Sunday, April 24, 2011

Missing Features in Outlook Calendar

Just like many other knowledge workers (aka office workers), I am pretty dependent on the Microsoft Outlook calendar which I use many times every day. I sync it with my laptop, my iPad and my iPhone and since this is one of my top applications, I have had enough time to think about what else I would like it to do. To be honest, I have not seen any new features in the calendar over the last 10+ years. And so I have decided to lend a hand to the Microsoft product team by listing the capabilities that would make the calendar more usable and worth the next upgrade.

While I realize that the calendar is part of Microsoft Outlook email application, I will focus just on the calendar to keep this post brief. And so, here are my top 10 innovation suggestions for the Outlook calendar:

1. Audit trail
The calendar is very secretive with any feedback about appointments I schedule. Who has received it? Who’s opened it? Who’s accepted or declined while using the baffling option “Don't send a response”? I don’t know. I do understand that the message back for every email and appointment adds traffic and complexity. But honestly, in the days of video streaming, I don’t care. Besides, the feature could be optional. BTW, Novell GroupWise did this 15 years ago.

2. Agenda
Every meeting needs an agenda and the agenda should be a data object attached to every calendar appointment. All invitees should be able to participate in the collaborative agenda creation if that’s the option I select.

3. Forwarding
Calendar events can be forwarded today by invitees whether I like it or not. As the meeting organizer, I want to be able to decide if I want to allow forwarding, if I want to encourage it, or even mandate a stand-in for invitees who can’t make it.

4. Finding time
This is a common problem - I need to meet with a group of people and the next possible time slot when they are all free is at 3 am two month from now. I need some options here and one possibility would be to pick a few likely time slots and let the people decide or vote on which one is going to work best.

5. Priorities
Given that being triple-booked is not an unusual occurrence, I need a way to prioritize my appointments. The prioritization has to be visible to the originator as in “the invitee wants to come, but has two conflicting meetings with a higher priority”. As the meeting originator, I should be able to see the conflicting priorities of the invitees so that I can see what my meeting is competing with.

6. Notes
I want to be able to attach a note to an appointment. These notes should be viewable via the calendar as well as via the note tool. I need to be able to sort the notes by different fields such as date, meeting organizer, topic, etc. and share them with others. Oh, and please give me some more formatting options for notes.

7. Response
I need more options for appointment response than “accept”, “decline” and “tentative”. I need to be able to say “can’t make it but please reschedule because I want this meeting to happen” and “no, I can’t make it but I will keep the appointment in case my other plans change” and “no, I am not interested in this meeting” and - as noted above - “yes, I want to attend but I have other conflicting appointments that are more important”. These are all real life situations. Also, I want to be able to recover an appointment that I have declined before.

8. Conference calls
I would like to have a separate data field for conference call dial-in information with a simple button to dial it - particularly on mobile devices. This field needs to allow attendees to automatically use their own local phone number for the company’s conference call service. The conference call service is almost always the same for the entire company worldwide and its local numbers can be pre-loaded. And, please integrate directly Skype, Webex and other communication software alternatives.

9. Time zones
Scheduling appointments for next week when I am going to be in a different time zone is way too cumbersome today. Time zone selection has to be included in the appointment set-up window.

10. Branding
Even after 10 years I still don’t understand why the email client is called Outlook. That would be a good name for a business intelligence or sales forecasting application. Why is the Outlook client called differently than Exchange, the server? And what’s the purpose of the Outlook Express client? I know I should have known all of this by now but this branding strategy is puzzling to a marketer like me.

These are some of the capabilities that would, in my opinion, make Outlook more valuable - Outlook, and likely any other group calendar application. I just happen to use the Outlook/Exchange as my calendar.

1 comment:

  1. The Calendar component of Outlook came from an acquisition of a product called SchedulePlus... way back when. Surprisingly, even now, 10+ years later, the lack of complete product integration with the mail (and notes / journaling) component causes some of these problems. It was a hacking together of two different products, and it still shows today.

    And BTW, you forgot the need for spell check to work in the subject field as well as the body of the invite.