Uniting Church tackles email retention in response to Royal Commission

By Noel Williams, Macroview

For leading Australian Not-For-Profit, Uniting Church, Synod of NSW/ACT (The Synod), the need for improved records management, particularly around the retention and discovery of emails, was highlighted by the need to respond to a Royal Commission.  

By late 2017 The Synod had achieved this objective using a records management solution based on Office 365/SharePoint Online. However, the path to this new solution was not an easy one.  In this article we look at their journey to successful Records Management and identify the key factors for their ultimate success.

The Synod delivers an extensive range of services to both the administration and faith-based entities across NSW and ACT. Along with all faith-based entities involved in education and child care, The Synod was asked to respond to the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission identified that The Synod required a better means for managing their documentation, including Outlook emails that were key records for the organisation.

At the time of this Royal Commission finding The Synod was attempting to use the ECM component of a well-regarded ERP software suite.  While that ECM system had relevant Records Management capabilities, it was not intuitive for non-Records Managers.

A key weakness was a lack of integration of the ECM system with Microsoft Office.  As a result end-users found it difficult to save a Word document to the ECM store and almost impossible to save emails as records.

Rather than rely on the ECM system some users were saving emails to private folders in Outlook/Exchange. Others were retrieving wanted emails by using the Quest Email Archiving software that had implemented as a way to impose quotas on the Exchange space used by The Synod staff.

Uniting Resources, the IT arm of The Synod, decided to look for a new solution that would utilise Office 365/SharePoint Online. In addition to the DM/RM functionality of SharePoint Online, the appeal of Office 365 was that it was cloud-based and widely used, with many organisations offering implementation and support services. The availability of this support was an important consideration, as Office 365 and SharePoint were new platforms for Uniting Resources and their in-house staffing was relatively small.

John Carruthers, Head of Information Technology & Systems at Uniting Resources recalls: “Looking back over our Records Management project, a major challenge was our knowledge of SharePoint – more specifically, learning about how SharePoint can be used to create a DM / RM solution that is popular with end-users.”

He notes that many SharePoint consultants seem to think that because SharePoint Online is web-based, that the user interface to solutions based on SharePoint Online should be in the web browser. 

“A key success factor for our Records Management project was finding a way to allow our end-users to work in the familiar environment of Microsoft Office on their Windows desktops, while at the same time storing the documents and emails as records in the web-based environment of SharePoint Online.”

Uniting Resources evaluated a number of software add-ins that enable use of SharePoint Online from Microsoft Outlook and other Microsoft Office applications. In the end they chose MacroView DMF, from Sydney-based Microsoft Gold Partner MacroView Business Technology.

Uniting Resources Records Manager Barry Kirk, said,“The user experience that MacroView DMF provides is, in my view, the best available in the SharePoint add-on market and also superior to that provided by traditional (i.e. non-SharePoint) records management solutions.”

Atanas Brsakovski, Business Partner at Uniting Resources, played a central role in the evaluation of the Office add-ins for SharePoint Online. He lists the following reasons why Uniting business users preferred MacroView DMF:

  • Familiar Tree-View – MacroView automatically discovers and displays a complete and accurate tree-view of the structure of the SharePoint Online document store. “It makes working with SharePoint feel as familiar as working with a tree of folders in Windows File Manager.”
  • Works in Other Familiar Desktop Applications – In addition to Microsoft Outlook, MacroView DMF provides a consistent user experience in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Reader, and Adobe Acrobat and in Windows itself.  “The availability of MacroView DMF Explorer is an attractive feature for those users who like working in Windows File Explorer.”
  • Ease of Use – To save an email to a private Outlook folder you drag and drop to the left pane of the Outlook Mail window; to save the email to SharePoint you drag and drop the email to the MacroView pane on the right of the same window. “The drag and drop saving, previews, right-click menus and Windows forms displayed by MacroView are familiar to any Windows desktop user.”


Going forward Uniting Resources are keen to explore and take advantage of other features offered by MacroView DMF, including:

  • Custom right-click menu options – e.g. to allow users working in Outlook or other Windows desktop applications to obtain Records Management reports that would otherwise require them to jump out into the web browser.
  • Custom Search panels – Uniting users already like the way MacroView OOB search panels let them search for documents and emails in SharePoint Online while they continue to work in Outlook, DMF Explorer and other familiar desktop apps. Defining additional custom search panels would make the experience even more intuitive because it would enable searching based on custom metadata attributes for which Uniting user are prompted as they save documents and emails.
  • Protocol Handler Links from Line-Of-Business applications – clicking one of these links allows a user to jump from a record in a line of business application into MacroView DMF Explorer, where they can view and work with the documents and emails that are associated with the line-of-business record.


Another key success factor for the new Records Management solution is the design of the SharePoint Online store for the documents and emails that have been declared as records. This design involves capture of classificatory metadata as each document is saved, with the metadata being managed conveniently and effectively as closed, hierarchical term sets in the central SharePoint Online Term Store.

The design also features standard sets of document libraries within a tree of sites and sub-sites. This design allows Uniting to retain a high degree of control, while at the same time providing a familiar experience and avoiding issues such as excessively long URLs and exceeding the List View Threshold.

Uniting Resources note that MacroView DMF facilitates their design in a way that using the OOB SharePoint web browser UI could not.

Atanas Brsakovski notes, “If you are working with the OOB SharePoint web browser UI the only real tree you can use is a tree of folders in a big document library. With MacroView the tree can be comprised of sites, sub-sites and document libraries, which is better for both control and volume handling.”

The Synod has also implemented personal sites using OneDrive for Business, which display in the MacroView DMF tree alongside the SharePoint Online structure that is used to store records for the organisation.

Noel Williams is co-Founder and Chief Executive of MacroView Business Technology. MacroView specialises in document generation and management solutions based on SharePoint and Office. For more information about effective email records management solutions contact MacroView Solutions.

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