From my consulting experience, I have noticed one core issue that many IT administrators and power users face in their implementation towards integration of Outlook/Exchange and SharePoint – the ‘incompleteness’ of the captured Outlook data in SharePoint. And this happens when there is a lack of metadata available to describe the published item in SharePoint. Because of this, user adoption of SharePoint could suffer in the organization.

For instance, emails can be saved as Outlook Message Format (.MSG extension) from Outlook > File > Save As, and then can be uploaded directly through the native SharePoint UI. And when one clicks the MSG file from SharePoint, it will open up in Outlook (if installed) which the user can then reply/forward. This provides for a basic integration of storing Outlook emails to SharePoint. However for non-Outlook users, the MSG file is not as useful because SharePoint can’t display the MSG file and its content such as attachments natively.

There are other important limitations with as such! The upload of the MSG file of the email to SharePoint does not bring along any additional attributes or metadata information (To, From, Subject, Sender etc.) to the SharePoint columns. So, one need to manually feed additional metadata information to describe it in the SharePoint columns to give a meaning to the uploaded email MSG file. Not only, it is time consuming and laborious to save, upload the email file and enter metadata to describe it, one has to repeat the same step for each email. And it can be quite a daunting task if you have thousands of emails in your Inbox. This limitation can significantly handicap the usefulness and usability of such data in SharePoint.

Email enabling a SharePoint list or library could be another option (that is, one can include the email address of the SharePoint list as one of the recipients to have that email stored in the SharePoint). But again, the actual email is stored in .EML format in SharePoint, which only recent versions of Microsoft Outlook supports.  Moreover, this process does not populate useful email metadata to the SharePoint columns. Other limitation with this approach is the administration overhead to setup SharePoint with unique email addresses and broadcast it to the users. This approach does not work on your existing emails and other Outlook items such as appointments, tasks or contacts and hence, cannot account as a cumulative solution for your Outlook/Exchange data.

If the solution discussed above is exactly your requirement, then you are in for luck and need not read further of this blog. But if you find yourself needing for a seamless way to bring Outlook emails and data to SharePoint along with useful metadata information of the email to corresponding SharePoint columns, then read on as I am going to discuss how this can be achieved fairly simple with one of my application ‘DataPublisher for Outlook & SharePoint’.

DataPublisher exists as an add-in application in your Microsoft Outlook. In this application, the first step you (or the administrator in Team Edition) would do is to specify any number of destination SharePoint lists that will store the published emails or other items from Outlook. This is followed by simple mapping of attributes or fields between the Outlook mail (or other item types) and SharePoint columns. This is done so that the add-in can extract the relevant metadata information (such as To, From, Categories, Subject, Body etc.) from the email and populate it automatically to the published item on the SharePoint side.

And storing emails from Outlook to SharePoint is just a matter of a click (or two, if you had linked multiple SharePoint lists to Outlook). To be even more productive, you can select multiple emails and publish them to SharePoint.

Once published, the SharePoint item will contain the email (OutlookItem.msg) as well as relevant metadata information that were mapped. Attachments of the email are available as clickable links.

For that matter, you can publish all the items of an Outlook folder to a particular SharePoint list in a click. This will publish all the items in that Outlook/Exchange folder to the chosen SharePoint lists in batch. As the transfer is done in the background outside the Outlook.exe process, you can continue working in Outlook without being interrupted.

No matter what technique you use, DataPublisher add-in pushes the emails to your SharePoint along with attachments of the email and the metadata information (chosen when performing mapping of fields) to the SharePoint columns. In fact, to view the content of the email, you don’t even need to open the MSG file from SharePoint as the metadata information contains the email body too. Attachments of the email can be directly accessed and viewed natively from the SharePoint item without opening the MSG file in Outlook or other email client application.

Outlook items with custom fields – if you use a custom form on an Outlook folder, most likely you might have added custom fields to collect additional data from users.  With DataPublisher, you can map those custom fields to SharePoint columns too to bring the custom data to the corresponding custom fields to SharePoint.

Outlook/Exchange to SharePoint publishing is not limited to emails. In fact, with DataPublisher, you can implement the same technique to push appointments, tasks, journals or contacts to your chosen SharePoint destination, while preserving the metadata information and attachments.

You can also set DataPublisher to automatically push incoming emails in your Inbox to SharePoint without requiring you to do it. That is, as soon as new emails are received or new appointments are added, the add-in would export those items to SharePoint with the same logic. This is ideal if you want to maintain a live copy of your Outlook folder items (e.g. Inbox, Calendar) in SharePoint.

DataPublisher application works in your Exchange Public folders or PST just as fine as it does in your Inbox. And if your organization still uses Public folders to store data and documents, you could make use of DataPublisher add-in to export and migrate all of it to SharePoint repositories without worrying about the integrity or loss of information on the SharePoint side.

In a nutshell, you can just concentrate on deciding which emails to store in SharePoint and leave the question on ‘how’ and other technical complexities to DataPublisher application. So go ahead and adapt our content management solution from Outlook to SharePoint for your varied requirements such as filling caller and problem metadata information from emails to trouble tickets in your SharePoint Issue Tracking lists, submitting meetings and schedules from Outlook Calendars to SharePoint calendars, Exchange Public Folders migration to SharePoint, email retention and archival from Outlook to SharePoint repositories as part of company’s legal policy etc.

Remark: In the Enterprise Team edition of DataPublisher application, choosing the destination SharePoint lists and the mapping of fields is done once by the administrator and deployed to all other users automatically. This makes it very easy for workgroup users to file and publish emails, attachments, appointments, tasks or contacts along with the mapped metadata to the administrator’s specified SharePoint list and columns from within their Outlook. Streamlining these processes for all users of the organization, brings about a bridging solution for content publishing and management from Microsoft Outlook to SharePoint.

For more read:
Data Publisher for Outlook & SharePoint (Personal Edition)
Data Publisher for Outlook & SharePoint (Enterprise/Team Edition) 

 

It’s simple! Computers are so much engraved in today’s businesses, but in the end, the ultimate goal is all about maximizing knowledge wealth and enhancing human intelligence. And for any company, 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 SharePoint repositories. In most cases, you might already have a SharePoint based site already running in your company’s network, or may be using one of the hosted SharePoint services, such Microsoft Office 365, which is becoming quite popular for small businesses. And we already know, one of the great capabilities of SharePoint 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.

However, there is one crippling limitation of SharePoint based knowledge base, which is its isolation state and lack of integration with email clients such as Microsoft Outlook. This is at disadvantage for customer support team that relies on email as the primary mode of communication. Because when a support request email is received, support staff would need to refer to the SharePoint site and search for the relevant knowledge base article, and if they manage to find it, there is no direct and effective way of using that article along with its associated documents and files in the email reply. One can copy the content from the KB article to the email, however, that is time consuming and cumbersome, and often not all information and files make it to the email. So, 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.

Because of such limitation in SharePoint based knowledge base system, it made me thinking on how to bridge this gap and come up with a solution that offers a seamless integration of the SharePoint based KB articles in Microsoft Outlook. The effort of this work leads to the development of an Microsoft Outlook add-in, called ‘Team KnowledgeBase for Outlook & SharePoint‘. Currently available as a beta offering, with Team KnowledgeBase installed, one can effortlessly locate a KB article (stored on SharePoint) relevant to an issue from within Outlook itself, and insert it into an outgoing email reply in a single click. All these and more making sure, the outgoing email retains all the actual files and the original formatting of the selected KB article. No more frequent switching between Outlook and SharePoint, no more copy-paste job etc. In fact, you don’t even need to type in anything into the email reply. Team KnowledgeBase add-in does that for you on the fly.

There are two portions of Team KnowledgeBase – an admin install and a user install. The former is for managers and administrators, who would perform the global configuration of the knowledge base, choose and setup SharePoint KB lists, and map fields between Outlook and SharePoint, whereas the later is for individual support staff that will be making use of the KB articles stored in one or more of the administrator chosen SharePoint lists, from Outlook. Even though KB articles are stored on your SharePoint list, every user can make use of it in Microsoft Outlook to reply to emails in a snap.

A pop-up dialog box allows you to browse through the existing knowledge base articles, and select the relevant article to be embedded either as attachment, inline or as URL into the email reply.

You can make use of a filter, to refine your search. For example, you can display the KB articles listing by specifying a problem category and/or a type. Alternative, you can also specify keywords for a full text search such that matching KB articles that meet the criteria are only displayed, for selection. 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).


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.

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.

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.

On the cost front, as Team KnowledgeBase 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.

Product Summary:
Name: Team KnowledgeBase for Outlook and SharePoint
Product site: http://www.assistmyteam.net/TeamKnowledgeBaseSP/

Video: Administrative Configuration


Video: Using KB articles to reply to emails in Outlook

 

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)

 

With the growing amount of emails and enforced limits on mailbox sizes, today’s organization needs an environment to effectively manage these information assets and apply the appropriate retention policies for emails containing company records. SharePoint is the ideal platform to facilitate this requirement, and no wonder, many organizations are adopting it to manage and share documents from a central location.

On the users’ side, publishing documents to SharePoint from the latest version of Microsoft Office applications had never been easier. However, SharePoint integration in Microsoft Outlook still leaves a lot to be desired, as it makes it very hard and inconvenient for users to publish contents from their personal mailbox to SharePoint. For instance, it is nearly impossible to upload and publish emails selectively to a SharePoint list, from Outlook.  Even if you do manage to succeed, you will certainly find that most of the required metadata information did not make it to SharePoint. If the Outlook items have custom fields, they would certainly be skipped or ignored in SharePoint. What good is SharePoint integration in Outlook, when you can’t figure out an easier way to push emails and other data from Outlook to SharePoint conveniently! The process of capturing and publishing of business contents from personal mailboxes and public folders has become a core issue for most organizations, as they come to rely on SharePoint for storage, retrieval, search and collaboration on documents enterprise wide.

To cut the discussion short, we have a solution that addresses the shortcoming of SharePoint integration in Outlook with our latest release – Data Publisher for Outlook and SharePoint. This exists as an add-in process in Microsoft Outlook and is designed to provide enterprise users a means to bring contents from their Outlook to SharePoint, without needing you to be a techie or programmer. In other words, Data Publisher extends your Microsoft Outlook to effectively act as a content provider for your enterprise SharePoint repository.

Workflow chart for Data Publisher for Outlook and SharePoint

All you need to do, is associate one or more SharePoint lists to each Outlook folder, or to a particular Outlook item type such as mail, appointment, task or contact. If you choose the former, the configured SharePoint lists will be visible to that folder exclusively and items from the particular folder can only be published to one of the associated lists. For the latter, the configured SharePoint lists will be available in the common pool, which means, any mail items in Outlook from any folder or stores can be published to one of this common SharePoint list.  Associating SharePoint lists at the folder level exposes Data Publisher to custom fields that you might have defined in a customized Outlook form, on that particular folder. This means, data from both inbuilt fields and custom fields will be available in SharePoint list items, when published. So, if you need to include information from custom fields to be made available in SharePoint, you will choose the folder level association with SharePoint lists.

Mapping fields between Outlook and SharePoint

Mapping fields between Outlook and SharePoint

Before you can publish any items from Outlook to SharePoint, you will also need to decide or choose the SharePoint fields that will store the value extracted from the Outlook fields. This is easily done in Data Publisher with the mapping tool. With this, you can map the fields between Outlook and SharePoint, enabling minute control on what data is being published to SharePoint. Besides the standard inbuilt fields of the Outlook item type, you can also include any number of user defined fields. This mapping feature also allows you to dynamically create new field of the relevant data type in the SharePoint list, so that you can associate it with an Outlook field. These are the least settings required to be able to start publishing.

Publishing from Outlook to SharePoint

Choose to which SharePoint list the selected Outlook items will be published to

You publish items from Outlook to SharePoint by simply clicking the ‘Quick Publish’, in which case, it will be published to the default SharePoint list that is set in the settings panel. If you have multiple SharePoint lists configured, simply choose one of the lists from the ‘Publish To’ drop down menu. With this arrangement, you can easily file and publish emails, attachments, appointments, tasks or contacts to SharePoint, without worrying for loss of metadata.

This is how the Outlook item looks like after successful publishing

This is how the Outlook item looks like after successful publishing to SharePoint

This is how the published item in SharePoint will look like

This is how the published item in SharePoint will look like

What if you want Outlook to perform the publishing of items to SharePoint automatically, without requiring any input from your side? Yes, Data Publisher will let you do this automation in Outlook. How? Data Publisher can monitor any number of Outlook folders real-time, to automatically publish incoming mails or newly added appointments, tasks or contact items to a SharePoint list of your choosing. Such automation comes very handy and useful, in maintaining a parallel copy or backup of your current Outlook items in SharePoint. This spares you from having to do that laborious work of copying and pasting the data from Outlook to SharePoint manually.

Automatically publish Outlook items to SharePoint

Automatically publish Outlook items to SharePoint

One of the core designs in Data Publisher add-in for Outlook, is the user experience – making it very easy and effortless to publish your mails, appointments, tasks or contacts from Outlook to SharePoint manually or on the fly. And because SharePoint is ideal for sharing documents and collaboration, Data Publisher can be adapted and used for variety of content management purposes in SharePoint:

  • For filing trouble tickets to an issue tracking SharePoint list from Outlook emails, so that tickets can be collaborated and assigned to relevant technicians in SharePoint accessible by all members of your support team.
  • For submitting personal time sheets from Outlook calendar on work done, to a SharePoint calendar list.
  • For submitting meetings and schedules from Outlook calendar to a SharePoint Calendar list
  • For publishing attachments and emails (as .msg) on document libraries
  • For email retention and archival purpose in SharePoint

Data Publisher is currently available for free. If you want to learn more, you can refer to the product home page – http://www.assistmyteam.net/DataPublisherSP/. A team edition is also under development.

You can also watch this 20 minutes video demonstration on ‘Data Publisher for Outlook and SharePoint’ in action.

Video Demonstration of Data Publisher for Outlook and SharePoint

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