Before you got to this page, chances are, you were just finishing sending a quote to your customer on your Windows PC, or reading an e-book on your Kindle, or tallying debit/credit transactions from your bank e-statements in Mac, or paying off utility e-bills from your smartphone, or preparing a meeting agenda for your team on your tablet or just referring to the user manual of your brand new smart TV. What not so obvious in all these activities is the document type used across all these devices – Portable Document Format or just what we popularly refer to as PDF. Today, it is hard to imagine the new digital office work-space without PDF file format, the choice for storing and sending all kinds of electronic documents – from product presentations and company newsletters, to legal contracts and financial reports.

Starting Office 2007, Microsoft had provided a free add-on known as ‘Save As PDF & XPS’ for saving Word, Excel, PowerPoint documents to PDF and XPS documents (XPS format being Microsoft’s alternative to PDF, but never gained much traction). With Office 2010 release, saving to PDF documents was natively supported in Word, Excel, PowerPoint but not in Microsoft Outlook. This mean you were unable to save emails and their attachments to PDF documents. And even to this day, this continues to be the state of affairs with the latest Office 2016. The workaround is, to make use of 3rd party PDF visual print drivers to output to PDF, but you don’t have much control over output (for instance, it cannot print the attachments that came with the email, nor it can generate a single, merged PDF file containing multiple emails and attachments). Additionally, Adobe Acrobat provides a plugin extension for Outlook email client to save emails to PDF. But it’s quite expensive and you will need to purchase or subscribe to the whole Acrobat software eco-system. Of course there are quite a few PDF Outlook add-ins from 3rd parties that can output emails to PDF, but is not perfect. Or is it? Read on.

Our latest offering – ‘Email to PDF for Outlook‘ is an add-in process in your Microsoft Outlook, fully context driven with seamless integration in Outlook UI ribbons and brings the much needed feature and capability to your Microsoft Outlook email client to save emails and attachments to PDF document formats. No PDF print driver or Acrobat software required.

‘Email to PDF’ add-in installed in your system equips Microsoft Outlook application to

  1. Save emails along with their attachments to PDF, either as a single merged file (containing both email and attachments), or to separate PDF files, each for the attachment and one for email
  2. Combine multiple emails and their attachments to a single PDF file
  3. Forward existing emails and their attachments as PDF files to other recipients
  4. Convert non-PDF attachments to PDF before sending a new email, reply or meeting request.
  5. Add emails and attachments to an existing PDF file (excellent to maintain a single PDF file or e-book, that contains a record of emails on similar topic)
  6. Automate the PDF output process where it generates PDFs from incoming emails and their attachments – freeing you from performing repetitive tasks (say, for archiving emails/attachments for company record keeping)

When ‘Email to PDF’ add-in encounters any of the following document formats in the email attachments, it automatically converts to PDF:

  • Word Files (*.docx, *.docm, *.doc, *.dot, *.dotx, *.dot, *.dotm)
  • Excel files (*.xl, *.xlsx, *.xlsm, *.xlsb, *.xlam, *.xltx, *.xltm, *.xls, *.xlt, *.xla, *.xlm, *.xlw)
  • PowerPoint Presentation files (*.pptx, *.ppt, *.pptm, *.ppsx, *.pps, *.ppsm, *.potx, *.pot, *.potm, *.odp)
  • Images (*.bmp, *.gif, *.png, *.jpg, *.jpeg, *.tif, *.tiff, *.pcx, *.psd, *.cut, *.dcx, *.dds, *.ico, *.lbm, *.lif, *.mdl, *.pcd, *.pcx, *.pic, *.pnm, *.psp, *.sgi, *.raw, *.tga, *.act, *.pal, *.wal)
  • Single File Web Page (*.mht; *.mhtml)
  • Web Page (*.htm; *.html)
  • Rich Text Format (*.rtf)
  • Plain Text (*.txtl *.prn; *.csv)
  • XML Document (*.xml)
  • OpenDocument Text (*.odt)
  • Works 6.0 – 9.0 (*.wps)
  • Multi-page TIFF (*.tif)
  • Others (*.odc, *.uxdc, *.ods)

These ability to save emails and convert attachments to PDF in Outlook has many benefits:

  1. All PDF output files generated from Outlook using ‘Email to PDF’ add-in is searchable with keywords.
  2. When sending or replying to emails with non-PDF attachments, you no longer need to be concerned if the recipients have the right apps to view the different attachments types. For instance, you send an email with an expense report as attachments (in excel and PDF formats) to your HR manager, who is on a tour. If the manager’s tablet or smartphone don’t have excel app, he or she can still view the PDF attachment.
  3. Thank to high rate of compression, PDF format drastically reduces document size while preserving the document quality. Smaller file size significantly reduces costly bandwidth and storage issues on Exchange or file server. Converting attachments and embedded images to a PDF reduces document size significantly, which adds up to real savings in expensive email server storage and bandwidth congestion. It also means significant time being saved in retrieving emails from the server.
  4. Efficient email retention policy –  PDF being a self-contained and highly compressed medium that effectively manages images, vectors and text in a single file, it makes for an ideal format from which to base archiving and record keeping.
  5. Saves you precious time and effort from having to undergo multiple actions and switching between multiple apps to create or convert PDF from your existing Word/Excel documents and attach back to email in Outlook.

Turning your emails and attachments into PDFs makes them portable, smaller, searchable and generally easier to view, print, store and share, independent of application software, hardware and operating systems. This versatility makes PDF the most usable and suitable format for all types of business presentations.

Video Demonstration: Generating PDF from emails and attachments from an email

Video Demonstration: Generating PDFs from multiple emails and attachments

Video Demonstration: Merging emails and attachments to generate a single PDF file

Video Demonstration: Adding emails and attachments to an existing PDF file

Video Demonstration: Converting non-PDF attachments to PDF attachments in new/outgoing emails

Video Demonstration: Automatically export incoming emails to PDF files

‘Email to PDF for Outlook’ is available in 16 major languages: English, Chinese (Traditional), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish. You can avail a fully functional trial of 30 days – download it here. If you represent an educational institutions or universities, get it for free by applying for an academic license here.

A very happy new year 2017 from AssistMyTeam

 

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

 

With presence on about 500 million computer systems, Microsoft Outlook is by far the most widely used email application in the world. It is more so entrenched in the business community, where it is not only used for email exchange, but also as a personal organizer able to handle just about everything from your email to your calendar and easily transfer tasks, contacts, and more. In a nutshell, Microsoft Outlook enjoys an enormous popularity.

However, being the most popular email application does not necessarily mean it is perfect. In fact, is far from it. One of the glaring omissions is the feature to extract and export emails from Outlook data store to document formats such as Adobe PDF, even Microsoft own proprietary XPS and Word document formats.

PDF or Portable Document Format is an industry standard for document exchange and archiving. In other term, it is an electronic replacement for paper. Converting emails to PDF can serve many purposes. First, PDF format preserves the source file information such as layout, styles and format of the email. Second, PDF exists in compressed form that reduces the size of the file significantly, making it simple to distribute by e-mail or post on a website. This also makes it an ideal to archive and backup emails so that you have a record of your information in a format that can be easily opened in the future. Additionally, because of archiving, mailbox size can be maintained at reduced level. Third, it is very easy to share with other users because of its size and portability. Fourth, PDF files are viewable and printable on virtually any platform, including Windows, Mac OS, UNIX, Linux and mobile platforms such as iPhone, iPad, Android etc.

Because of the popularity of PDF, Microsoft started supporting it in Office 2007 via a special ‘Save as PDF and XPS’ add-in, available as a separate download. With SP2, PDF and XPS support is natively inbuilt into the Office suite. So, now you can easily save your Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents to PDF natively. Unfortunately, Microsoft chooses to leave support for PDF/XPS out of its Outlook application. Whether that was deliberate or limitation in PDF licensing term, we don’t know for sure. But what we do know is the devoid of PDF and XPS export feature in Outlook is a big limitation.  So, as usual, most of us has to either rely on Adobe Acrobat Outlook plug-in (which means, you will have to buy it and yes, it costs a lot too, $299 for a personal license for the standard edition!) or, make use of a PDF printer driver, to generate PDF document that is not searchable and contents that is not easy to recover or exported to another format. Some even resort to copy-paste of the content of the web page to Microsoft Word and convert to PDF/XPS document, albeit in a crude fashion.

For these reasons, a year back, in an attempt to bridge the gap, I wrote a VBA, that puts a button in the mail inspector window in Outlook, clicking which would feed the HTML version of the email item to Microsoft Word application through command line execution, and convert it into a PDF document. What started as a simple script to meet my own requirement for document generation from emails, has now evolved into a full-fledged commercial add-in application for Microsoft Outlook. It really is a lot nicer. It has a lot of conveniences that make it easy to use, encapsulating all the complex and dirty processes within the familiar Outlook toolbar and ribbon user interface. But in the end it still does that same core function that got it started – it generates PDF, XPS, word documents and web archived pages from any items in Outlook (be it emails, appointments or tasks), with a single click or on its own through automation. These are all achieved, by leveraging your existing investment in Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010 suite. There is no requirement to install a PDF printer driver or a third party library or Adobe Acrobat application.

In its new avatar, Document Exporter is a lot more than just being a PDF converter.  Once you convert an email to PDF or other document format, generated PDF files of the email and attachments can be named with the metadata information contained in the email item itself, such as date, sender, receiver, subject, etc. This way you don’t even need to input and key in the name of the document.

Document Exporter can also convert the underlying attachments of the email to PDF.  You have the choice to output each individual attachment to a separate PDF file, or merge all attachments into a single PDF file where each attachment is joined to one another, or merge the email along with the attachments to a single PDF file such that, each attachment is joined and appended to the email PDF. However, the support for converting attachment to PDF depends on the file format of the attachment. Most of the Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Web or simply plain text file formats are supported.  Here is a list of different  file formats supported for converting to PDF:  docx, docm, doc, dot, dotx, dot, htm, html, mht, mhtl, rtf, txt, odt, wpd, wps, xl, xlsx, xlsm, xlsb, xlam, xltx, xltm, xls, xlt, xla, xlm, xlw, odc, uxdc, ods, csv, prn, pptx, ppt, pptm, ppsx, pps, ppsm, potx, pot, potm, odp, bmp, gif, png, jpg, jpeg, tif, tiff, pcx, psd

One unique feature of Document Exporter that sets it apart from other PDF converter tool for Outlook is in its support to export emails to other popular document formats such as Microsoft own, XPS (*.xps) and Word Documents (*.docx, *.doc), Rich Text (*.rtf), Open Document (*.odt) and Web archive (*.mht). There are five ways of generating PDF and other document formats from Outlook items:

  1. Convert individual Outlook item
  2. Batch convert multiple Outlook items
  3. Append Outlook items to an existing PDF file
  4. Merge multiple Outlook items into one file
  5. Automatically convert new incoming emails

One recent feature addition is the real-time generation of PDF or other document formats from incoming emails. This works by setting Document Exporter add-in to monitor an Outlook folder or mailbox, for new emails. So, when a new incoming email hits the folder or mailbox, Document Exporter automatically processes it to generate PDF or other documents, without any intervention from the user. Now, you can easily maintain a parallel copy or backup of your current Outlook items.

You can also opt to maintain a single PDF file for an Outlook folder or mailbox, such that every new Outlook item received or added to the folder or mailbox will be automatically appended over this single PDF file, containing iteration of pages just like an e-book. This entire process will appear seamless to the user, and you will have a PDF file that has the latest update of your Outlook folder or mailbox.

Finally, you have complete control over the PDF document generation through the Output settings panel.  You can customize the default file naming scheme by choosing your own metadata fields, specify the attachments output behavior, choose single or multiple PDF merge options and modify the page setup and layout etc.

The latest release of Document Exporter add-in is version 6 and works with Outlook 2007 and 2010 (32 bit).  I have also composed a 15 minutes video demonstration on its capabilities on Outlook 2010, which is now available on the product website. If you have any opinions, feedback or questions on this product, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me at bahrur dot ipham at assistmyteam dot net.

Product Summary:
Name: Document Exporter for Outlook
Website: http://www.assistmyteam.net/DocumentExporter/
Download: http://www.assistmyteam.net/DocumentExporter/Download.asp
Video Demonstration: http://www.assistmyteam.net/DocumentExporter/Videos/

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