, you can update your document metadata with custom fields directly from the Easier365 interface without needing to open the file. You can also order your files by sorting and filtering the metadata when offline, so even when working in remote locations, displaying the right documents isn’t hindered.

Metadata is one area where Digilink are determined to offer the best functionality to users, hoping to cover up the biggest holes left by Microsoft’s cloud tools. To see the difference for yourself, download your free, 30-day trial of Easier365 today.

 

For more information regarding metadata in SharePoint, OneDrive for Business and Outlook, feel free to get in touch with our experts.


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