Many of our clients are leveraging Gmail as a replacement for hosting their own email servers. As we have often mentioned, we are seeing more and more email integration, specifically in our case management scenarios. This post will discuss our TSG Lab efforts to integrate Gmail with HPI for ingestion of emails and attached content.
Email and Case Management Background
The Case Management scenario presents a slightly different challenge regarding dealing with email and attachments. A couple of interesting components include:
- The email and attachments should all be stored as separate documents while preserving the relationship between the email and attachments.
- The Case (ex: Claim, Policy, Matter, Lease….) could be one of thousands of cases. The user should be able to identify the correct Case for the email and attachment.
- The email and attachments, given which Case is selected, should be indexed according to the rules of that case. Index components include document tagging, due dates, descriptions and other unique aspects to that Case.
To satisfy the above functions, we are typically seeing a two application strategy. User will have email up as well as their Case Management solution. One of two scenarios typically occur:
- User is working on a Case and remembers getting an email that should be included in the case file. The user opens email application and wants to put email and attachments into the current case. User performs indexing while processing the email.
- User receives and email that should be added to a particular case. The user would typically like to open the Case Management system, find the right case and store and index the email and attachment.
Other functions typically requested in regards to emails and case management include:
- Ability to reply to the email message directly from the repository.
- Recording of email and replies in the Audit Trail/Folder Notes for the Case.
- Address book for the Case based on emails stored and sent.
- Ability to ingest emails with third party cloud links – see related article and screencam.
Outlook Approach for Gmail
One easy approach is for clients to continue using their traditional email program, typically Outlook, and treat Gmail as just a normal “pop” email server. See this related screencam in regards to dragging and dropping emails from outlook to a case management application.
While this approach is workable, most of our clients have moved to Gmail specifically to get away from having to manage Outlook and related storage.
For those that aren’t moving away from Outlook, both Alfresco and Documentum have Outlook clients that extend Outlook to provide drag and drop capabilities within Outlook by exposing the repository within Outlook itself. In regards to Case management, the difficult portion typically is how to address that the thousands of cases with a foldering/breadcrumb approach while also including certain features of the case management application (tagging, due dates, indexing) within the Outlook client as well. Typical outlook clients extend with the ability to browse rather than search for a specific folder.
One other clean way to accomplish the same functionality within Outlook or any email client includes levering IMAP. See related post here.
Email Forward Approach
One generic approach we have mentioned is to provide the ability to forward email to a monitored email address. If possible, something defining could be added to the subject or body of the email to identify what Case the email belongs to. Examples could include Claim or Matter Number.
While this is an elegant solution for any email client (mobile, Gmail, others…), the issue typically comes into how the email and related content are indexed. A couple of concerns that might be applicable for this approach include:
- Two step – email is forwarded but user has to go into Case Management system to “finish” the indexing. Could include Folder Tags as well as a generic inbox to place items wherever.
- Errors – if the email isn’t specifically placed somewhere, a generic mail type inbox needs to be set up to move the folder to the right case. Certain capabilities of the indexing might be required in the inbox.
TSG Labs – Gmail – What we learned and recommend
Ideally, we wanted an integration that would allow for the two scenarios of working on a case and wanting to index and email as well as working on an email and wanting to add it to a case. A couple of options we considered included:
- Chrome Addon – For Gmail users, while Gmail is supported on IE, Firefox and Safari, Chrome is probably the preferred platform. We did initial R&D on extending Chrome to provide capabilities to add emails.
- Gmail API – We looked at ways to access Gmail from an API layer to capture an inbox.
During our R&D, we quickly realized that the Chrome addon might be too limiting to our clients and efforts as:
- Not all clients want to use Chrome
- We would be tethered to the Gmail inbox interface – any change made from Google would need to be accounted for within our addon
Our approach was to extend the “Add Document” function of HPI to allow a quick view of the users inbox to identify the email for ingestion into the case.
In this manner:
- A user working on a case, remembering that they had an email to index, can easily access their inbox from within the case. Indexing is identical to adding any other document type.
- A user working on email can open up HPI, search for the case, select add document and easily add the email and attachments.
Extending our case management tool to browse an email client takes advantage of the cloud hosted nature of Gmail or other mail programs. Rather than having to work with the email in Outlook after it has been removed from the server, Cloud email solutions allow access to the email after it has been read from a phone or any other device. Having the case management tool browse that cloud email storage provides a quick, consistent and easy way to quickly add emails and related attachments without leaving the case management tool.