Office 365 Group Management and Auto-Expiration Public Preview

If you’ve been working with Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies, you probably remember a utility that was made available as a part of SharePoint Server 2003 to automatically delete old site collections that hadn’t been worked with in a while. This was an incredibly helpful utility for system administrators that were watching their SharePoint systems grow virally with the use of Self Service Site Collection creation.

If you’re not familiar with Self Service Site Collection Creation, it’s probably because it was removed from the SharePoint Products and Technologies and then brought back. Self Service Site Collection creation was incredibly beneficial to when users needed to get something up and running as quickly as possible but typically meant that users were creating site collections that may or may not have necessarily fit within the taxonomy of sites that were being implemented by their organization. What does that mean? Well, in some instances duplicative sites and site collections that were owned by different individuals that perhaps weren’t knowledgeable of one another were created, nor did they always find out that the other site / site collection existed since SharePoint Search follows the permissions model and trims out things that you don’t have access to see.

With Office 365’s SharePoint Online, site collection followed a similar life cycle where only certain individuals (SharePoint Service Administraotrs) had the ability to create them. This helped to limit the sprawl of site collections and knowledge but in some instances caused end users to use other Rogue IT services as they found the process for creating a new site to be cumbersome.

Enter in Office 365 Groups and the ability for end users to quickly stand up a collaboration group without the need of an approval from an IT Manager or someone concerned with site taxonomy.  This effectively allows end users to provision a document library, a OneNote notebook, a calendar and a running history of messages that have been sent to the group. Sure it’s possible for the overarching administrator to turn this capability off (Groups) but the question then becomes, “Do you want to limit what your users can do with this Software as a Service platform and limit their ability to collaborate?” That’s a question that I know I comes up regularly – primarily when it comes to governance.

Back with SharePoint Server 2003 the added ability to have a script run and determine when a site collection was last modified which gave them the ability to then send an email to the site collection owner asking them if they were still using the site. Alternatively it was possible to just have the script watch and if it didn’t see a change over a certain period the site collection would be deleted.  Pretty handy – this actually was introduced with Office 365 in OneDrive for Business service for when a user’s license was removed for Office 365 (14 days later their OneDrive for Business went away). Fortunately Microsoft has worked on the tooling for the OneDrive for Business capability to allow a little more flexibility as to how this now works.

In similar fashion the Microsoft Office 365 Groups has a capability announced recently to allow for a similar function of a “soft delete” with a 30 day window to get an Office 365 Group back. The messages that this will send seem to be a bit friendlier based on the blog post from the Enterprise Mobility and Security Blog‘s article “Azure AD Automated Expiration for Office 365 Groups in Public Preview“.

Personally I see this as a great capability but also realize that there will be some gotchas. Specifically in that when a Group is created, an Exchange Distribution list is created. This is helpful since you’re able to have message traffic sent to this address. However if you think about the use case where a Group is deleted and the users fail to realize that the e-mail address that they received notifications on now no longer exists, there may be problems for end users.

Additionally it should be noted per the configuration documentation that an Azure AD Premium license is required to implement Office 365 Group Expiration – if you don’t have these they’re available at a per user cost and have several benefits in addition to this.

All in all, definitely an exciting feature and functionality but wondering how things will work for organizations where end users are truly business users that don’t quite understand all the components of an Office 365 Group or what the information lifecycle truly is…

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