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) 

 

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

 

In most businesses and corporate houses, staffs and managers rely heavily on email communication with their clients, stakeholders or team members. Along with the email are flood of document files that get embedded as attachments. Over time, as emails get accumulated in the recipient’s mailbox, there comes a plethora of problems for both the IT administrators and for the general users alike. Sluggish performance of Microsoft Outlook, email taking a long time to open or delivered, frequent corruption of mails and attachments and even worse, exceeding the mailbox size restriction are some of the obvious complains most IT managers are accustomed to, from their staffs. These symptoms become more pronounced as mailbox data store size increases. And this is particularly of a concern for small businesses, that has limited IT resources and skills at their disposal. And for those businesses that have their mailboxes in the cloud, space is at a premium and if proper optimization and attachments policy are not implemented, the cost of cloud service might actually prove expensive in the long run. So, the question is, what can one do to prevent breaching mailbox size restriction? Is there any effective solution (and cheaper too) that you or small businesses can implement to optimize their mailboxes and extract the maximum usage out of the available size?

The answer is ‘Yes’. Outlook performance and mailbox size go hand in hand, and in 90% of the case, the sluggishness or breach in mailbox size restriction is primarily to be blamed to the presence of vast number attachments, ranging from small Kilobytes to large Megabytes, and even in hundred Megabytes. There is also a problem with redundant attachments being accumulated in the Sent Items folder because a copy of each message that you send is saved underneath it. This not only fills up the mailbox but also increases the size of Outlook data file. Most IT or Exchange administrators would recommend to move old emails to another data store. Even though that might ease the problem for a while, this is only a short term workaround. What most of us failed to realize is the size proportion between the email itself and its associated attachments.

So, the long term solution to frequent mailbox limit breach is not ‘Archiving’, but to do away and disconnect attachments from the mail items altogether. And store them externally from Outlook, and still maintain the hard link between the mail and their associated attachments. Besides, mailbox space are pretty expensive when compared to a local disk, and files and documents load up faster from local folder too than loading up from the Outlook data store. So this advantage itself favors the argument for moving attachments away from Outlook. But, if you had expected Microsoft Outlook would offer a wizard or tool to do just this, then you are in for a big surprise. There is no such feature built-in to Microsoft Outlook. This glaring devoid for an effective mechanism for mailbox/Outlook PST size optimization in the world’s most popular email client comes as a big disappointment for normal and power workers alike.

But nevertheless, Necessity is the mother of Invention. And that is exactly what had happened and that is why this particular blog has being written for – an add-in solution for Microsoft Outlook that is designed to bridge the gap between mailbox optimization and Outlook, by performing the detachment and storage of attachments outside of Outlook with complete user transparency, and yet still offer seamless integration of external attachments to emails in Outlook.

Attachment Manager add-in in Outlook 2010 fluent ribbon

Attachment Manager for Outlook not only helps you to save precious space on your PST or Exchange mailbox, but also contributes in making Outlook run much faster with better performance, and removes the requirement for constantly archiving duties. Furthermore, at times when there is a need to move the attachments back to original mail item, like when replying or forwarding, Attachment Manager can automatically re-attach the associated files from the local disk back to the original email.

Another very useful feature (for which many users had appreciated) is the level of automation Attachment Manager can operate. Like for instance, user can set Attachment Manager to monitor and track any number of Outlook folders and shared mailboxes to automatically detach attachments from new incoming emails, without any intervention from the user. This enables user to focus on their tasks and not worry about mailbox space running out, which in turn, results in better Outlook performance and response. In short, automation makes you productive.

Here is the official video demonstration that was released for version 3. This flash video walk through you on how to configure and use Attachment Manager in Microsoft Outlook 2010.

If you find the video above a bit distorted or blurred because of the restricted size, you can view the actual size (800×600) here.

So, with Attachment Manager, you have the flexibility of reverting back to storing attachments to the emails, or detaching to an external repository. In either case, you continue to have access to the associated attachments from the email and that is what user experience is all about.

You may wonder what other benefits may possibly be there for storing attachments outside of Outlook. In fact, there are many useful application of it. Apart from documents and files loading faster from a local disk than that from Outlook data store, having the required documents on to a shared network folder make it a sensible choice for sharing documents and files among team members. And as network folders are seldom disconnected, administrator can take comfort that critical business documents are available all the time. Another aspect is the instant accessibility from the file folder. This might not always be the case for Outlook, as it is prone to corruption or going awry, and when it does that, attachments and other business critical documents might not just show up, or in the worst case, might get lost in the ever growing mailbox data store. Also remember that fact that there is an inbuilt security mechanism built-in to newer Microsoft Outlook (starting Outlook 2003) that prevents certain attachments such as .exe, mdb etc. And you may counter this by saying, it is a required feature against virus and malicious activities, and I would agree. But the point is about having access to files in Outlook in a trusted environment, which most of the corporate and business networks are.

I hit upon the idea of developing this particular add-in solution (read it as ‘Attachment Manager for Outlook’), when I started working on Exchange Server in Windows 2003 4 years back. But it was not till another 3 years that I finally got serious into its development. Since its first release, many organizations and individuals have adopted it, and in fact, there has been increasing demand for new enhancements and features, which lead to the launch of the current version (version 3). The widespread adoption of this attachments solution looks very promising, considering that Microsoft Exchange based mailboxes form a large chunk of mail solution for most business and corporate entities, and that has been a force of motivation on me to write this particular blog and share my perspective.

For those of you interested in learning more on ‘Attachment Manager for Outlook’ or possibly evaluate it , refer to the product home page at http://www.assistmyteam.net/AttachmentManager/

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