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Employee Contact Portal for Microsoft Exchange Server and Outlook

Employee Contact Portal for Microsoft Exchange Server and Outlook

In our lifetime, we may see residential phone books relegated to museums. In a similar way for business, the hard copy employee directory is also becoming a relic. The challenges of maintaining a directory even for a few thousand employees can include the cost of preparation, distribution and perpetual maintenance. If a hardcopy is created, even disposal has security risks as it can contain a great deal of confidential information. 

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As an alternative, some large companies have built their own web based employee directory. This can cost tens of thousands of dollars and can require significant ongoing software maintenance costs. Staff turnover can sometimes render the application frozen in time without needed enhancement or bug fixes.

Another common solution in many organizations without an employee directory is to lookup information for another employee using Microsoft Outlook. Outlook in conjunction with the Global Address List, Microsoft Exchange Server, and Active Directory has also become a De facto Employee Directory because of its ubiquity in the Enterprise. 

Using Outlook is not a complete solution. When mailboxes are created, contact details are entered for the new employee. Unfortunately, keeping that information up to date in the Exchange Server GAL is often overlooked. Another challenge is that private information such as home phone and address details are needed exclusively by some staff members and it may not be desirable to make this information public in the GAL. This capability of field level access control is typically not available in either Outlook, or in-house developed directory applications.


There are a few additional challenges with the Outlook Desktop client:

  • Outlook must be installed and running.  Sounds simple but this takes numerous keystrokes before someone can even start a simple lookup.
  • While the GAL interface can be customized, it is tedious configure and generally not done.
  • Not all Outlook fields map to the Active Directory Fields where the GAL originates.
  • The Outlook interface to display the GAL lacks the ability to sort or group by columns.
  • No built-in capability exists for users to update their own information when looking at their profile.

At the best possible price point, itrezzo has created a leading edge employee directory for organizations with Microsoft Exchange Server. There are no strings attached. Intranet users can view the staff web page in a searchable and sortable grid to quickly locate employee contact details. Visitors can edit their own profile and upload a picture. Managers may also designate subordinates and view Org Charts.

Employee edits to their individual profile are stored in an Exchange Server contact folder which allows private contact details (for example home phone) to be hidden from the directory and accessible only to authorized users. A future version of this offering will permit synchronizing specific fields back to the GAL. The implementation uses Internet Information Server, Microsoft .Net Frameworks 4.5, Silverlight, and Exchange Server. Browser access fully leverages Microsoft Active Directory Domain Authentication for both user and administrative functions. This Employee Contact Portal is fully functional and has been tested with up to 25,000 users.

 

Self Service Update

When one department or individual is responsible for keeping the entire employee directory up to date, it sometimes goes well. But, management priorities and budgets can frequently conflict with this task. For example, as the employee count grows, the difficulty increases. Even with mass email reminders, employees still don’t seem to report changes. This is a classic illustration of trying to use a brute force solution.  After pummeling employees with mass emails to update their contact informaition, it is common to have each employee to call the help desk, where another employee types that contact information in.

The modern Internet paradigm of brute force vs. crowd sourcing is of course Wikipedia. The itrezzo Employee Contact Portal espouses the crowd source approach and it works because of an simple human behavior. As people are inclined to view their own profile page on the portal, they have a natural desire to correct flawed information. The “Edit Profile” button makes this very easy for any individual to control and maintain their personal contact information. There are no "extra passwords" to remember because they are already logged into the domain.

It is common that many organizations simply ignore this problem due to the costs and resources of putting a custom solution in place. As itrezzo is offering this capability as part of a free enterprise software package, how could there be any objections or barriers to a quick adoption and deployment?

 

"Our Users are Idiots"

A CIO is questioning the helpdesk Manager who is resistant to the idea of allowing users to update their own personal contact details. The Help Desk Manager believes that if user profile changes were automatically populated back to the employee directory, it would be a disaster. The discussion might go something like this:

CIO: How many users do we now have in the directory? 

Help Desk Manager: Approximately 10,000 users 

CIO: With respect to those 10,000 users, how many of those records have been updated in the last 90 days? 

Help Desk Manager: Maybe five hundred. 

CIO: Of the remaining 9,500 users, how many of those users show exact phone numbers, title, business address, department and other relevant fields with no obvious missing fields? 

Help Desk Manager: I really don’t know. 

CIO: Take a WAG. What’s your best case scenario of user records in the directory that are correct? 

Help Desk Manager: Maybe 25% are perfect, but that’s just a guess, we haven’t made an effort to update the directory in the last three years. 

CIO: What do you think about using a web based self-service portal to allow users to update this information on their own? 

Help Desk Manager: We get some pretty dumb users calling the help desk. I think they would screw it up. We shouldn’t let users do it themselves. 

CIO: So none of our users can be trusted to type in their own contact information? 

Help Desk Manager: I wouldn’t say none. Some users would definitely screw it up though. 

CIO: Based on your experience, what percentage of users do you think would goof it up ? 

Help Desk Manager: A few percent. Maybe as high as 5% 

CIO: Let me get this straight. We have about 25% of the directory now up to date and accurate. That means that possibly 75% of the employee directory is partially incorrect. If we empowered users to update their own information, we could possibly have 5% incorrect. Which solution do you still propose? 

Help Desk Manager: I guess the one where 95% of the employee directory would be correct. 

CIO: Any other thoughts? 

Help Desk Manager: I will research this and try to get a pilot running.

 

Get Started Right Away

The Employee Contact Portal is part of the itrezzo ECO Platform and you can install it on almost any Windows Server with IIS. Get more information for platform install here. There is no expiration of the product. Enterprise Support is also available for an annual fee. For a comparison of the free product vs. paid products, please click here to review the comparison matrix.