by March 1, 2000 0 comments

Talisma Business Edition 1.01

E-mail management software. 
Rs 30,000 per user
Features: Automated assignment of e-mail across multiple users; can thread messages; provides statistics and charts.
Pros: Excellent mail-management capabilities; good pricing.
Cons: Mail to specialists goes as RTF attachments; access on the back-end would have scalability issues.


Source: Aditi
224/16 Ramana Maharshi Road Bangalore 560080. 
Tel: 80-3312966/67 
Fax: 3346201
E-mail: simonil@aditi.com  

Talisma started life as an e-mail management software, and has since been successively positio- ned for everything from e-commerce to knowledge management. So, what does Talisma actually do?

Basically, it manages e-mail that comes into say, a help desk address. Why would you want to do that? Typically, many people write to a help desk address, and the mail usually covers diverse topics and different kinds of specialization. So, it becomes impossible for one person to handle all this e-mail. If that person downloads all the mail and forwards it to others for answering, the situation soon
becomes unmanageable, what with multiple forwards et al, and you soon lose track of who asked for what. Follow-up messages become almost impossible to correlate with the original.

This is where Talisma comes in handy. It can download mail from multiple e-mail addresses and keeps them at one central location on the Talisma server. Talisma clients are installed on users’ machines, allowing them to login to it over the network. Incoming mail can be automatically distributed to the different mail boxes created on the Talisma server. Multiple users can access the Talisma server at the same time to view this mail. They reply to all mail only through the client, so all replies go from a single e-mail address. Talisma provides many other features that help manage and monitor such a setup.

But before that, a brief look at the software and the setup is in order.Talisma comes in two versions–the Business version and the Enterprise version. The Business version runs a Microsoft Access database in the back-end while the enterprise version runs SQL server. What you get is a demo CD that expires after a fixed number of days after installation. Once you place an order, you get a license code that activates the software. You pay by the number of concurrent connections you want to have. That is, if you want, say, five people to simultaneously use the software, then you pay for five licenses. You could have any number of people using the system, but only five people would be able to use it simultaneously.

We took a look at the Business version. Talisma Business Edition runs on Win 9x/NT–the vendor recommends NT. There’s a server component, and a client component that goes on the client machines that needs to access the mail. There’s a Web interface too, but in the Business version, it has limited functionality. You can check mail status through your browser, but can’t reply over it. 

Talisma can manage multiple e-mail accounts. The administrator or users with administrator rights can add new
accounts and users to the system. A user can be assigned to more than one account, and you can change the user allocations anytime. Configuring Talisma is easy, and is done through check boxes. 

Talisma routes mail to users according to the preset rule you choose. You could leave all mail at a common place for users to pick up manually. You could have Talisma do load balancing. Or it could assign mail to each user by turn. For specific users, you can also set auto assigning of mail to “off”. Talisma can also ensure that mail from a particular customer always gets allocated to the same person, to ensure a proper dialog.

The mail is always stored on the server. 
In Talisma, you work in one of five areas. In the Mail Room, you can see all the users and your own mail. In the My Cases area, you see only your mail, classified according to status. The Filing Cabinet is essentially a place to search through the mail that has come to the account. The Customer File is where you search for all mail from a particular customer, as well as available details of the customer. And in the Reports section, you see graphical and cross-tab reports of current status and mail handling trends.
You can set up canned responses and rapid responses—stock messages that can be sent out. You can modify the canned response before it goes, but not the rapid response. Unfortunately, a canned response created for one account is not available in another. 

You can move a message to another user handling the same mail queue, or you can mail it outside the system to a specialist for advice. The original mail goes to the specialist as an RTF attachment—which is quite a bother—and the message is flagged as being sent to a specialist. The system maintains logs of all action taken on a message.

Talisma has some rudimentary maintenance options, such as automatic backup, etc.
One issue is that any user can delete messages from the system. This is useful in dealing with junk mail. The message isn’t deleted straightaway, but is only marked for deletion. You can undelete it later. It would be advisable for the administrator to keep a check on who is deleting what. 

While running the system at PCQ Labs, we initially encountered a couple of file corruptions. While we didn’t lose any data, it did raise some concerns. The Business version is being ported to SQL Server and should be available in a short while. It would hopefully have no such problems. One day I suddenly got a message that Talisma had run out of disk space, and it exited. Bad manners! It should have started off a maintenance utility instead.

Other than that, Talisma is a very useful package, and we’re using it at PCQ Labs to manage the messages we get at our reader-response e-mail addresses. It has helped distribute and monitor the mail load and more importantly, to respond to our readers at a much faster rate. A must for any organization receiving a large volume of customer mail. We’re currently checking out the Enterprise version, and will get back with a full report on that soon.

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