Why 2022 is a Big Year for Automation in Microsoft 365 Records Management

Peter Rahalski


Since the introduction of Office (then Microsoft) 365, many organizations have found it challenging to build strategies that can make records management simpler for their business workers. This year, Microsoft is adding significant features within the Information Governance and Records Management sections of M365 Security and Compliance to help planning and technical users simplify the delivery of those features, improve user experience, and scale solutions to large organizations.

In this article, I’ll cover what’s already been delivered and what’s on the roadmap. I’ll discuss why these essentially change the game for many businesses by giving them advanced tools that can simplify records management by:

  1. Improving the ability to manage records in-place.

  2. Adding automated fine-grain control of the distribution of retention policies and labels.

  3. Expanding the automated classification of content to categories of documents that are easier to match to retention schedules.

These are just a few of many new capabilities on Microsoft’s 2022 roadmap that we’ll go into more detail on. We’ll discuss why they expand our capabilities to automatically apply policies and label content in accordance with our definitions across most of the Microsoft 365 collaboration platform. By adding these capabilities, Microsoft is meeting their commitment to make Microsoft 365 a platform where everyone can work and where most (not quite all) of their content can reside.

Why is automation important?

At Infotechtion, we’ve focused on how to simplify records management by designing our clients’ M365 environments to facilitate automation:

For organizations to scale their records management programs to the entire enterprise, being able to automatically identify records where they exist is essential. When left to their own devices, many business content creators will not remember (or bother?) to designate documents as records. We’re all busy getting our jobs done, so whatever we can do to automate frees up our most important resources to work on other tasks. This starts with having a planned information architecture that automates metadata and manages corporate vocabularies wherever possible. In many cases, this leads us to automated record declarations.

What about in-place records?

In the past, many companies moved their documents to central repositories when they were designated as corporate records. With new features in Microsoft 365 Compliance, we now have more ways to automate the capability to identify and retain records where they are created while safeguarding them according to corporate policies and meeting regulatory requirements. The days of constantly having to relocate documents just to make sure they’re protected are over. With E5 compliance licensing, in place records management is possible across each Microsoft 365 workload that supports record labels – That includes SharePoint/Teams, OneDrive, and Outlook/Exchange.

What has Microsoft already delivered?

In my opinion, the biggest thing that Microsoft has delivered so far this year is adaptive policy scopes, part of M365 E5 licensing. A scope is a definition of users, groups or sites that a record or preservation policy applies to. Prior to February, any exceptions (applying inclusions or exclusions) to policies needed to be managed through static scopes, which required manual changes to the policies whenever new locations (users, groups or sites) had to be added or removed. Static scopes could be difficult to manage and only worked well when there were few or infrequent changes in policies. For many larger companies, static scopes didn’t support their governance strategies very well.

Adaptive scope filters allow us to identify and include people based on their role, business function, location or custom attributes, so scopes automatically change as new members are identified or leave the scope filter. This makes it far simpler to manage organization changes on an ongoing basis by taking your compliance team out of workflows when provisioning new sites, teams and accounts, saving time and providing more responsive service to change requests.

At the same time adaptive scopes were released, a new policy lookup was added to the M365 compliance center – you no longer have to guess which policies apply to a particular location. You can simply supply an email, M365 group or SharePoint/OneDrive URL and see all the policies that are in effect for that specific area.

Now that adaptive scopes are available, there are opportunities to simplify policy maintenance, site/Teams provisioning and create policies that can fine tune delivery of retention labels to simplify the choices business users have when the need for selecting labels manually is required.

As shown above, you’ll have many ways to target your policies, especially when personally managed content (OneDrive and Exchange) is involved. With each scope type (SharePoint Sites, Users and M365 groups), you’ll also have the ability to create custom attributes to classify all locations and meet any particular strategy. The simple query builder that’s available by default can handle many complicated scenarios:

and using the available advanced query builder, you can build very complex queries using KQL or OPATH languages.

For companies that need to universally restrict editing of documents declared as records, there were two new capabilities that became available at about the same time. The first disables unlocking of records, meaning the feature commonly called record revision becomes unavailable. Record revision allows people to unlock files having a retention label that designates them as records to, in effect, create an updated version of the record while preserving the original. In some companies, that’s not allowed. The second feature prevents people from editing the metadata/properties of records after they’re declared. Again, some businesses need to maintain the metadata as is, so they can now turn off that ability.

One other feature added by Microsoft to Outlook is expanding the records management capabilities that were available elsewhere to messages – so messages that have record labels are protected in the same way as documents.

Just available, you can now specify retention policies for Yammer community messages and/or Yammer user messages. Like other content in Microsoft 365, you can now apply policies to automatically protect and/or remove content from these areas.

What is Microsoft working on?

Note: Any dates mentioned below are anticipated, so could change based on Microsoft’s scheduling.

There’s quite a lot expected through the remainder of the year. We’ll go through them by when they’re expected then talk about some exciting changes where the timeline is less certain.

Ever wonder how trainable classifiers would work for the content in your tenant? Well, you’ll soon be able to as Microsoft will be adding classification by default if you’ve opted into using trainable classifiers in your tenant. With the necessary permissions in the content explorer, you’ll be able to browse documents that match trainable classifiers to understand the accuracy of those classifiers on your company’s documents. Using this knowledge, you can then make decisions about whether to automatically apply retention labels to those documents based on their classification.

Microsoft is also developing a broad range of new classifiers that are better suited for records management so hopefully in a few months you have a range of out of the box classifiers that can be used to automatically apply retention labels to documents. Like adaptive scopes, trainable classifiers are part of M365 E5 licensing.

This summer, you should see a few new features, one being the ability to create unlocked record retention labels. This will allow you to have record labeling in place on documents while they are being created/edited then lock them when the documents are finalized. It’s another way to accelerate retention labeling by using labels by default on folders and libraries and not having to wait to apply the labels until work is completed.

By this fall, we’ll also see retention labels for cloud attachments – those are documents shared typically in emails or Teams messages via links. This will allow preservation of those shared documents in alignment with your messaging policies in the same locations as they were shared in the message by preserving the specific version that was shared via the link.

One last thing of note is support for multi-stage retention policies – it’s still unknown when this will be available. What it will allow you to do is to apply a new label to content when it reaches the end of its current retention period so that organizations can have different retention policies in each phase of a file’s lifecycle.

As you can see, Microsoft is busy adding to the options people have available to manage their important content, especially when it comes to the more advanced capabilities available with E5 licensing.

How does my organization get started?

Infotechtion can help you to understand and implement what’s possible with your current licensing and to explore capabilities across the entire range of options. Contact us for more information.

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