For Part II of this article, click here

For any product or project life-cycle, issues from end-users and workers are inevitable. Any business processes that require the organization or team to track a high volume of issues or tickets, such as customer help-desk, sales leads or project activities, needs a defined and structured methodology of issues collection, assignment, deployment and resolution.  This is where an issue tracking system can prove indispensable and blessing to support staffs. An organization or team can benefit a lot if these issues are identified and recorded, in a way that allows qualitative analysis for improving the product or service, in the long run.

Using SharePoint for Issue Tracking – For organizations that already have invested in Microsoft SharePoint platforms for collaboration and sharing, support team can easily implement a simple issue tracking list and exploit the SharePoint inbuilt tracking and workflow capabilities to track issues and risks throughout the product life cycle. Such SharePoint based issue tracking list is good enough for teams that receive phone calls about product and service issues. A technician can simply log a new ticket within the SharePoint list, and key in the information as per the phone conversation. Using the SharePoint workflows, automated notification can also be sent out to the assigned technician.

Limitation of SharePoint based Issue Tracking – But for organizations that rely on emails partially or wholly, it is a lot of inconvenience and hard work. Because, there is no direct and easy way to source the ticket information from your emails, except to resort to copy-paste trick, which is time consuming and laborious, and not to mention, the precious human resources needed for data gathering. Moreover, the inbuilt issue tracking list template in SharePoint is only good for basic tracking requirement and lacks the automation and sophistication, to function as an effective help-desk system.

Besides, Microsoft Outlook integration of SharePoint is limited, and does not provide the capabilities to connect and export to a SharePoint list at the item level. One of the important goals for a help-desk is staying on top on the growing amount of support request emails from end-users. But without an organized and structured link between Outlook and SharePoint, caller and problem information from Outlook mails cannot be added or updated to SharePoint tickets in a timely manner. This can lead to delay in response time and even support requests falling through the crack. These limitations prevent many help-desk teams from implementing an effective SharePoint based issue tracking system.

Connecting Outlook to SharePoint based Issue Tracking – To exploit the sharing and collaboration features of SharePoint for Issue tracking purpose, we need an easy way to source the problem, callers metadata information and attachments from emails stored in client application such as Microsoft Outlook, and feed to the trouble tickets in the SharePoint list. Keeping this requirement in mind, I have invested considerable time to design a generic solution that can be used by every team and organizations. The outcome is an Outlook add-in that enables to create and maintain a link between Outlook and your Issue Tracking SharePoint lists, such that you and other technicians can easily raise trouble tickets from emails from within your Microsoft Outlook, in a single click, or even better, automatically (if you have set Issue Tracker to watch and process incoming emails, that is) ‘Issue Tracker for Outlook & SharePoint‘ runs within Outlook.exe process and extend the functionalities of Outlook, by allowing custom actions to be triggered and additional feature sets and capabilities to be implemented on top of the host application (Outlook).

So How Does It Work? – The team edition of ‘Issue Tracker for Outlook and SharePoint’ is designed as a groupware solution i.e., multiple technicians working on the same set of tickets in the administrator chosen SharePoint lists. So, we have an administrative installation and configuration, only needed to be performed by the help-desk manager. And a client installation, that is required to be installed by every technician on their system. Being a groupware, the help-desk settings and configurations data need to be stored on a central repository. Because your help-desk staffs can be scattered in different geographical locations, and might not have access to the company’s local network remotely, using a network database or shared folder won’t be feasible. Instead, in Issue Tracker system, the help-desk configuration and settings data are stored in a special SharePoint list (having the name ‘TeamIssueTrackerSettings’) which is accessible to all help-desk staffs, on the local network, VPN, HTTP, WAN.

From within Outlook, using the administrative add-in for Issue Tracker, help-desk manager can choose the destination SharePoint lists where trouble ticket raised by other technicians would be stored. The fields of the email and each of the chosen SharePoint list are then mapped, so that you have control over what and which data goes to the ticket.  These chosen SharePoint lists are the deployed to all the technicians in their Outlook.

To allow technicians to add extra meaningful information to trouble tickets, apart from the ones extracted from the email, help-desk manager can maintain and deploy a list of problem categories and types, statuses and any number of custom fields drop down values. These help-desk specific fields would be then available in the Outlook application of each technician.

Ticket input form in Outlook

Screenshot: Ticket input form in Outlook

To raise a trouble ticket, simply select one or more mail items, and Choose and click the particular SharePoint list under which the ticket item will be generated. When you do this, relevant metadata such as caller and problem details, attachments etc. will be extracted from the email to the ticket item. You can add further details to the ticket to be generated such as, the technician that will be responsible for solving the ticket, due date, by which the issue should be resolved, and problem category, type and status and any number of custom metadata.

Once a trouble ticket is generated successfully in the chosen SharePoint list, information regarding the ticket, such as the ticket ID, data/time and the URL to the SharePoint ticket are tagged and embedded into the email item in Outlook. This not only provides an easy way to go to the ticket item in the SharePoint site directly, but also prevents other technicians from generating a duplicate ticket, from the same email (a possible scenario on shared mailboxes and mail-enabled public folders).

In the subject of the email from which a ticket was raised, a tracking code containing the prefix code of the SharePoint list and the ticket ID is embedded.  For example, [CMA-4]. This is done so for tracking purpose on subsequent email conversations that might happen. As long as this phrase is intact when sending out response to caller, or when caller replies back to the help-desk, Issue Tracker System will automatically track and associate it with the correct SharePoint list and ticket item. This means, the ticket item and description field will be updated live automatically, as and when the email is sent out or received. This greatly enhances the productivity of the help-desk because, no technicians are required anymore to monitor the mailbox for new replies from caller, nor there is need to add and update the new information to the relevant ticket manually. Issue Tracker system does that for you automatically, to provide a commentary on exactly what happened and the series of actions taken to achieve resolution.

If you have a dedicated mailbox only used for support purposes, you can automate the whole process of ticketing experience from incoming emails. You can set Issue Tracker to monitor your mailbox and automatically raise trouble tickets from incoming emails, without requiring your intervention.


The general applicability of such application is immense and more so, it overcomes the limitation of email integration, or the lack of it, in SharePoint based issue tracking system, by linking Outlook to SharePoint. In being able to raise tickets from their emails in the comfort of Outlook, Issue Tracker system empowers help-desk staffs to focus their valuable time and efforts into resolving the issues rather than spending on the technical processes of gathering tickets and doing manual tasks.

Refer to videos below to demonstrate the capabilities and feature sets of Issue Tracker.

Part-I: Administrative Installation & Configuration

Part-II: Technician Installation & Raising tickets to SharePoint

Part II – Overcoming the limitation of SharePoint based Issue Tracking system

Product Summary:
Title: Issue Tracker for Outlook & SharePoint
Product page: https://www.assistmyteam.net/IssueTrackerSP/
Download page: https://www.assistmyteam.net/IssueTrackerSP/Download.asp
Video page: https://www.assistmyteam.net/IssueTrackerSP/TutorialClips.asp

 

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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