Shared Electronic Diaries

"I've heard that there are such things as 'shared electronic diaries' that an organisation can use to make scheduling meetings amongst staff easier to manage. Can you tell me more about how we should go about setting something like that up?"

A shared electronic diary is a great and wonderful thing.  The electronic diary with which people are most familiar is the calendar function in Microsoft Outlook .  Outlook's calendar allows you to schedule and view your tasks and appointments in an easy to manage fashion.  Unlike a paper diary, though, Outlook will remind you in advance of an appointment and will allow you to set recurring events such that every monday you can be sure not to miss that motivational staff meeting!

Shared electronic diaries are a step forward again.  Once a diary is shared, other people on a computer network can be given permission to view it.  This makes, for example, scheduling meetings between several busy people so much easier.  PAs and receptionists can confidently say when a CEO is unavailable for calls or meetings with access to such a shared diary.  Even just to see who is scheduled to be in the office on a given day becomes a simple task.

Sharing A Diary

In order to share a diary, your computer must be connected to a network.  This could be your office network or it could be the internet: either can be used to facilitate the sharing of a calendar.  Outlook can share its calendar with other Outlook users you specify.  It keeps the subscribers to your shared calendar updated by sending automated emails to them which then automatically update their view of your calendar.  Your calendar will appear within their own Outlook.

Your Diary on Your Server

A more complex, but neater, solution is to integrate Outlook with a server based network communications application such as Exchange .  Exchange handles all of your organisation's email and diary functions.  Outlook acts as a dumb terminal - it asks Exchange for information and displays that information, but Exchange does all of the work.  This means that the diary you use through Outlook resides on the central server rather than your desktop, which in turn means that  - provided they are given permission - anyone on your internal network can view your calendar, and you can view everyone else's.

Not all shared calendar solutions require Outlook.  Microsoft's Small Business Server , for example, includes an intranet portal which incorporates a calendar function.  On a network using Small Business Server, when you open Internet Explorer it will most likely be configured to access your company's internal website as a home page and will give you access to your shared calendar.

Other networked, server-based applications, e.g. CRM tools such as Goldmine include calendar functions.  Developers have seen the power of electronic diaries and have included them in many such products.  Note that Goldmine, Small Business Server, Exchange etc all require your office network to have a server to deliver these services.

Calendars on The Internet

If, on the other hand you do not have a server, there are still tools you can access through the internet.  Web based CRM tools such as Salesforce , SugarCRM and CiviCRM all include calendar functions which can be used as diaries and shared.  These calendars will also go a step further and include the facility to manage events and event registrations.

Possibly the single most accessible shared electronic calendar is the Google Calendar .  Part of Google's family of online applications, it is accessible with a Google account (as per accessing Gmail).  Google calendar allows you to share your celendar with the world or with specific people.  If shared with the world, people can even put it on their web sites!  You can create events and invite attendees.  Other neat features of Google Calendar is that it will synchronise with Outlook, it will email you reminders of your appointments, and you can even set it up so that you receive reminders on your mobile phone through SMS.  And, of course, Google let people use it for free.  All you need is an internet connection and a Google account.  You can get a Google account here.