Bahrur Rahman

 

For many managers, the collection and processing of timesheets can be a slow and labor intensive work. And employees hate to fill out timesheets – a common universal fact which makes supervisors and managers constantly struggle to adopt an effective and accurate time tracking in the organization. No doubt, they find it frustrating again and again, when they have to nag their staffs to submit timesheets. The consequence is that organizations land up spending considerable human and IT resources alone in performing checks, authentication and reviews to avoid incorrect data slipping through and creating payroll errors. Evidently, organizations need to devise a better solution that supports the way employees prepare and submit timesheets and do not hinder it. A solution that is easy to use and require little or no training at all.

Leveraging Outlook for timesheet collection

In today’s business workplace, most staffs already use Microsoft Outlook extensively – all day, every day for email communications, meetings and contacts. So having a time tracking solution that can easily integrate with Outlook and fits with employees ways of working today, can be just the key to overcoming and solving many of these challenges. And this is one of the main feature of this Microsoft Outlook add-in ‘Team TimeSheet for Outlook‘ that makes it very easy for employees and workers to prepare timesheet and project deliverables in Outlook and publish to a central database.

From the dedicated timesheet form, individual worker can prepare timesheets, tag project metadata and enter other deliverables from the familiar interface of Outlook appointment or task items. Once a timesheet is finalized and ready, it is published to the central database in just a single click. This submission process is seamlessly integrated in your Microsoft Outlook and the whole exercise is transparent to the user.

Leveraging the familiar workflow of Outlook appointments and tasks, this timesheet add-in extends your Outlook as an ideal platform to work, plan on projects and tasks and allows for quick reporting of timesheets, expenses and billing, notes and other intrinsic data to a central database repository.

Streamline timesheet collection and reporting process in the organization

To avoid critical data falling into the cracks leading to information loss and introduce inconsistency in timesheets, expenses or billings, this add-in provides a centrally administered control panel from which projects, tasks, timeline and automated notification emails are deployed to all the members across the organization through Outlook. When member works on project related tasks via Outlook, the timesheet add-in can automatically set the timeline (such as start, due or end date) of the Outlook item with those defined for the particular project.

As timesheets and project deliverables are collected from Outlook items in a standardized structure, there is no separate control process that is required for verifying data format and accuracy, thus saving time, efforts and resources.

Automatic emails notification to workers and managers

Automatic email notification and alerts are essential for keeping team members and managers informed with the progress of the project and tasks. This TimeSheet add-in offers a whole lot of notification options for different reporting events such as when a report is submitted, updated or withdrawn, or when a manager is assigned to the project, or when the audited report is approved or declined etc. Furthermore, these notifications can be fully customized using templates. Automatic emails and alerts are send out directly when a relevant event occurs and the whole exercise is transparent to the users.

Keep Project information fully synchronized among members

One of the challenges of project management is deploying projects and their deliverables at the right time to the right people. This add-in provides real-time transparency to all members to all the projects by keeping all vital project information fully up to date from the central database. On every Outlook startup, the add-in can be set to synchronize the administrator defined projects, tasks, custom fields and other global settings. This is particularly useful to automatically retrieve any new projects/activities or settings that were added or changed by the administrator in due course.

When new projects are added, team members are notified by email automatically informing about the availability of the new projects and their deliverables. Optionally, expired projects can be made unavailable to all members automatically. If members try to submit their timesheets or deliverables on the expired projects, they can be warned and void the reporting.

Control how workers use Outlook for project deliverables

When collecting timesheets and project deliverables from workers, consistency and accuracy of the reported data satisfying the organizational standard is crucial. Administrators can apply certain restrictions in the way the Team TimeSheet functions in Outlook such as,

  • the ability to report project deliverables from the default calendar or task folders only, or from any folder.
  • the ability to update existing published timesheet data.
  • the ability to cancel and withdraw published timesheet.
  • the ability to check for minimum work compliance.
  • the ability to prevent reporting of timesheets for expired project.

Color coding of timesheet items

Color coding an appointment or task item in Microsoft Outlook makes it easy to distinguish between various items on your calendar or task. By color coding your Outlook items, you can scan quickly and tell what types of appointments or tasks you have coming up. It also helps you to distinguish between various work projects at first glance. From the manager add-in, each project can be assigned a unique color code from the supported 25 colors in Outlook. If you enable this option, all the projects with color codes will be added to the ‘Master Category List’ of your Outlook.

Once the projects with color codes are imported to your Outlook, when you tag an Outlook appointment or task item with a project, the corresponding color code would be applied automatically. As this color code is deployed centrally, all members working on projects would have same uniform color coding for the entire team.

In Outlook calendar, appointments tagged with different projects are color coded.

Outlook views especially geared for effective project tracking

Outlook views are a wonderful tool to automatically sort, quickly find information and rapidly re-arrange Outlook items in any folder. Views can also be organized to group and filter items to make a particular feature of your information obvious at first glance. This TimeSheet add-in provides special Outlook views to help you to work with your projects and deliverables in a simpler and sensible way.

Table view of Outlook calendar folder, where all the appointments are grouped by the reported state. Reported timesheets will be group under ‘Yes’ and unreported items under ‘No’ or ‘None’. You can easily differentiate reported items from the unique ID value.

Table view of Calendar folder, where all the appointments are first grouped by project, and then sub-grouped by activity value, to generate a hierarchy tree representation and may prove useful to track and pinpoint a specific project or activity, or to get the number of items belonging to a specific project or activity, or simply just to have a listing that is better organized and summarized.

Offline Support

Supports offline mode with Outlook, allowing coding of time and expenses while away from the office. In leveraging the Microsoft Outlook platform for time and expense reporting, this add-in also offers an ideal billing solution for distributed organizations – companies with multiple locations or employees who travel on a regular basis. Through their Outlook client, team members can work on the time sheets and other deliverables of the projects in Outlook in offline mode wherever they are located. Once the timesheeets and project deliverables are ready, workers can submit time sheets when they are connected to the database server.

Audit Manager to accept or reject timesheets

After a time sheet is submitted, it can be routed to the appropriate supervisor, eliminating delays in the approval process. With Audit Manager module of the add-in, a time sheet can be approved with the click of a button or sent back to the particular member for revision. Additionally, instead of rejecting a report, supervisors and managers can also choose to make amendment to project, task or cost directly and can approve to prevent delays and meet deadlines. Notification emails on approval or rejection are automatically sent out to the concerned member.

Reporting, Charting, and Data Analysis – multi-dimensional OLAP

With the integrated Online Line Analytical Processing (OLAP) tool, managers can analyze submitted timesheets and other project deliverables in multidimensional view to extract critical information and intelligence that will enable better decision in business. The integrated OLAP tool supports the ability to explore large complex data sets and allows displaying in grids, charts and graphs and support most common operations such as pivoting, drill down/slice and dice, filtering etc. It’s simplistic point-and-click interface will ensure managers easily achieve the high-level views of information they require. Additionally, creating reports destined for different management levels is a simple task – and eliminates the manager dependence on IT personnel.

OLAP Grid with a pre-defined report view (Total Cost per Project per Member)

By unifying data analysis needs on a single platform, it provides an unparalleled array of reporting tools for web portals, intranet applications, websites, and other data-rich applications. It also provides more then 30 inbuilt reports geared towards providing out-of-the-box. Managers can also easily create and save their user-defined reports for future references. Any report, chart, grid or graph can be saved to PDF, images, web pages or printed.

OLAP Chart view with customized color code for the Work dimension.

Summary

Compared to a similar system based on Excel or the web, this timesheet add-in provides substantially better range of functionality for time reporting. Leveraging the familiar workflow of Outlook appointments and tasks, it simplifies timesheet creation, submission and tracking for employees, yet offers managers and administrators greater control throughout the time reporting process. With the assurance that team members are reporting through a regulated system such as Outlook, that promotes accurate, consistent time reporting, managers can leverage precise, up-to-date budget and billing reports for project estimation and budgeting. The end result is a reduced administration costs and little or no requirement of specialized skills and user training. Your team members are productive within minutes after installing and setting up the application in their Outlook. Because of this, user adoption is maximized, yet training time and costs are minimized. More importantly, reporting process of work done and expense is streamlined for all employees, resulting in a highly accurate and scalable solution for the organization.

Who should use it?

This timesheet solution is ideal for organizations looking for an enterprise time and billing management solution with Microsoft Outlook integration. Project Managers, will find it easier to distribute projects, timelines and calculate expenses and track budgets for current and past projects. Human Resource Managers can easily calculate work done and payroll for staffs and contractors without using an expensive ERP suite. With summary and OLAP reports, Analysts and Accountants would have access to budget information, accurate to the last number. Freelancers can easily calculate the exact hours and expenses to bill their employers.

To get more info about the tool, you can visit – https://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamTimeSheet/

 

When end-users send support requests on similar issues repeatedly, often we frequently find ourselves solving the same issue over and over. In the ideal environment, one should be able to share knowledge with other team members so that everyone has the same understanding and are communicating the same message when asked about specific issues. This is when a knowledge management system comes very useful in the organization, where all the known incidents and fixes, best practices of your businesses, operations and assets are documented, and are accessible at the enterprise level to all members of your team.

In SharePoint, the easiest way to have a basic knowledge base or FAQ is to build a custom SharePoint list with custom metadata (E.g., Column1 as Question, Column2 as Answer, Column3 as Category etc.). The main benefit of this approach is its simplicity and ease of setup, view, group, sort questions/answers/categories any way one like. And being a list, you can do a keyword search to find a particular question/answer.

A more advanced method to implement a Knowledge base is to use a discussion board web part, which is essentially a SharePoint list, but provides better user interface capabilities and ability to list conversations in a forum-style format. The main advantage of such approach is its open nature where others can chip in their contributions or replies to behave like a ‘social media’ site.

Limitation of SharePoint based Knowledge base

Many IT managers resort to using SharePoint to document best practices and solutions to common problems, in the form of list items as KB articles, because of the easy accessibility, search and collaborative capability. So, when a support request email is received in Outlook, support staffs would generally go to the SharePoint lists and browse or search through the tier of KB articles. If a relevant article is found, either the staff would rewrite the solution from scratch into the email or copy the contents from SharePoint site to the email reply, download attachments locally and re-attach back to emails – all in a crude and time-consuming fashion. In the midst of this, the formatting, inline images and other attachments of the particular KB article may not at all make it to the email. After putting much effort and time, you still didn’t get the complete KB article inserted into the email reply. Moreover, the frequent switching back and forth between the email client and SharePoint site tends to loosen the focus of the support staff, leaving him/her frustrated. Evidently, organizations and teams that leverage SharePoint as knowledge base would need to reinvent the wheel and implement an efficient way of importing SharePoint based article or document, to outgoing email reply.

Linking Outlook to SharePoint based Knowledge base

To exploit the sharing and collaboration features of SharePoint, there should be an easy way to make knowledge base articles from SharePoint accessible and available for insertion into email replies in Outlook without losing any formatting, content, images and attachments etc.

And this is one of the main feature of this Microsoft Outlook add-in ‘Team Knowledgebase for Outlook & SharePoint‘. This add-in enables support team to maintain a link between Outlook and SharePoint lists, in a way that you and other staffs can easily access and use KB articles stored in SharePoint in Outlook without switching back and forth between multiple applications, navigating and searching, copying and pasting contents in crude fashion.

How Does It Work?

From within Outlook, using the administrative add-in for Team Knowledgebase, manager can choose the destination SharePoint lists where KB articles are stored. This configuration would be then available in the Outlook application of each member who installs the User add-in for Team Knowledgebase. Now, you are ready to access any KB articles stored in any of the chosen SharePoint lists and insert to email replies from the comfort of your Outlook in a click.

Inserting a KB Article to a new email when composing

Your customer writes to you on a recurring issue, for which a KB article was already being available in your SharePoint. You compose a new reply in Outlook addressed to your customer. From within the compose window, you can insert a KB article directly by clicking the ‘Insert a KB’ button available in the Team KB toolbar.

Alternatively, you can select the email send by your customer in Outlook Explorer window and directly hit ‘Reply with a KB’ button.

A KB selection box (above) will pop-up where you can search matching KB articles from the chosen SharePoint lists and choose that particular KB article to insert it as file attachments (e.g., PDF attachment) or as inline content in the body of the email reply. Notice, KB articles are arranged in a tree, with each SharePoint list representing as the root node, and category and type as child nodes. KB articles are then grouped by their types and categories, making it much easier to find an appropriate one by means of the context of the issue.

To further refine the result, you can search by entering a keyword as filter. And KB articles matching that keyword(s) will be highlighted in red color. For instance, if the keyword was ‘iPod’ as filter, the entries matching ‘iPod’ are highlighted.

You can insert selected KB article in 3 ways to outgoing email:

1) Inserting chosen KB article as PDF, MSG or XPS file attachment to the email reply

Selected KB article can be applied or inserted into the replied email in varied format. You can choose to insert as attachment in the form of a word document (*.doc), Adobe PDF (*.pdf), Microsoft XPS (*.xps) or as single file MHTML (*.mht).

2) Inserting chosen KB article as inline content to the email reply

You can also embed the selected KB article directly into the body of the email reply. Any inline images and formatting are preserved in its original state in the reply also.

Notice the actual KB article item (below), along its formatting and its attachments. They all make it to the inline content that is embedded into the email (above).

3) Inserting chosen KB article as hyperlink URL into the email reply

Alternatively, if your SharePoint site is opened (i.e., accessible via the web), then you can also insert the hyperlink or URL of the selected KB article into the reply, so that the recipient can simply click the hyperlink to open the relevant article in their web browser.

Optionally, you can choose if to send the reply containing the inserted KB article directly to the recipient or display the inspector compose window, so that you can add further information such as attachments or tweak the content.

Lastly, you can customize the reply template headers that are used in the email reply from Outlook > Team KB toolbar > My Options > Reply Templates.

Generating new KB Article to SharePoint from an email

Most often, you might have already written solutions and workarounds to certain issues from your customers through email communications. Such emails in your archive could potentially be a goldmine of knowledge of your organization.

But mining such information at the time of needs can be tedious tasks for workers. They might have vague recollection of it. Another problem is navigating to such existing document libraries and past emails and searching for the right information at the moment of need often takes time and effort, not to mention the delayed response to the support request.

Instead, with Team KB Add-in, you can raise new KB articles from such emails, assign a unique ID, catalog and tag it with metadata such as category, type and other information specific to your business and store it to one of your SharePoint list where it is available for use by your knowledge workers.

Once KB articles are mined from your archived emails and documents, what you end up is a series of well documented, organized articles that can be easily referenced, searched, cataloged and shared with your support staffs.

Benefits of SharePoint Knowledge base

The good thing about a SharePoint based knowledge base system is the accessibility, not only for the staffs, but also for the end users. Over time, the knowledge base repository would have enough solutions on common problems and issues. You can exploit this wealth of knowledge, by allowing your SharePoint knowledge base site accessible on the web. Such that your end-users and customers experiencing technical challenges can self-service the answer to their problem by accessing this web-based knowledge base. They can even make use of the SharePoint inbuilt search functionality to query KB articles by keywords. This can eliminate unnecessary phone calls and allows your customers to quickly get answers to questions and maximize the use of your knowledge base.

Summary

By maintaining a seamless integration of Outlook to SharePoint knowledge base lists, this add-in makes it very easy for support staffs to search and locate a knowledge base article (from SharePoint) relevant to a customer issue from within Outlook and insert it to the outgoing email reply as PDF file attachment or embed as inline content or as hyperlink URL. All these without requiring switching back and forth between Outlook and SharePoint, thus helping your support team to reduce service response time, improve staff productivity and eliminate time wasted searching for information across disparate systems such as shared folders and paper documents.

On the cost front, as Team Knowledge-base leverages your existing Outlook and SharePoint resources, there is no extra hardware/software cost that you will have to incur in implementing an enterprise-wide knowledge base for your team. As your team members are already familiar with Outlook, there is no requirement for any elaborate training, further lowering the cost. As you have network and SharePoint administrators in place, you don’t require dedicated personnel for maintenance. And the bigger advantage, in long-term, is the reduced number of inbound customer support questions, which will reduce the amount of time it takes to respond to support issues. This can reduce the number of support engineers needed, thereby reducing costs to your support desk at the long run.

To get more info about the tool, you can visit – https://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamKnowledgebaseSP/

 

Technology is driving and transforming business every day, but the ultimate goal is all about maximizing knowledge wealth and enhancing human intelligence. And for any organization, this acquired intelligence is the single most valuable asset. When such intelligence is utilized, shared and factored in, innovation and inventions take precedent, spiraling the business and profit level of the company. Therefore, in today’s competitive world, companies take a great deal of efforts to implement an effective knowledge retention and management policy, to prepare and compete for the future. This is where, a knowledge management system or what we popularly refer to as ‘knowledge base’ can make all the differences in aiding productivity and operational skills of the people of the company.

Besides, enabling knowledge retention for future, a knowledge base system can be effectively used for addressing recurring issues reported by your end-users. Consider a scenario, where you and your support team frequently find trying to solve the same issue over and over. Your end-users send you emails on similar issues repeatedly. And if you are already aware of the solution, typically, you will try to compose the solution or if you have vague recollection of it, you would try to navigate to your existing document libraries, past email conversations etc. Just consider how much time and effort you had wasted in trying to find the right information at the moment of need, not to mention the delayed response to the support request. If there was a knowledge base system at place in the organization, you could have shared your knowledge with other team members so that everyone has the same understanding and are communicating the same message when asked about specific issues.

There are many ways of implementing knowledge management systems. One of them is using Microsoft Exchange folders such as Public Folders or shared mailbox folders as KB repositories. In most likelihood, you and your team members are already using Exchange based mailbox accounts in your Outlook, either from on-premise Exchange server or from cloud service such as Microsoft Office 365, which is becoming quite popular for small businesses. And one of the great capabilities of Exchange folder is its collaborative and sharing feature. This makes it very versatile for storing knowledge base articles, which can be shared among the staffs and personals, especially those involve in customer service.

Limitation of Knowledge base folders

Many IT managers resort to using existing emails in Inboxes and other Exchange folders to document best practices and solutions to common problems, in the form of KB articles, because of the easy accessibility and collaborative capability. So, when a support request email is received in Outlook, support staffs would generally go to these folders and browse or search through the tier of KB articles. If a relevant article is found, either the staff would rewrite the solution from scratch into the email, or copy the contents from article item to the email reply, in a crude fashion. Moreover, the frequent switching back and forth between the email and KB folders tends to loosen the focus of the support staff, leaving him/her frustrated. Evidently, organizations and teams that leverage Exchange folders as a knowledge base would need to reinvent the wheel and implement an efficient way of importing folder-based article or document, to outgoing email reply.

Link Folder based KB articles to Emails

To exploit the sharing and collaboration nature of Exchange folders, there should be an easy way to make knowledge base articles from folders accessible and available for insertion into email replies in Outlook without losing any formatting, content, images and attachments etc. And this is one of the main feature of this Microsoft Outlook add-in ‘Team Knowledgebase for Outlook‘. This add-in enables support team to maintain a link between Outlook and KB Folders, in a way that you and other staffs can easily access and use KB articles stored in folders in Outlook without switching back and forth between multiple windows, navigating and searching, copying and pasting contents in crude fashion.

How Does It Work?

From within Outlook, using the administrative add-in for Team Knowledgebase, manager can choose the Exchange folders where KB articles are stored. This configuration would be then available in the Outlook application of each member who installs the User add-in for Team Knowledgebase. Now, you are ready to access any KB articles stored in any of the chosen folder and insert to email replies from the comfort of your Outlook in a click.

Inserting a KB Article to a new email when composing

Your customer writes to you on a recurring issue, for which a KB article was already published in one of your Exchange folders. You compose a new reply in Outlook addressed to your customer. From within the compose window, you can insert a KB article directly by clicking the ‘Insert a KB’ button available in the Team KB toolbar.

Alternatively, you can select the email send by your customer in Outlook Explorer window and directly hit ‘Reply with a KB’ button.

A KB selection box (above) will pop-up where you can search matching KB articles from the chosen Exchange folders and choose that particular KB article to insert it as file attachments (e.g., PDF attachment) or as inline content in the body of the email reply. Notice, KB articles are arranged in a tree, with each folder list representing as the root node, and category and type as child nodes. KB articles are then grouped by their types and categories, making it much easier to find an appropriate one by means of the context of the issue.

To further refine the result, you can search by entering a keyword as filter. And KB articles matching that keyword(s) will be highlighted in red color. For instance, if the keyword was ‘iPod’ as filter, the entries matching ‘iPod’ are highlighted.

You can insert selected KB article in 2 ways to outgoing email:

1) Inserting chosen KB article as PDF, MSG or XPS file attachment to the email reply

Selected KB article can be applied or inserted into the replied email in varied format. You can choose to insert as attachment in the form of a word document (*.doc), Adobe PDF (*.pdf), Email MSG file (*.msg), Microsoft XPS (*.xps) or as single file MHTML (*.mht).

2) Inserting chosen KB article as inline content to the email reply

You can also embed the selected KB article directly into the body of the email reply. Any inline images and formatting are preserved in its original state in the reply also.

Notice the actual KB article item (below), along its formatting and its attachments. They all make it to the inline content that is embedded into the email (above).


Optionally, you can choose if to send the reply containing the inserted KB article directly to the recipient or display the inspector compose window, so that you can add further information such as attachments or tweak the content.

Lastly, you can customize the reply template headers that are used in the email reply from Outlook > Team KB toolbar > My Options > Reply Templates.

Generating new KB Article to Exchange folder from an email

Most often, you might have already written solutions and workarounds to certain issues from your customers through email communications. Such emails in your archive could potentially be a goldmine of knowledge of your organization.


But mining such information at the time of needs can be tedious tasks for workers. They might have vague recollection of it. Another problem is navigating to such existing document libraries and past emails and searching for the right information at the moment of need often takes time and effort, not to mention the delayed response to the support request.

Instead, with Team KB Add-in, you can raise new KB articles from such emails, assign a unique ID, catalog and tag it with metadata such as category, type and other information specific to your business and store it to an appropriate centralized folder where it is available for use by your knowledge workers.

Once KB articles are mined from your archived emails and documents, what you end up is a series of well documented, organized articles that can be easily referenced, searched, catalogued and shared with your support staffs.

Benefits of Knowledge base folders

The good thing about knowledge base folders is the accessibility, not only for the staffs, but also for the end users. Over time, the knowledge base repository would have enough solutions on common problems and issues. You can exploit this wealth of knowledge, by publishing your knowledge base articles to your company’s website. Such that your end-users and customers experiencing technical challenges can self-service the answer to their problem by accessing this web-based knowledge base. This can eliminate unnecessary phone calls and allows your customers to quickly get answers to questions and maximize the use of your knowledge base.

Summary

By maintaining a seamless integration of Outlook to knowledge base folders, this add-in makes it very easy for support staffs to search and locate a knowledge base article relevant to a customer issue from within Outlook and insert it to the outgoing email reply as PDF or MSG file attachment or embed as inline content. All these without requiring switching back and forth between multiple windows and applications, thus helping your support team to reduce service response time, improve staff productivity and eliminate time wasted searching for information across disparate systems such as shared folders and paper documents.

On the cost front, as Team KnowledgeBase leverages your existing Outlook and Exchange folder resources, there is no extra hardware/software cost that you will have to incur in implementing an enterprise-wide knowledge base for your team. As your team members are already familiar with Outlook, there is no requirement for any elaborate training, further lowering the cost. As you have network and Exchange administrators in place, you don’t require dedicated personnel for maintenance. And the bigger advantage, in long-term, is the reduced number of inbound customer support questions, which will reduce the amount of time it takes to respond to support issues. This can reduce the number of support engineers needed, thereby reducing costs to your support desk at the long run.

To get more info about the tool, you can visit – https://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamKnowledgebase/

 

Over the decade, businesses and organizations had accumulated a sea of data. However gaining insight from all this information has been challenging for most. Companies need to translate data into information to plan for future business strategies. For example, an online supermarket would be very interested in knowing:

  • How do the total sales of all products for 2016 compare with the total sales from 2017?
  • How does our profitability of 2017 compare with that of 2015 and 2016?
  • What are the spending patterns for customers of different age groups in the last 5 years?
  • Has that behavior changed over time?
  • How many products were sold per country, state and city this year as opposed to last year?
  • For each buyer age group, what is the breakdown of profitability (both margin percentage and total) by product category
  • Find top and bottom sales people, distributors, vendors, clients, partners, or customers.

With the traditional online (OLTP) database, major drawbacks with regards to answering, analysis and reporting of the above questions are:

  • Reporting, especially, those involving aggregated functions can be slow
  • Limited interactivity when performing reporting
  • Reporting is well suited to handle textual information mostly
  • Complex calculations are often times difficult to implement.

Mining intelligence and insights from business data

Given that the generalization of information using relational query for traditional database, are constrained by a few fields (or dimensions) at a time, it is hard to fully evaluate a complex set of answers without the ability to inspect each dimension in detail, while at the same time, preserving context eliminating all guesswork. This is where Business Intelligence (BI) and Online analytical processing (OLAP) technology comes into relevance.

To put in perspective, OLAP technology can

  • Interact with your data and investigate relationships within the data to put information into the hands of the decision makers
  • Run complex calculations on the OLAP cube to provide aggregated data
  • Easily create your own analytic views.
  • Combine your data in any order, at any level of summarization, and over several time periods.
  • Enable you to perform Market Basket Analysis. E.g. How many customers who bought product A also bought product B?

The AssistMyTeam OLAP tool is perfectly suited for this purpose – to spot new trends and discover unknown problems in your data flow. It’s simple design allows to quickly create OLAP cube from your database, and then analyze and create reports straightaway.

Creating Cube with OLAP Manager tool

The OLAP Manager tool enables you to connect to a fact table of your database. For this example, we are connecting to the ‘Order Details‘ transaction table of the Northwind Traders sample database, which is related to other tables by foreign key relationships and hence, a perfect candidate to be a fact table. A detailed schema of this database is given below:

From the OLAP Manager, you can connect to a SQL Server (Express edition supported too), Azure SQL (cloud) database or to Access database (*.mdb, *.accdb) and then select a particular table, typically, a fact or transaction table, to show up all the available fields defined for that table (and their related source tables via the foreign key).

In the OLAP Manager (above), notice that all other fields from related tables (linked through foreign keys) such as Orders, Products, Categories etc. are automatically pulled out, for inclusion into the cube. Once you have chosen which fields or dimensions to include in the statistic, you can select functions for those numeric/currency fields to act as ‘measures’ in the OLAP cube, such that, statistics can be generated across other fields, based on the value of the ‘measure’ fields.

You can add a new hierarchy dimension that supports upto five (5) levels of parent-child members. For example, we have defined a new hierarchy ‘Region Wise’ having the members Ship Country > Ship Region > Ship City, all from belonging to the Orders table.

You can also create a new calculated (composite) field derived from mathematical functions between 2 or more member fields. For example, below, we have added a new calculated member ‘Total Sales’ that performs a computational operation involving (Unit Price * Quantity) + Freight.

Once you have chosen which fields or dimensions to include in the statistic, you can select aggregate functions such as count, distinct count, sum, average, maximum or minimum for those numeric or currency fields, so as to set them as ‘measures’ in the OLAP cube.

Loading Cube in OLAP Client Tool

Finally, from the OLAP Manager tool, the cube schema is then created and feed to the OLAP Client tool (below) to process and extract the cube from the database. This OLAP Client tool, consists of the Grid and Chart Views. On the left is the Cube structure – measures and hierarchies as a tree. The measures are grouped in the set, displayed in the branch. All the rest of the tree nodes are the dimensions that contain hierarchies. You can then drag dimensions (fields) from the cube structure to the pivot areas (Columns and Rows areas), and then select a measure or two from the cube, and drag it to the values area to generate the statistics.

OLAP Grid

The OLAP Client Grid view (above) is comprised of a multi-dimensional table with expandable nodes. These nodes group and display data according to the hierarchies used to define the measures and dimensions upon which the underlying data has been organized. In tandem with the OLAP Chart view, the OLAP Grid view provides an ideal means of clearly conveying data to the user. It is highly navigable and quickly provides detailed information to the user. The speed with which data recall occurs and the strong formatting the grid enforces ensure data is always presentable and easily understandable. Consequently, OLAP Grid views can easily be ported to spreadsheet applications for report compilation purposes.

You can navigate through these dimensions by drilling down, rolling up, or drilling across. You can drill down to access the detailed level of data, or roll up to see the summarized data. You can roll up through the hierarchy levels of dimensions or to specific characteristics or data elements (columns) of the dimensions. You can also drill across dimensions to access the data of interrelated dimensions. In addition, you can set one of these powerful computational functions such as sum, averages, distinct count, maximum, minimum etc. for the measure field.

OLAP Chart

While the Grid view (below) allows working with numbers, chart view allows representing your data graphically. This gives you and your team a unique opportunity to analyze data visually, dealing with charts rather than numbers, which is much easier to perceive. Now it’s easier than ever to spot new trends and discover unknown problems in your data flow. The statistical tool will help you gain an insight into your data and make new discoveries.

Exporting to file

After a particular snapshot of the statistics is achieved, If you need to share or publish the statistical findings, export it to image, PDF, Excel etc, or print it.

You also have the options to save the pivot settings to file, for accessing the same snapshot in future. If your database is located on a network, you can also save the cube data to file such that you can work offline with the cube, even when the database is not available, or when the network is disconnected.

Summary

AssistMyTeam OLAP tool supports the ability to explore large complex data sets and allows displaying in grids, charts and graphs and support most common operations such as pivoting, drill down/slice and dice, filtering etc. With such arrays of information, you and your management team can re-engineer your business processes, reinforce resources and forecast problem areas and exploit all these factors for competitive advantage. With the capability of complex calculations, trend analysis and sophisticated data modeling, and reporting, OLAP tool helps you to identify critical information on your not so obvious data and extract mission critical information and intelligence that will enable better decision – in your business. Simple and affordable solution, with no requirement of expensive Analysis or OLAP server.

To get more info about the tool, you can visit – https://www.assistmyteam.net/OLAP/

 

Create Instant PDF from files or folders in Windows Explorer in a Click

PDF document –  love it, loathe it

We all love PDF for its versatility – it’s portable, smaller, searchable, easier to view, print, store and share. But when it comes to producing them, we don’t fancy it. Why? Because most PDF tools end up being a cluttered user interface as developers pack features on features, just to be at par with the competitions, while overlooking or forgetting the heuristics and usability aspect of even the basic workflow of a typical user. For instance, for a simple task such as producing a PDF from a document, one needs to start the PDF app, choose the file from disk, define the page size, set security options or restrictions, choose the destination folder, and specify a file name or type in manually – too many steps and effort kind of spoils the experience.

And more importantly, even sophisticated and expensive suite like Adobe Acrobat DC and Foxit Phantom PDF lack support for producing PDF from different document types or formats. In a situation like this, one can rely on ‘PDF printer driver’ where you open that particular document with its associated software application and print it with the ‘PDF driver’. With one or few files, it may do the trick. When you have many of them, multiple steps and more overhead with less productivity. Needless to say, not only the process is time consuming, you will need to have the different software apps installed to work with different document types.

Wouldn’t it be much simpler and easier, if you could just select your files or folder in your Windows Explorer and in a click, produce PDFs without making much fuss on the file formats or types (e.g., images, camera RAWs, office documents, faxes, emails, archived ZIP)?

Instant PDF

So when developing our PDF app, the core focus has been instant PDF production from almost any document type or format with no or very little inputs from the user. In File to PDF, you don’t open the app at all to produce PDF documents. Instead, from the comfort of your Windows Explorer, you right-click the files or folder and click the instant PDF from the context menu. This will produce the PDF documents right in same location, with the same name but with the .pdf extension – without showing any windows or requiring any further input from you.

Create instant PDF from a file in Window Explorer

Did I hear you ask what about Zip file? In other PDF tools, you will have to first extract the files of a Zip file to a folder before processing them. In Contrast, with File to PDF, it will go inside the Zip and produce PDF document from each of the file (contained in the Zip) or for that matter, can even combine all the files of the Zip to one PDF document. It will produce also PDFs from that zip file located within another zip file, which itself could be located in another zip and so on e.g., C.zip located under B.zip, which in turn is located under the parent A.zip. Nicely done!

What about a multi-page TIFF? File to PDF would take into account all the pages inside that single TIFF file and produce a PDF that contains all the pages of the TIFF unlike other tools that only produce PDF from the first page. Have a lot of RAW photo files from your recent expedition and need to produce a portfolio document or preview? With File to PDF, you can produce PDFs directly from these RAW files and skip the time-consuming steps of pre-processing the Photo RAW files to JPEGs (which is one would usually do) – all these irrespective of the vendors (Nikon, Canon, Leica etc) and RAW types (CR2, NEF, PEF, SR2…)

Have a folder with lots of documents, perhaps on a project that you have to submit? With File to PDF, just right-click that folder and click Instant PDF menu in your Windows Explorer and it will produce PDF from each file, with the same filename but with a .pdf extension in the same folder. Get smart and utilize your valuable time and effort to do something productive, rather than processing one file at a time. Hold on, did you mention you have to submit all these via email? No sweat, just right-click the unprocessed files or folder and click ‘Email As PDF’ menu and File to PDF will process all these documents to PDF (if not already) before attaching them as attachments to a new email.
Email files or folder as PDF

A note though, as of now, this works if Microsoft Outlook is installed in your system and configured with an email account.

So just a click is what all File to PDF need to produce PDFs from your files and folder or email them as PDFs. It can’t get any easier or simpler!

File types and formats

With File to PDF, you simply disregard your concern of file formats or types. It can produce PDF documents from more than 120 file types, including popular office documents such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OpenDocuments, RTF, various types of bitmaps and images, FAX or scanned documents, RAW camera files and even compressed ZIP etc. The complete file types and formats supported are listed here.

Convert or Combine just about any files or folder to PDF

If you have stored emails as MSG or EML files in your disk, to produce PDFs from these files, with most PDF tools, the first step (but not the last) will be to open your email MSG or EML file in its Email Application (such as Microsoft Outlook) that created it. And only then, there might be a possibility to create PDFs from the email message. Even then, most of these PDF tools may be unable to convert the attachments (if any) to PDF. In such case, you will be forced to save the attachments to your disk to further process it. Just consider if you have to do it again for tens or hundreds of email files? The time, effort and steps required to accomplish the goal would probably overwhelm any one.
Convert MSG or EML files to PDF

Unlike other PDF tools, File to PDF can take MSG or EML files from your Windows folder and convert to PDF along with its attachments (if any) for easy sharing or archiving. You don’t even need to open the MSG or EML in Microsoft Outlook. What if there is an attachment that is in ZIP format? No, you don’t need to extract the contents at all from the ZIP attachment. No matter how if there are inner ZIP files within the ZIP attachment (e.g., C.zip located under B.zip, which in turn is located under the parent A.zip attachment), File to PDF app will automatically take into account all the files stored in its inner ZIP files (if any) when producing PDF documents from any ZIP attachment. In short, this whole process is seamless to the user and the user can concentrate on what to do with the PDF documents produced.

Combining files to one PDF

Imagine a situation, where your scanner produced individual pages of a document while scanning, or you have multiple documents (not necessarily of the same type or format) that would just work better as a single file. In fact, in typical workplace or business environment, multiple documents naturally belong together, such as quotation, sales order and invoice, or an email and its attachments. Combining such documents to one together makes it easy to see their relationship. File to PDF makes it possible to combine multiple files to one PDF document while forgetting what their types or formats are.

Combine files to One PDF document

Security features

As with any professional PDF authoring tool, File to PDF also offers security features such as watermark, password protection and permission restrictions to your PDF documents. Adding watermark is a simple way to secure your PDF content. A watermark easily lets viewers identify the status of your PDF content, for instance, as a visual warning to designate your document as confidential or for internal use only. Adding a watermark of your name or brand on publication material not only adds a professional touch but also helps to identify ownership without completely locking the PDF down. More importantly, watermarking each page of your PDF helps protect your intellectual property from being passed off as someone else’s work when it is shared with others.

Watermark PDF with your logo or brand

You can produce PDF document that requires a user to type in a password to open it in PDF reader software. This is usually known as ‘Document Open Password‘ or ‘User Password’. Additionally, with File to PDF, you can lock down your PDF content by setting a permissions password (also known as a master password) and restrict printing, editing and copying content in the PDF. Your intended recipients don’t need a password to open the document (unless a ‘Document Open Password’ or ‘User Password’ is enforced on that PDF). They do need this permissions password (master password) to change the restrictions you have set.

Password protect PDF

So those were few tricks on its sleeve that can make PDF content production and sharing much easier and your life freer with File to PDF for Windows. And it makes better sense, much easier and simpler too, to produce PDF documents from files and folders from the comfort and ease of Windows Explorer. To learn more, refer to video demonstrations at my YouTube channel.


Create Instant PDF from files or folders in Windows Explorer in a Click

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