I will be honest here. I have stopped socializing for a month and two because of the number of challenges that had brought out on me in my endeavor to support Outlook 2013 and 64 bit Outlook in Team Helpdesk. The pressure seems more knowing many of my clients have adopted Outlook 2013 and particularly most of have embraced the 64 bit version of Outlook. As Team Helpdesk was designed and coded with legacy technology, there was simply no workaround to make it work anymore on the new Microsoft Office platform. This means, a new product has to be designed from scratch using the latest Microsoft development environments and dot NET frameworks.
Naturally, I had tried to salvage as many codes and reusable components possible from the old application. Luckily most of the codes were easily ported to the new product with slight changes. However, due to technical limitation, I had to discard some existing feature-sets and overhaul many of them with substitutes to elevate Team Helpdesk to its new avatar. So gone are the Outlook based custom forms for the Ongoing Cases, Resolved Cases and KB folders. The biggest limitation with Outlook based forms is the frequent risk of corruptions and form cache issues on local systems. And from my time interacting with users on technical support in the past, I can say about half of the issues they were experiencing were directly or indirectly related to the Outlook case form. For instance, some users can see the case form when they opened cases in Outlook. Some can’t and some received certain error “The form required to view this message cannot be displayed. Contact your administrator.” At other time, it could be “The custom form cannot be opened. Outlook will use an Outlook form instead. The operation failed”. And the most obvious workaround to such errors was to to clear the form cache of the parent folder. And to ease the support process, we have even produced a few KB articles on this Outlook form issue. Another hindrance with the old forms was when we updates the forms (say, with new fields and controls), administrators will know the pain of upgrading the forms used in every Team Helpdesk folder one by one using the .FDM files provided. This dreads us from actively putting any new features to the forms unless it was required. So when we have the opportunity to develop Team Helpdesk from scratch, we were debating the limitations and recurring issues users had experienced with the Outlook forms and decided to ditch the Outlook based forms finally in favor of .NET WinForms. This provides us with the prospect to utilize a number of features rich advanced controls available in .NET framework. What this translates for you is a user friendly case form in Outlook with quicker access to information than never before.
The new forms are built into the Team Helpdesk Agent add-in itself. This means when you upgrade to newer versions, the add-in automatically has the new forms and hence no extra steps to update or delete the forms. More importantly, this liberate any kind of administration on the forms unlike in the past versions. This also means, when other non-helpdesk members access the cases, all they will see is the body of the item. The case form is unavailable as those members don’t have Team Helpdesk Agent add-in installed in their Outlook. This serves to hide helpdesk related fields and metadata from non-support people.
Talking about other changes is the all new ‘Case Preview’ form that shows all the available helpdesk meta fields including custom fields and the values these hold when you select or highlight any Outlook case item in the Ongoing Cases or Resolved Cases folders. We have also added the ability to see all the related emails of that case directly and yes, you can reply or forward or send a KB quickly without opening the Outlook inspector window. You can also see the private notes that are added by other technicians. I hope that you would find a great use of this preview form to increase productivity and response time to the grieving parties :).
One of the recurring issue many of you faced with Team Helpdesk (for that matters with any items in Public Folders or Shared mailboxes) is the occurrence of Exchange conflicts on a particular item when it is edited by two or more users. And the obvious way to get back the original item is to open that conflict and resolve it by choosing which version of the edited item to retain. It is fruitless joy to discuss why conflicts occurs in Exchange (may be only God knows!). However, it will be a God send if I were to know who currently are opening and editing a particular case item and accordingly decide if to edit and make changes to the case myself. Seems like we have just found that blessing. When you open the case in its inspector window, you will see the ‘Safe to Edit?’ option in the form. It shows you who else have currently opened this particular case item in their Outlook.
If you are the assigned technician or one of them, and if the ones who are currently on that case are not, you can ‘shoo’ them to let go off the case! 🙂 On the serious note, individual technician can avoid creating a conflict from the first place by not editing an item that is already being opened/edited by others. You don’t even need to open the particular case to see who are on the case. Just use the context menu option ‘Safe To Edit?’ on the folder view. You can also use the ‘Opened Cases’ panel (available in the ribbon or toolbar) to view which cases are currently being opened/worked by each individual technician.
The cases opened by technicians can also be seen in ‘Online Status of Technicians’ tool. This is just one of the simpler way we have devised in the new version of Team Helpdesk to avoid multiple agents from editing the same case. I hope this comes handy to you.
One particular feature in version 8 that I would like to highlight is the ability to know how many emails a particular case have without opening the case. We have added two new meta fields ‘Total Emails‘ and ‘Total Non-Auto Emails‘ to each case item. The first stores the total number of emails associated with the case including the automated notification emails. The other stores the number of emails sans the automated ones. These meta fields when used in the Outlook views of the Ongoing Cases and Resolved Cases folders can be very useful to you.
These meta fields are also available in the Summary Reports and OLAP Statistics tools.
Now lets head towards some of the issues in earlier version of Team Helpdesk that we overcame in this new version. I know many of you just love the ticket automation feature. But you might be familiar with the issue when you try to set Team Helpdesk to monitor a mailbox, say ‘Support‘ and if there are other mailboxes/accounts having similar names such as ‘IT Support‘ or ‘Support HRM‘, Team Helpdesk failed to get a proper handle of the mailbox because of Exchange names resolution issue. Due to which, in previous versions, either you have to use a unique account name or have that particular mailbox opened as additional mailboxes in your Outlook profile, and then select the Inbox folder instead. In the new version, you need not do this anymore. What we have done is to automatically resolve the correct name by matching the SMTP address of the mailbox from the possible ones. This way, Team Helpdesk will still be able to get the correct mailbox reference when there are other similar account names. This same scenario holds true when you set Team Helpdesk to send outgoing emails from a common account and it failed to send out from that account.
Some other notable changes in the new version:
- The Team Helpdesk Agent Add-in (formerly known as Team Helpdesk Client add-in) stores the helpdesk settings and data locally as cached data. This enables the agent add-in to operate in cached mode without needing to connect to the network helpdesk database (Access or SQL server whichever you had chosen). What this means is, if you are disconnected from the network (i.e., the helpdesk database is unavailable), you can still work with most of the helpdesk operations in Outlook without being interrupted. You can even raise new cases, but no ID will be assigned as the database is unavailable. But you can add more information to the meta fields, add descriptions etc and when you are connected again, you can assign a new ID.
- Provision to store any number of Allotment notification templates. Now you can choose which specific allotment auto-response to be sent for a particular caller. For instance, if someone sends an e-mail to UK.Support@myCompany.com, you would want to inform the customer that their e-mail will be responded to within 2 hours between 9 am and 5:30 pm GMT. If they send a new case to US.Support@myCompany.com, you can inform the customer that their e-mail will be responded to within 3 hours between 9 am and 5:30 pm EST.
- Team Helpdesk has a new folder ‘History Resolved’. This folder stores all the emails belonging to resolved cases. With version 8, emails for ongoing and resolved cases are stored separately. This is to optimize the loading speed of the case and also to ease archival and deletion of old emails (for resolved cases).
- Support for unlimited custom fields of different data types. You can use the following data types: Text, Number, Currency, Yes/No, Date/Time, Note, List. All defined custom fields are available in summary reports and OLAP Statistics tool.
I am very excited with the plethora of features and enhancements possible with the new Team Helpdesk platform. And I hope to hear from you what you think of the new version in terms of features and usability. As always, I deeply appreciate the time and effort you had taken to provide us with valuable feedback as it has influenced our design direction of our products. In fact, I have listened to each and every past bugs submitted by users and have tried the best to address those in the new version. Some work are still pending as more research and analysis are required, but be assure we will work out a new patch within a month of this release with more enhancements.
Those upgrading to the new version from earlier versions, please do read the instructions in the upgrade page carefully and make sure you are equipped with the correct permissions and rights on the database (‘db_creator’ permission on SQL Server for example) and on the Exchange folders (‘Owner’ rights for example).
For Team Helpdesk for Outlook
Download page of new version
Installing Fresh? refer to Installation Guide
Release note for version 8
For Team Helpdesk for Outlook & SharePoint
Download page of new version
Installing Fresh? refer to Installation Guide
Release note for version 6