So what has Andy been working on lately? Well, lately I’ve been writing an integration between Outlook 2003 and SharePoint 2007. It was all a bit fraught – some of the web services I was using are a bit dodgy, uploading files and metadata as one transaction doesn’t seem to be possible, and everyone always underestimates the effort involved in coping with the metadata about an email. I’ve written an integration between GroupWise 6.5 and Open Text Livelink before now, and again, dealing with the metadata was a bigger effort than browsing the system or uploading the document.
Now, email saving into SharePoint seems to be an overlooked thing. Microsoft have their Exchange 2007 Managed Folders, which can push emails into a SharePoint Records center. Liam Cleary has written his usual high-quality description of setting it up, and the MS Records management team blogged about it in parts I, II, III and IV.
However, a lot of our customers aren’t impressed with this solution. They want to be able to save emails into particular SharePoint Libraries within their usual collaboration environment, rather than just booting them off into a Record Center.
U2U built an Outlook 2007 addin which is very nice – though a bit of a different take. Their approach requires defining the save location up front and mapping to the data, but that then saving emails is dead easy – just drag them into the folder. Nice.
Anyway, this is what I built – I’ll contrast with the U2U offering lateer…
Unlike the MS ‘Records Management’ and U2U approaches, I didn’t use a folder based approach. It’d have been nice, but our customer’s users were familiar with ‘Save As’-type dialog boxes. Thus, I built mine in the same way – you start by defining a save location and then fill in the content-type/meta-data information for the e-mail message.
Outlook 2003 with a ‘Save to SharePoint’ button
Save to SharePoint dialog with tree view of SharePoint system and previous save locations.
The locations available to save into are defined centrally in a SharePoint list, and can either be specific sites or sites and sub-sites.
Once a user has selected a save location, they’re presented with a form to fill in metadata. The metadata fields are those defined by the default content type for the list; the user can select another content type (if there is more than one). The fields themselves are as defined by the content type, and support all of the usual validation, options, etc. for most of the typical SharePoint field types – (the only exceptions are that Radio Button fields are displayed as Drop-down lists (but they’re functionally equivalent) and that there is no Rich Text editor multi-line text field). This means that even things like look-ups to other lists or user lookups are all supported.
Metadata from the email (e.g. ‘To’, ‘From’, ‘Subject’, etc.) can be mapped into the content type.
Screenshots showing the Default content type (in this case used for testing lots of field types), changing the content type, and the form generated for this other content type. Note that for the final screenshot, only the ‘Sent Date’ field has data mapped into it in this configuration.
So how does this compare? Well, U2U’s offering is more simple, and for most users I suspect that it’s quite adequate. For my project, though, we had to allow users to edit metadata when storing the email, and what that metadata is would be dynamic. I guess I would describe the various advantages as:
Clearly, one other major difference is that U2U’s add in is for Outlook 2007 and mine is for Outlook 2003.
If anyone finds this plug-in interesting, let me know and I’ll put you in contact with my employer – I’m afraid it isn’t mine to give away.