Monday, August 03, 2009

Use Outlook 2007 to make collaborating between organizations easier – share your free/busy times

Folks who use Outlook and Exchange together are used to being able to use Outlook's free/busy times to tell when other people in their organization are available to meet. But what happens when a vendor or business partner from outside your organization is trying to find a time to meet with you?

Typically for me, it used to be: find a bunch of available times; write them down and email them to the vendor; then the vendor checks on their end with the folks they need to bring and picks one, but by then, I've been scheduled for three more meetings and that free time isn't free any longer – so like they say on the shampoo bottle, "lather, rinse, repeat." What a waste of time!

With Outlook 2007* there's a better way!

Dear vendor, you can see my calendar at this link: Please schedule the meeting for a time I'm available.

[Go ahead and click that link – you'll see my actual availability!]

How did I do that?

Outlook 2007 makes it very easy to share your calendar online with people outside your company, using Outlook 2007.

Interested? Well good! Microsoft has written up just what you need to do to make it happen: Publish a calendar on Office Online

I strongly suggest you use the option to publish Availability only to minimize the risk of information disclosure.

You can also choose whether to share your calendar information only with specific people, or just publish it for the whole Internet to see. (I'm sure you can guess which is the more secure approach – but you will have to make the calculation about convenience vs. security of your schedule. Since I've blogged, twittered, etc. for quite a while, I'm obviously somewhat comfortable with the Internet knowing quite a bit about me. Your tolerance for that may differ.)

If you want to restrict access to your calendar to only invited people, you need to sign up for a Windows Live ID account.

I hope this tip will make collaborating across organizational boundaries a bit easier for you.

*Yes, you used to be able to do this with earlier versions of Outlook back when Microsoft ran a public free/busy server – but that was shut down years ago. But this one works 'out of the box' with Outlook just by following the instructions, no need to install any extra software.** Easy-peasy!

**And yes, there are a gazillion other ways to do this, and using Outlook and Exchange is SOOOOO 20th century, get with the web2.0 wave, blah blah blah. Ok, if you know that already, then this blog post is not for you! It's for folks who still need to use Outlook & Exchange but also need to collaborate outside their organizational boundaries.