If your users spend a lot of time in Microsoft Office (specifically Outlook) then you should consider augmenting your software with an Outlook Add-In. There are a few different forms of the Outlook Add-In, but the one I am going to discuss today is the type that appears in “command surfaces” in Outlook. Broadly this is an Add-In that appears in a narrow pane to the right hand side of an email (or appointment) that someone is reading.
The idea of the Add-In is to create a useful function in the pane that relates to the email that the user is reading. In the example shown here, we have created an Outlook Add-In for the Acme CRM system. Using the Outlook Add-In we have created, the user can easily save an email to a customer’s record without leaving the comfort of Outlook!
The Outlook Add-In pane is narrow. You don’t have a lot of space and currently, Microsoft don’t provide the ability to adjust the size of the pane. This means that you should provide a small range of functions in your Add-In that are focussed on achieving limited, specific and useful goals. For more advanced operations, you can provide a button that opens up your main application in the correct context (e.g. a button that opens your CRM system at a customer record that matches the email you are reading).
Outlook Add-Ins work in both web-based Outlook (Office 365) and inside “on-premise” Outlook (i.e. the version you install on your computer). On-Premise Outlook 2016 will use Internet Explorer 11 for rendering your Add-In. It is important to consider this when choosing technologies to develop your Add-In!
If you are developing an Outlook Add-In, then there is a good change that you are going to be working on some kind of integrated authentication with Azure Active Directory. Microsof provide a lot of support for this, but there are still a lot of poorly documented technical challenges to overcome that are too arcane for this blog post! In future, we may provide a complete tutorial for Outlook Add-In developers to get them started.
You are probably also going to want to use Microsoft’s Graph and / or EWS APIs with your Add-In. EWS is deprecated, but it is still necessary as not all operations are currently supported in the new Graph API yet.
Although conceptually simple, creating a working, useful Outlook Add-In that integrates with Exchange and Azure Active Directory is a complex and difficult task. If you would like McKenna Consultants to develop and Outlook Add-In for your software, please fill in the form below to get in touch with us.