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Monday, September 14, 2009

How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook Part 2

Now that you have a fully licensed version of Microsoft Outlook running on your computer, it's time to choose which of Outlook's internal methods to use to track your compliance tasks. You essentially have three basic flavors to choose from:
  1. First, you can track compliance tasks using, well, the Tasks feature in Outlook. Duh. This makes a lot of sense because the most of features you'll want for tracking compliance tasks are included in the default Task forms and data in Outlook. However, the Task feature in Outlook falls short on a couple of fronts. Primarily, though tasks may be set to recur in the future, tasks don't show up on your calendar unless you've completed each and every previous instance of that task. For example, if you have a personal task to wash your dogs the first Saturday of every month, and you forgot to wash them last month, Outlook won't tell you to wash them this month. In fact, to get Outlook to tell you to wash the dogs this month you have to mark last month's task as complete (which is a lie) or reset the task entirely (a giant PITA). Both of these workarounds stink for task management.
  2. Another option is to use Appointment or Calendar items to track your tasks. The problem with this option is that you need to do a bit more dinking around to add several custom fields to duplicate those found in Outlook Tasks, but getting recurring tasks to appear in the future is much more intuitive. The biggest downside here is all the extra custom fields you need to add to make Calendar items work to track compliance tasks. However, once you get it all together and up and running, you'll probably appreciate the better functionality that using Calendar items provide.
  3. Your last option is to create custom forms via an add-in using something like Visual Studio. This is the most powerful and flexible way to create task items in Outlook, but it is also the most complicated and time consuming. Just like it's easier to bake a Devi's Food cake from a pre-made cake mix, it's also easier to create a compliance system in Outlook from a pre-made task or appointment form (you were wondering about the cake mix box above, and now you know)!

There's a lot more to talk about from here, like custom fields (whatever those are) and using the forms designer. We're not going to go into all that quite yet, but if you want to get a jump-start on what we'll be talking about soon, check out this tutorial, or this other tutorial. For more about working with forms in Outlook, and to learn about the Forms Administrtor Utility, give this Microsoft KB article a read.

That's it for today. Tune in Thursday for Part 3 of How To: Achieve Compliance with Microsoft Outlook!

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