The Right Tool

clip_image002In the picture to the right, the tool next to MiMi is an impact driver. Of course, it’s the right tool because it’s black and white, but when you have to drive any type of substantial fastener, it’s the only tool for the job. This past Wednesday, I followed a tweet from John Mancini that said “AIIM Survey Concludes That E-Mail Still a Challenge for Most Organizations” and I realized that once again, I own the perfect tool for the job. The job is email management and the tool is

Take a look at the AIIM survey, and look at the pitiful status of “integration between Outlook and SharePoint”, a category that should have been a slam-dunk for Microsoft from the get-go. Why does “Copy/Transfer to SharePoint” have the worst results in the survey? Because it’s too damn hard to do! Oh, wait, I meant to put that in the past tense, it was too damn hard to do. In fact, storing emails or email attachments in SharePoint was so hard, that some of my biggest SharePoint fans were about to pronounce the content management solution we built for them to be a failure. Over a year ago, they told me “you have got to find a way to make it easy to include email along with the documents we put in SharePoint”. I promised them I would, and then, like any good manager, I told my Systems Administrator to find just such a solution.

He rounded up the “usual suspects”, i.e. every company that claims to make email integration with SharePoint possible. Borrowing a line from Casablanca, given the importance of this project, he rounded-up twice the normal number of suspects. The results were not encouraging. He installed trial versions of several solutions that I never even saw; he had quickly deemed them too difficult to use, too buggy or too expensive. He installed trial versions of at least two products that I did see. The first one seemed to break Outlook, leaving it in a state where certain context menu options no longer functioned. The second actually seemed to work, and made it onto the desk of one of our users for testing. After a few weeks, our conclusion was “there has to be something easier to use than this”. Enter loads into Outlook, and sits on the side of your inbox, and stands ready to receive email or individual attachments. Using the drag and drop interface, I can quickly move email messages or attachments from an open email into any SharePoint library I have setup in Setting up those libraries is easy too; I can easily add new sites or libraries, explore all the libraries on a site and navigate through the folder structure if there is one. In addition, can be shown in an individual email message. That means that if I can’t determine what to do with the message from the subject line, I can handle it or its attachments while reading the message. Of course, as one of my users pointed out, if I were to turn on the Preview Pane, I could handle everything from the inbox. I watched his setup, and Outlook appeared to be a mail processing system. He would click on a message, take a quick look at the contents and then either drag it or its attachments into a library on SharePoint, via also provides the ability to set document properties, including managed metadata and to create new documents or folders. You can also access the documents on SharePoint from the sidebar which prompted one of my users to point out that “some days I don’t even go into SharePoint” he simply works out of Outlook. That fact is mildly disturbing, but an amazing bit of praise for the product.

By far the best thing about from my point of view is how much our users like it. They were growing impatient with us as we looked for a good solution, but they have come to appreciate the fact that we waited until we found the right solution. It also reinforced the fact that we aren’t total SharePoint zealots, we accepted the consensus opinion that email management in SharePoint was simply harder than it should be and we purchased a solution. Sometimes, admitting that SharePoint needs help is a good move for the IT group.

The Fine Print – American Nuclear Insurers didn’t receive anything of value from for this blog entry, neither did I. I did receive a tee-shirt for recording a video for them while attending Info360, but that had nothing to do with this blog entry either. As with other vendors/products I have mentioned here, I am talking about today because they are a good company, with a great product that has served us well.

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