Inspiration

We are 3 founders with more than 7 decades of experience across Technologies, Industries & Geographies. With our variety, we analyzed certain basic aspects (below) which led to the inspiration.

  1. Deluge of mails & managing is an herculean task
  2. Disparate tools used to manage your team, activities, tasks etc. & they work in silos
  3. Email is main media of communication & is not effectively used in projects
  4. Tools like MS project etc. are expensive, steep learning curve & does not trickle to the last team member
  5. Work transition is a fixed handicap which normally consumes lot of resources ## What it does U@Work is envisaged to be a simple and light weight project management solution on top of Office 365 Outlook platform. So, from the email window, with intuitive user interface and menu options, Users for example can define project work elements, meetings, tasks, allocate resources and also track progress from a rich visual Dashboard. U@Work Creates a folder structure (as that of a Project WBS structure) across the team & any correspondence with respect to a specific project/activity/ will be routed to the recipient project/activity in the same order. Tasks can be associated to projects & activities, people can be assigned to activities and tasks, meeting action items can be tracked and health of projects monitored with data & metrics providing insightful infographics auto-rolled up to the Dashboard. This automatically adheres to ISO & COBIT.

Task & Meeting lifecycle Management.

Real time dashboard on various status of Tasks / Action items.

Works on Office 365 & Outlook.com.

A Patent Pending product, presently, U@Work is being realised as a product add-in, integrated to work with Microsoft Outlook Office 365 and Outlook.com email platform.

Some of the project management features realised so far are;

Manage Work: Users can create, manage by directly defining project, activities, sub-activities etc. and assign people to a project, activities from within the context of an email in Outlook. Allows multiple project creation and can be managed from user interface and monitored from Dashboard.

Dashboard: U@Work add in provides a dashboard view where the users can view metrics of project summary, task status, meeting metrics and Gantt chart. Team on Same Page: Manager shares project details to team members with a single click. The sharing happens via email being sent to people whom activities, sub-activities etc. have been assigned.

Auto-Organise folders: On receipt of first project email, similar project (folder) structure as configured by Manager will be created in every team member’s mail box automatically, thus bringing uniformity in structuring project & communication across team, ground up.

Auto-Organise project emails: From UI, when any team member sends email with context set by selecting Project, Activity, Sub-activity etc., emails get automatically routed to respective folders in the recipient’s mailbox. Communication is organised ground up and saves effort and time.

Manage Tasks: From UI, create tasks against project, activity, sub-activity etc., and assign to any team member. Team members can update task status and the data is rolled to Manager and dashboard.

Manage Meetings: Covers elements such as invite, calendar, meeting minutes, track outcome, mainly decisions and action items. Meeting metrics are rolled up to dashboard.

Resources: From UI, Team members can notify their non-availability, example leave, vacation etc. This detail is rolled to the Manager and also routed to the respective project folder and metrics updated in the dashboard.

Note: For installing U@Work add-in on Outlook 365, side load the Manifest from the URL which is given in "Try it out" section below. Refer below URL for installation procedure:

http://www.nascorgroup.com/help/uatwork/V2/index.html

How we built it

C#, EWS, Angular JS, SQLServer. Azure, Microsoft Graph, Office 365 REST API

Challenges we ran into

As U@Work rides on existing email platforms, the biggest challenge lies in bringing feature parity and same user experience, by hiding from users, technology & implementation complexity, barriers and limitations. The APIs and plug-in integration approach is not the same and varies from provider to provider. This can be analogous to developing an application with same features and user interface to run on different operating systems. Getting to depth, The APIs and plug-in development and integration approach between Microsoft Outlook desk top version and Microsoft Outlook Office 365 is totally different. For instance, MAPI is used for Microsoft Office desk top version, which is different from using the latest & evolving Microsoft Graph technology for Exchange & Office 365, which is again different from using web hooks provided by Outlook APIs to directly interact with Outlook as part of Office 365.

Plug-in technology is also evolving and not exercised by many so far. Initially, while examining feasibility options, lot of time and effort went in, even to make samples work. Also, lack of documentation aggravated the problem and debugged to figure out missing pieces and discover remedies. For example, first instance to make U@Work visible in the email window was a significant effort. Next steps to process user actions, when clicked, were no different. U@Work requires to interact with user mail box and email exchange server. As Microsoft Graph is also evolving, very few APIs are exposed limiting functionality that can be realised. Also, had to experiment a lot, due to insufficient technical documentation and usage examples. Another uncertainty is to battle possible changes to APIs, as they are still in beta and not released to production. Already faced a situation once, where change in API syntax broke U@Work. Presently, we use a combination of both Microsoft Graph and web hooks for Outlook APIs. Emails can arrive to any mail box at any point in time. U@Work to have to talk to Outlook and Exchange server and get notifications, to be in sync with mail arrivals and user actions. Plug-in request to exchange are treated asynchronously and honoured on low priority. So, to synchronise and process in real time, (even when users have not logged into the mail box and U@Work) a separate service was built to run 24*7 to run in the background. With Microsoft Outlook Office 365, mail box can be accessed from popular browsers such as Internet Explorer, Edge, Chrome and Microsoft Outlook desk top versions (2013 & 2016). When it comes to user interface, size and form factor of the dedicated pane exposed for plug-ins to render varies between browser and desktop email clients. Also, there is no feature parity yet between browser and desktop version. For example, in case of Outlook desktop version plug-in can appear in the main menu bar. This feature is yet to be released by Microsoft for browsers. Ended up adding extra plumbing program code to address this.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  1. Won the Best Startup Award in CeBit
  2. CIO Review named us as a company to look out for.
  3. Appreciation from the PMI India Chapter.

What we learned

Being an entrepreneur is very challenging & satisfying.

What's next for U@Work

  1. Make email window with U@Work as a HUB for all Office365 apps (U@Work as an interface to MS Project online, TFS, Sharepoint, Planner, SFB, Teams, Groups etc) & also other Monolithic tools like SAP, Oracle etc in a very innovative way & automatically caters customer’s requirement.
  2. More productivity features
  3. Specific data analytics with machine learning.
  4. All conversations (text, AV) to be tagged to a project/activity & the files generated stored in One Drive / Azure
  5. Currently project dashboard being generated, going forward program management dashboard for an account
  6. U@Work has been realized on O365 & Outlook.com. Going forward it should cater to all email users irrespective of domain or service provider
  7. Develop a mobile email client.

Note: For installing U@Work add-in on Outlook 365, side load the Manifest from the URL which is given in "Try it out" section below. Refer below URL for installation procedure:

http://www.nascorgroup.com/help/uatwork/V2/index.html

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