Virtualization, Cloud, Infrastructure and all that stuff in-between

My ramblings on the stuff that holds it all together

Exchange Outlook Feature Request: Where’s Waldo?


There was recently some discussion at a customer about the use of Outlook/Exchange’s calendaring functionality, this is a commonly deployed solution in businesses yet few people seem to “get” how useful the calendaring functionality can be or how to use it properly.

I almost see it as a democratic process for keeping control of your own schedule and agenda, I often get requests for “access to my calendar” – for most people you don’t need this; your Exchange server publishes free/busy data for your calendar, so people who request a meeting can see if you have a gap in your schedule and request to fill it, they don’t need to see the detail of what is in your calendar and you retain control of your schedule, choosing what you are able to participate in – you can either choose to accept it, reject it or propose another time.

In my experience this is a much abused feature – too many people decline because they can’t make a proposed date/time/location – but they should only really decline if they have no interest in meeting with you (maybe I’m just really unpopular Winking smile) otherwise they should suggest a new time.

However, if you work in a modern business where you are often working from a different site, or even different continent there is a gap in this functionality – you have no real way of showing people which office you are planning to be in on a particular day so they can schedule the meeting intelligently – I think there should be a where’s Waldo feature that works as follows…

It would be handy if you had a way to mark in your Outlook calendar in advance with which location you are planning to be in on a particular date – some kind of drop-down property for a day/week/period like Working from Home (online only, Office Y, office X, etc.) and likewise have an option for vacation in this which auto declines meeting requests and suggests an alternative (depending on a preference you set).

This would require your Exchange server to have a concept of location, a list of your company offices, campuses, buildings from which you would select where you are planning to be, likewise other online or virtual locations like WebEx sessions, conference bridges could be specified.

When a user requests a meeting they could select a meeting room or general location like a campus (if it’s face to face) – your server can use this to query against the invitees expected location (assuming Exchange is told which campus/building a meeting room is in) – given appropriate mapping data it could also calculate the most appropriate location with availability and facilities (projector yes/no, conference phone yes/no) for the number of invitees, take this a step further and it could feasibly provide walking/travelling time from the previous session/location to the chosen venue and add travelling time into the request (as well as insert directions into the invite).

Take this a step further and the basic presence information now finding its way into mobile devices and web services/IM could be used to integrate further – give advance warning that an attendee is likely to be late as they are stuck in traffic 50 miles away for a meeting that starts in 5mins and suggest a dial-in if available, or if all the attendees are still in another meeting and are unlikely to be able to travel to the next meeting in-time it could notify the onward requestor and provide dial-in details or suggest a re-schedule.

Anyways, just a quick idea – Outlook hasn’t had that many major innovations (except cloured calendar entries) for a while and this calendaring functionality hasn’t had any major innovations since Outlook was 1st released – this would be amazing, get in quick before someone else like Google does it, Microsoft – all the building blocks are there.

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