By now, most of you might be aware of latest Microsoft’s Cloud based Office collaboration  and services – Office 365. The offering consists of Office Professional Plus, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online.

In the last few months, Office 365 has grown tremendously and widely adopted by small and medium businesses. Add to that, many of our existing customers keep nagging me when the support for Office 365 is planned. Reluctantly, it was decided that the time has come to finally do it. But wait, there is no blueprints or easier way to achieved it. One aspect of Office 365 is the claimed-based authentication which is quite different from the usual NTLM or form authentication, that are quite common in in-housed Microsoft software environment such as SharePoint 2010. So, spent 2 days learning about the new claim-based authentication implementation in Office 365 and another day for finally coming out with a working prototype. The journey was painful, but the end it was worth it, because now, I can proudly display ‘works on Office 365‘ for our products. Moreover, I would be scanning less emails on Office 365 support from now onwards – a relief actually!

The following products are now updated to support Office 365, especially the SharePoint Online service.

1. Issue Tracker for Outlook & SharePoint (Team Edition)
2. Issue Tracker for Outlook & SharePoint (Personal Edition)
3. Team Helpdesk for Outlook & SharePoint
4. Data Publisher for Outlook & SharePoint
5. Team Publisher for Outlook & SharePoint
6. Team TimeSheet for Outlook & SharePoint

The update does not add any new UI or options to go along, only the logic that drives connection to the Office 365 SharePoint Online site is piggyback into existing module. So, there is no new steps to get accustom to and you can keep on using the product the way you had been doing before. What is new is now, you can specify your Office 365 SharePoint site to interface and work with our product, by simply keying in the office 365 team site URL and you will be prompted to provide the credential to log on to the site.

For example, below, the Office 365 team site URL is http://amt100.sharepoint.com/TeamSite

And in the credential dialog prompt, you will enter your Microsoft Online Services ID, as the user name. In this context, it is john@AMT100.onmicrosoft.com and the password characters.

Note that, Microsoft Online Service ID is the same that you use when signing in to Office 365 site in your web browser.

If the credential provided is correct, it should load up all the lists and sub-sites as shown below.


Edited (30th November 2011): Please note that you need the following requirements to be able to integrate Office 365 SharePoint Online with our products:

Operating System – Vista SP2 or above. Windows XP and 2003 won’t work with Office 365 SharePoints.
.NET Framework – 3.5 or above
Windows Identity Foundation – This component is required to be installed on the system so that our product can work with Office 365 SharePoint lists.

You can download and install this component from below:

For Vista 32 bit (Windows6.0-KB974405-x86.msu)
For Vista 64 bit (Windows6.0-KB974405-x64.msu)
For WIndows 7 32 bit (Windows6.1-KB974405-x86.msu)
For Windows 7 64 bit (Windows6.1-KB974405-x64.msu)

 

The last blog I had written was on my issue tracking and ticketing system (i.e., Team Helpdesk for Outlook), based on Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Server. When implemented on an enterprise network (as groupware), this add-in solution aids in providing timely response and resolution to end-users queries, something which is very critical to the success of the business, in long run.

My latest release is a variant of the issue tracking system (known as Team Helpdesk for Outlook & SharePoint), that is based and integrated on three commonly used environments in most IT workhouses – Microsoft Outlook, Exchange and SharePoint. Designed to be deployed on an enterprise level, this add-in can drastically reduce the workload of the typical help desk technicians or agents, through automation, accurate logging and tracking of tickets. In this help desk system, the support tickets are stored in both Exchange (either a public folder or a shared mailbox) and in SharePoint (in a list).  The idea is to provide technicians and support staffs access to their assigned tickets through the comfort of Microsoft Outlook or SharePoint site. The SharePoint integration is seamless to the users, as is in Microsoft Outlook, facilitating remote technicians and other stakeholders to view, track and work on support request in a web browser, thus realizing the benefits of the help desk company-wide.

As this is based on Exchange & SharePoint, it is highly scalable, and requires less or no special maintenance efforts. The advantages are high rate of user adoption, (because of their familiarity with Microsoft Outlook and SharePoint) and little or no special skill sets requirement.

The flowchart below, pretty much sums up the processes involved:

The Outlook connection:

And  the equivalent SharePoint case  item:

Product page – http://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdeskSP/

To get you a quick start and walk-through, I have also prepared 2 hours long video demonstrations, on how to get the most out of your help desk support team.
http://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdeskSP/TutorialClips.asp

 

You have a business that you aim one day to grow and be profitable. If you are one person support team and have fewer customers, sure, you can provide resolution to their grievances by writing or speaking to them, without logging the details of the customer and nor documenting the nature of the problem. However, what happens if you have a large customer base? Of course, there will be multiple support staffs attending to high number of support requests. How would each one of them remember who sent what and who needs what? How would John know that Monica has already resolved this particular customer’s issue? How would you prevent them from working on the same issue concurrently to avert duplicate effort? What if Monica solved an issue virtually identical to a separate issue John is currently working on? How would John know this issue has been already resolved, so he could use this information to reply to the customer’s issue ? For strategic decisions and intelligence, senior managers would certainly like to know how many times has this particular problem come up for this particular product? How long has this problem been an issue for them?

It is said that success of a business is measured against the level of customer satisfaction on sales and services. In fact, the higher the customer satisfaction is, the repeated business it creates. This is one of the key reason why successful enterprises have a dedicated help-desk team or call centers to caters to the queries and grievances of their customer base. But what makes a help-desk team productive and successful? Well for sure, choosing the right helpdesk system is the first step that can make all the difference.

But how do you arrive to the decision of choosing a particular helpdesk system? Do you need a helpdesk database system that works standalone within your local network? Or do you need a web based helpdesk to enable your scattered support personnel to work on troubled tickets? Or do you require a helpdesk that make uses of your existing email infrastructure such as Microsoft Outlook and Exchange?

Typically, an ideal helpdesk system should support the organizations’ internal logic and workflows, integrates easily and leverage existing infrastructures, caters to the support technicians on the move, enables automation and processing based on customizable rules and most importantly, should be easy to use with little or no training requirement. This is where a helpdesk system based on email client such as Microsoft Outlook scores over other type of support systems. This is because in most businesses, most support staffs use Outlook extensively – all day, every day for email communications, appointments, contacts, tasks etc. As they have relied that heavily on Outlook, it is only natural for them to turn Outlook to a sort of a ticketing system  to support requests and calls from customers. Moreover, as Outlook provides quick access to company’s contacts, address books, mailboxes and public folders stored on a central Exchange server, it makes it much easier for support personals to track, collaborate and log support requests in Outlook.

So Microsoft Outlook is a great productivity office application, something more of an indispensable companion for many businesses. However,  Outlook itself is highly optimized for personal email exchange often falling short when it comes to providing a complete history of an event over time. When an email has been forwarded on to another helpdesk team member, the original owner loses insight into the progress. This has a serious implication, that is, in its original state, Outlook simply lacks the automation, reporting, reminders, and workflow to manage a support ticket request, which is critical for growing helpdesks looking to optimize and uniformly improve support staff/customer interactions.

This is where ‘Team Helpdesk for Outlook’, a plug-in application that I developed two years back, completes the picture. Team Helpdesk overcomes the limitations mentioned above by extending your Outlook as an ideal platform to collect, track and resolve trouble tickets while sharing this information with your entire team. It does this by bringing help desk functionality and automation, and integrating seamlessly with the easy workflow of Outlook. This allows support team to work in the same way they do with emails, something which they are already familiar with. It also adds integration with fixed phones, Skype or SMS gateways to facilitate relaying helpdesk response over these phone or SMS.

Designed as a groupware, Team Helpdesk, when used with a public folder or shared mailbox (with Microsoft Exchange, that is), provides a way for multiple support team to work in collaboration on a number of issues. Monica resolves an issue, marks it closed, and John can search though all of the resolved issues to see if the problem he’s working on has already been resolved. John can also find out how the problem was fixed and use this solution to solve his issue.

By enabling assignment of a particular support agent to work on an issue, Team Helpdesk helps you to ensure your helpdesk staffs are not unnecessarily duplicating effort – John and Monica are not both separately working on Mr. Francas ‘s printing issue at the same time without knowing the other is working on it.


The Ongoing Cases subfolder in Team Helpdesk System in Outlook


The support case form used for logging new support request assistance from customer in Outlook

Another major obstacle many support staffs face is the lack of clarity and overall picture of the reported issue. Most support requests cannot be closed within a single e-mail and response. Feedback from the caller and suggestions from the respective support staffs often occur over multiple request-response emails. Moreover, different members from the support teams may provide resolutions during the course of the request. So, in practical scenario, a support case might have various e-mail versions of the resolution steps, making it cumbersome to get a complete picture of responses and resolution. With the conversation threading feature, Team Helpdesk captures the complete course of the conversation chronologically, from all email communications received or sent (including those automated notifications sent to caller and technicians in due course). The end result is a consolidated view where all the responses to a support request are collated together. Redundant and repeated conversations are filtered out to present only the relevant communications.


The Conversation Threading view of all email communications that had taken place on a particular case

This eases the task of the helpdesk and minimizes repeating what has already been done, while keeping support team members to stay on the track. Another advantage is it allows the technician to quickly glimpse through the thread and get a complete overview on the responses in chronological order and resolution applied to the particular support request, something which is hard to extract from viewing multiple email responses.

Another useful information that senior managements can tract and extract from Team Helpdesk is trend analysis. Let’s say you get a lot of support requests on how to rectify papers getting jammed inside printer. By running statistics or searching through the resolved cases, you can articulate how often this particular topic needs assistance. If you find support requests received on this particular issue rampant in the past, you may decide to create a knowledge base article on the problem and publish this KB on your support website. This would, in turn, serves as a first level support service to customers. Therefore, without a helpdesk system to track these types of questions, you would never be able to figure out which knowledge base articles or frequently asked questions need to be published.

Team Helpdesk works great when automated. You can put your customer service online 24/7, even after office hours or holidays. You can install the managerial tool of Team Helpdesk in your windows server (as it runs 24/7 non-stop) or you can simply designate a particular workstation that is pretty much 24/7. With this arrangement, Team Helpdesk can continue to monitor your support mailbox, without any human intervention and generate tickets out of incoming emails automatically, assign technicians and notify callers and technicians with ticket number allotment with emails or as a SMS message to their mobile devices.

Support request received via emails seldom contain basic details on the nature of the issue. And often, there is a back-and-forth communications that goes between the helpdesk and the customer, in just try get hold of these information, long before the technician can start resolving it.  With the Team Helpdesk Customer Web Service website, you can guide a customer in the way they report their problem to the helpdesk. By having required fields such as the model number of the printer, brand and driver version, etc. you not only cut down the communication loops, but also put in place a structured format of logging new support cases in the helpdesk system automatically.

As you can see, there is no excuse really not to have some kind of helpdesk functionality for any kind of business that involves an end-user. Even if you have a small business and are managing the support requests yourself, you will find some kind of helpdesk ticketing advantageous to use. For enterprise business, you will find helpdesk system an absolute necessity in order to save time, money, and effort tracking your support request issues, as well as to enable collaboration, eliminate duplication of effort and documenting problem resolutions for reuse.

The publication of this blog incidentally, falls in the same period as the release of version 6 of Team Helpdesk for Outlook. Version 6 added three main features which are described in this 6 minutes video tour

If you are interested in learning more, or even evaluating it for a free 60 days trial, you are welcome. Just visit the product home page at http://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdesk/

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