Chapter Design a Custom Application

The Microsoft Outlook Post form can be used in conjunction with a public folder to build custom discussion applications that let users submit, share, and collaborate on ideas and information. Discussion applications provide a great way to facilitate communication in your organization because they enable users across the enterprise to conduct online conversations. Perhaps equally important, the history of correspondence is saved and organized in a public folder, so important ideas or critical conversations are always available for viewing at a later date. Discussion applications are especially useful for virtual corporations or flexible workgroups where members collaborate on a project but work different hours or in different locations.

In this chapter, you will build a Product Ideas application that lets users submit, read, and respond to new product ideas in a public folder. This application provides a good example of how a discussion application can be used in your organization both to collect, store, and organize ideas, and to foster enterprise-wide dialogue about subjects that are vital to your company's interests.

By the end of this chapter, you should have the basic skills and concepts you need to build one of the most common types of groupware applications—the discussion application. As a result, you will be able to build a wide variety of new applications to foster communication in your company. In addition, you should also have a working discussion application that you can use as a basis for building other information-sharing applications.

Here are just a few suggestions for the types of discussion applications you can build:

• Product feedback Allows users to post comments about existing products and features in a public folder. Other users, such as product developers, marketing, or sales personnel, can then respond to existing comment items, thus creating an online discussion. Product planners can review the folder on a periodic basis to get an overall idea of what users like and dislike about a particular product.

• Technical users group Serves as a forum for posting issues and problems, as well as solutions to problems. For example, users who are having difficulty with particular tasks can post problems to the Technical Users Group public folder. In turn, another user can post a solution to the problem item, perhaps suggesting an alternative discovered by working on a similar task.

• Vendor services application Allows members of your organization to post, respond to, and read reviews of professional services provided by your company's vendors. For example, a supervisor looking for temporary word-processing help can search the folder for a highly recommended vendor who has previously been employed by the company.

• Restaurants and accommodations application Allows users to post, read, and respond to restaurant and hotel/motel reviews in a public folder. With this application, your company can quickly develop an online travel guide to help business travelers plan where to eat and stay when they're working away from the office.

Overview of the Product Ideas Application

The Product Ideas application consists of a Product Ideas folder and two forms: the Product Idea form and the Product Idea Response form. Following is an example of how the Product Ideas application might be used by a sports equipment manufacturer to help generate new ideas for products.

Let's assume Peter Krebs in Seattle opens the Product Ideas public folder and then uses the Product Idea form to post an idea for a wooden kayak construction kit. Suzan Fine in Boston reads the idea and then uses the Product Idea Response form to post a response asking what kind of wood is best to use. A few minutes later, James Allard reads the items posted by Peter Krebs and Suzan Fine and uses the Product Idea Response form to post a response to Suzan Fine's item. As shown in Figure 4-1, the resulting conversation is stored and organized in the folder.

The Product Category view As part of the application design process, you add a custom view to the Product Ideas folder that groups items first by Product Category field and then by the Conversation field, as shown in Figure 4-2.

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