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Tasks information is stored as text in a notepad area of the Task Center or Helpdesk .TaskBlaster has been designed to minimize the amount of information that needs to be entered - so wherever default values are supplied leaving only the quick note or task information needing to be input. The easiest way to enter Task information is to key it straight in or cut and paste via separate tools. ( E.g. Email ).
Tasks are organized into folders within a project group.
The same task information is used for the Helpdesk. However the helpdesk center shows the task organized into work queue within a helpdesk. The queue allows support staff to have tasks to work on that only apply to them or the team they work with.
External resource is just as important as internal and is taken into account by Task Blaster. Once contact details can be entered into the contact management screen - contacts are available to be placed in any project group or helpdesk in exactly the same way as users.
A project group may be setup as a knowledge base. This means that knowledge base entries do not show up as tasks that need to be worked on. Examples of uses for knowledge base type project groups are documentation, training guides, news letters, technical notes etc..
Turning task information into knowledge base information requires simply changing the project group.
Another use for knowledge base would be for storing a template of a project - that could be a base for a new project. Even the simple costing/budgeting and scheduling information would be available.
Simple Costing and Budgeting
Standard cost/budgeting information is stored as unit codes. Unit Code information has a code, description , multiplier and currency code.
Unit code and quantities are entered for cost/budgeting information in Task Center or Helpdesk. Costs are entered against actual input fields and budgeting against estimates input field.
Reports use the unit code multiplier and currency code to automatically calculate meaningful totals.
For example - the unit code can be used to capture various work units - such as hours, days, weeks, half days etc. and the multiplier used to calculate what that would mean in a standard unit.
Likewise the currency code, multiplier and unit code can be used to calculate to a standard currency. For example the unit code GBP , multiplier 1.464 and currency code USD can be used to report costs in US Dollars.
Costing and Budgeting functionality is adequate for quick one off reports. The aim is to provide import/export routines to other software such as spreadsheets and account packages which are more specialized..
Scheduling information available are both date and time that the task was :-
- requested ( Required )
- promised ( Target)
Date and time defaults to current date and time of the server of the database. Each field can be overridden by the user for both Task Center and Helpdesk.
It may be important to report on user defined classifications - not just on Task Blaster classifications such as Project, folder, Helpdesk , queue, Category, Sub Category ...
Tags may be created by the client and used for reporting purposes. Examples of tags are customer codes, work order references etc ...
The tasks may be categorized. It possible to setup categories and place sub categories against the main categories.
Categories are intended more for product group type information. Sub categories could be used for product information if the volume of products are relatively small ( Less than 200 per product group ).
Another use of categories could be for type of support assistance required. In this case the category can be setup to automatically select the correct helpdesk depending on the selection of category.
For example a category microsoft products - could default the helpdesk to Office Application Helpdesk
All Users Features
Some project groups may need to be accessed by everyone. Rather than having to place every user into the project group a special user known as 'All Users' can be placed into the project group. This means that any user with the relevant access level to the screen can access the project group information.
Examples of project groups where it could be useful for all users to have access are news letters, memo's, procedures etc...
Each entity can setup a default language and each user can override that default value. This means that TaskBlaster is truly multilingual allowing several languages to share the same information.
TaskBlaster has not attempted to translate task information or lists (Such as status codes etc.. ). This could lead to administrative overhead and would require extra data lookup. If theres a demand for data to be translated then it would not be too difficult to develop.
TaskBlaster does not translate on the fly - rather the program is translated and a separate copy of the program is made for each language. This means quicker screen refresh times and greater control and standardization over the 'look' of the screen.
Menu and User Access
TaskBlaster uses the method of profiles for user and menu access.
There are three profile types - user, administrator and superuser. Superuser is intended for system wide setup, administrator day to day setup and user can only setup their own information. Each profile type has their own menu tabs.
Each profile type - has a number of user profiles that can have access, create, delete and update levels from 1 to 9. Similarly each menu item can have access, create, delete and update levels from 1 to 9 set. Each user can be setup with a profile and access, create, delete or update is given to those users who have user profile levels greater than the menu profile levels.
This means that the level of configuration for user access is very powerful - but very careful consideration is required should the defaults need to be changed.
It is possible to setup links between tasks and is one of the important features of TaskBlaster.
The link tool is available to administrator and super user. Links are created by clicking on the check box in summary list screens against the desired tasks and selecting the Link Tool button. Should further links need to be selected outside of the current summary list - then further check boxes can be called up from within the Link Tool.
Three methods of linking are offered linked, stepped and grouped. Links are displayed underneath the method - and all the following link method description may be setup by the user.
Linked is intended for normal links. If you click on a 'link' task then you can see the task where under 'See Also'.
Stepped is intended tasks such as training manuals or procedures. If you click on a 'next' link then you can see the task you came from under 'previous' link.
Grouped is intended for Helpdesk use. Often many tasks are caused by the same problem - so it is helpful to group tasks together under a master tasks. If you click on a 'attached to this' link then you can see the task you came from under 'refer back to this' task.
Manage Tasks by Team , Project or Helpdesk
One of the aims of TaskBlaster is to encourage the thinking in terms of Team and Project. Project Groups with folders can easily be created - as well as Helpdesks with queues.
Teams are setup by placing users into either project groups or helpdesks Teams.
A task must have a project group, folder, helpdesk, queue, requesters and an assigned to. Thats not to say - if you are working on your own - it is very to setup just yourself in a project and helpdesk team and assign the task to yourself. Later on other users can easily join the team if and when required.
Tasks can be quickly found using a combination of summary screens, filters or links.
Query screens allows tasks to be listed for your team or just your own tasks. Also the query can be narrowed for just the folder or queue required. To keep down clutter - queries are made on active tasks by default with an option on inactive tasks ( e.g. closed tasks ) if required.
Results of the query are normally output in summary list format to allow multi page browsing of the results. The display order of the summary list can be specified in the query. Default choices being by priority or date.
Filter input fields in the summary list screens on Task Subject, Task Description or Task Number for the query - allow even greater search capability.
Even if the task can not be found or only half remembered then tasks can be found via links by looking up a similar or related task..
A task can be active or inactive - this depends on the status code of the task as each setup code can be setup as active or inactive. Examples of status that are active would be open, In planning, pending etc.. and examples of status that would be inactive are closed, on hold , abandoned etc...
Reports are generated in html with a print button to send the report to the correct printer. Reports in landscape are possible - though the browser needs to be setup each time the orientation changes. ( Its a browser security feature that prevents TaskBlaster to do it automatically ).
Sample reports are available for example for budgeting, allocation of resources, tag report ( for customer lists) - though see the note in other software about reports
Ease of Use, Scalability and Industrial Strength
Ease Of Use
If TaskBlaster is to be useful - it has to be easy to use.
Care has been taken to provide consistent and easy to understand screen presentation.
Options that may require more understanding - such as link tool or user profiles - are intended for Administrator and SuperUser access.
Taskblaster is very quick to setup and go. The only criteria is that a user must be setup in at least one project group.
However to get the best out of TaskBlaster requires careful consideration - for example what status codes do we need, who is going to be the administrator or superuser etc..
One design feature is that all lists must always have one default - which means that there is always a default configuration so avoiding data integrity issues. This makes setup and ease of use better as default information is applied intuitively allowing the user to concentrate on the task information rather than 'how the system works'..
One major issue of scalability is what happens when the lists get too long..
Taskblaster has a predefined limit on the length of lists - this limit can be set by the user if needs be. Once a list gets too long TaskBlaster request more information from the user and provides an alternative list. For example if TaskBlaster has a couple of thousand of users - then to find a user part of the username would need to be provided ( E.g Jon ) and all the users names beginning with Jon would be listed.
As TaskBlaster has been developed as an application that could be rented - the number of records created are tracked and if any tables become unusually full then warning messages are provided.
TaskBlaster is based on Progress Softwares Corporations - Webspeed Internet and Database products. Progress is proven and established in these fields and has consistently provided cutting edge software development tools - that can carry the weight.
Solutions written in Progress are multi platform - mainly used with Unix and Microsoft platforms - but able to run on bigger systems and with huge multi-volume databases.
One method of working is to leave the helpdesk center summary screen running in the browser on the top of the screen.
Whenever any new tasks are assigned to you they would automatically show on the screen. The rate of refresh of the summary screen can be configured in the user setup.
Sometimes it is necessary to re-assign to new folders, queues or projects a number of tasks. Someone who would be doing this often known as a delegator. For example moving the contents of a development folder to a test folder.
Normally when tasks are reassigned - the next summary list contains tasks belonging to the NEW criteria. Normally this would be great as you can see what goes with reassigned task. However when reassigning a number of tasks - this would become tedious as you would need to keep stepping between OLD and NEW criteria. For this reason when in delegator mode - when tasks are reassigned the next summary screen contains tasks for the OLD criteria. Thats to say tasks - awaiting to be reassigned.
I think its fair to say the internet is poor at maintaining context. Each time a web page is displayed - you need to go back to cookies most of the time in order to carry through the same details into the next page.
As the internet does not remember the state that html pages were displayed - this means that the database does not know when someone has finished updating its record. This has enormous implications for the multi user aspects. The database will update with whatever data is being sent to it and not care that :-
User A is unaware that user B has just access the same record, and User B is going to overwrite what UserA's data has just written back to the database.
TaskBlaster manages this through the application. Each time a record is accessed a temporary lock is placed on it. After a system defined length of time expires - the lock expires and the user can no longer update without having to go away and reload the record again.
Needless to say two users can not change the same record at the same time. If a temporary lock is placed on a record then only the user who has placed the lock can access the record - all other users can only view the record with a inuse message.
Should a user just switch off his browser when he has a record temporarily locked - then a background process will make the record available again when the lock expires. If the record is required urgently then a superuser can access and free the lock. (E.g if the sytem expire lock parameter has been set high.. )