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Ask anyone in IT what is one of the biggest headaches when managing Outlook deployments and I expect that it’s the myriad of application add-ins all vying for control of the Outlook environment.  Principal  among these are document management system add-ins that allow access to the DMS to include stored documents as secure email attachments, metadata cleaning add-ins designed to remove tracked changes and other hidden information from Office document attachments and Outlook file transfer add-ins that offload large attachments and provide secure delivery of email content.  And these are just a few.  I often hear the refrain from IT management:  “We already have 7 add-ins running in Outlook.  Please don’t ask me to add another one!”

One of the primary issues with add-ins is that there is no easy way to order the add-in operation so that each add-in is triggered in the desired sequence to insure interoperability.  A typical scenario is a metadata scrubbing add-in that needs to clean attachments before a file transfer add-in triggers the upload of the attachments to either an on premise or cloud staging area.  If you are lucky Microsoft will trigger the metadata scrubbing add-in first.  If not documents are transferred containing potentially harmful metadata.  Another problem occurs when an add-in utilizes its own file attach function to access documents from local or shared stores instead of the standard Outlook attach button.  This is the approach used by several secure file transfer add-ins.  The issue here is that it may prohibit DMS stored documents from being included in the secure transfer.

Law firms are particularly vulnerable to these add-in issues since they deploy a wide variety of mission critical applications that support Outlook add-ins, including document management, case management, metadata scrubbing and secure file transfer to name a few.  These add-ins are designed to allow the knowledge worker to interact with these applications from the environment where they live most of their workday:  Microsoft Outlook.  However the potential for interoperability issues is considerable and continues to be a headache for the IT department.   With over 100 law firm deployments Biscom is more than familiar with add-in interoperability issues.  We have designed our Secure File transfer (SFT) add-in to minimize conflict with other add-ins where possible.  For instance the Biscom SFT does not utilize a separate attach button.  This allows inclusion of all attachments in the file transfer, whether from the standard Outlook attach button or from the application specific attach buttons that allow access to document management or case management repositories.

Payne Metadata Assistant

When add-in interoperability issues have arisen Biscom has been proactive in collaborating with application vendors to resolve the issues.  For instance Payne Consulting was the first to develop a metadata scrubbing solution and continues to lead this space.   However,  victim of the vagaries of Microsoft add-in ordering, the Biscom SFT add-in is triggered before the Payne add-in resulting in documents delivered without the required metadata scrubbing.  Biscom and Payne consulting engineers collaborated to come up with a solution.  Since, thanks to Microsoft, reordering the add-ins was not an option, the Biscom add-in was modified to invoke the Payne Metadata Assistant add-in prior to Biscom SFT delivery.  Biscom and Workshare, also a leader in metadata management, collaborated to achieve interoperability of our respective Outlook add-ins.  Rather that modify their add-in to only accommodate Biscom, Workshare redesigned their add-in to co-exist with a range of other application add-ins that are triggered by the Send function.  The latest version of Workshare Protect, which includes metadata scrubbing, cleans the document before it is physically attached to the Outlook compose screen.  This eliminates any potential interoperability issues with add-ins triggered when the Send button is clicked.  As a result the Biscom SFT add-in now works seamlessly with WorkShare Protect.

In addition to the above interoperability issues add-ins can dramatically impact Outlook performance.  For instance several of the cloud based file transfer add-ins will upload the attachments to their public could storage and replace the attachments with a link.  While designed to address the large attachment issue this approach can cause a significant delay for Outlook user as the email will not be sent until the attachment uploads are complete.  Multi-gigabyte attachment uploads will result in heightened Outlook user frustration and increased support calls to IT. Biscom has designed its SFT add-in to upload the attachments in the background and not suspend the email delivery.  For the Biscom user the perception is that the email delivery in instantaneous.