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/

 

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.

Finally, a little bit nirvana to the web access sites that comes as complementary in Team Helpdesk. I had almost decided to depreciate the web access features from the new version release after reading significant complains from users who had implemented the sites in their IIS web server. However, thanks to MSDN and StackOverFlow forums, found solutions to the crippling issues many of you were experiencing with the Technicians Web Access (TWA) and Customer Web Service (CWS) sites. One nasty one is when you or your end-user hit a button on the page and it loads forever and gets stuck. Close examinations to this issue exposes a surprise – a javascript  error ‘_dopostback‘ is undefined’. It happens specially on newer browsers such IE9 or IE10. Users with older browsers do not experience the issue. The cause of this is because your IIS server (where the TWA/CWS sites are hosted) do not have the latest .NET 2.0 and .NET 4.0 patch or service pack. Due to this, ASP.NET engine simply cannot recognize the most current versions of some browsers, and will consequently treat them as down-level browsers. The fix is to get updated browser-definition files for your IIS.

Hotfixes from Microsoft:
For .NET 2.0 – http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2600100
For .NET 4.0 – http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2600088 

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
http://assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdesk/Download.asp

Installing Fresh? refer to Installation Guide
http://assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdesk/Installation.asp

Upgrade Instructions
http://assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdesk/UpgradeInstructions.asp

Release note for version 8
http://assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdesk/History/rev8.asp

 

For Team Helpdesk for Outlook & SharePoint

Download page of new version
http://assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdeskSP/Download.asp

Installing Fresh? refer to Installation Guide
http://assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdeskSP/Installation.asp

Upgrade Instructions
http://assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdeskSP/UpgradeInstructions.asp

Release note for version 6
http://assistmyteam.net/TeamHelpdeskSP/History/rev6.asp

 

Today, 64 bit processors are found in most of our consumer and business systems. Because of its inherent capacity to support more virtual and physical memory than 32-bit ones, business users now can work with larger documents and files to perform big computation. So no wonder when Microsoft released the first native 64 bit Office 2010 some 3 years back, it was a defining enhancement for the power users and data analysis experts, as it allows to access more than 2 gigabytes of addressable memory. Office 2013 is the latest release to have both 32 bit and 64 bit versions. Though a 64 bit office provides the advantage of using larger memory, the downside is that most application extensions such as third party add-ins, Active-X controls and other in-house solutions build on earlier versions of office are incompatible on 64 bit native office applications. This is one of reason why Microsoft recommends most users to install 32 bit version of Office by default.

So why am I stressing on the 64 bit Office suddenly? Yes, now we have a new release of our mailbox ticketing solution (Team Issue Tracker for Outlook & SharePoint) that works seamlessly on both 32 bit and 64 bit native versions of Office 2010 and 2013. The old COM based add-in was totally overhauled and then ported to .NET framework (3.5). Now, you are no longer forced to use the 32-bit version of Microsoft Office/Outlook, just because you want to use our ticketing solution. The new Issue Tracking add-in version works with your 64-bit Microsoft Outlook. And how can you find out if you have 32-bit or 64-bit of Microsoft Outlook? Very simple, open Outlook  and go to File > About Microsoft Outlook. And in the About dialog box, 32 bit or 64 bit is appended at the end of the title.


About Microsoft Outlook dialog box showing 32 bit or 64 bit

Developing a solution to be used in both 32 bit and 64 bit Office applications are not only mired with compatibility issues, but also the headache of maintaining separate builds and installation medias for each Office version. And note that, the older version of Issue Tracker was programmed extensively with legacy codes that were exclusively for 32 bit platforms. And that didn’t make our life easier. No doubt, it was a considerable effort making the switch but well worth the time and investment as newer Office releases will ultimately do away with the ActiveX and COM based in-process applications. Moreover, the inclusion of Visual Basic 6 run-time in newer Windows (9 and above) is most unlikely. So, for us. the switch has allowed us to use and capitalize the various components and services available in.NET framework in our existing products. And the end result is a product that is much more user friendly, features packed and able to fully exploit the new ribbon interface.

Another enhancement is the grid control. The new release uses a native .NET grid 3rd party component which is a big improvement from the older grids. Support for new data types such as bar codes, images, sorting of columns, spanning of cells etc. are some of them. Furthermore, the new looks is in ‘sync’ with the looks and feel of Office user interface.

The new .NET grid

A single universal installer is used for both 32 bit and 64 bit. All you need to do is run it and the windows installer would automatically perform the required installation based on the version of your Office.

To learn more about ‘Team Issue Tracker for Outlook & SharePoint’, refer to the product page
To learn more about the changes and fixes done in the new release, refer to Version history page

 

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