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Is your Outlook up-to-date? Tips on keeping Outlook synced between desktops and handhelds.

MOBILE TECHNOLOGY is all about productivity; and to maximize productivity, your mobile workers must be able to access their most important personal and business information, regardless of whether they're on the road or at their desk. This crucial data is usually stored and manipulated in the most widely distributed PIM on the market today: Microsoft Outlook. There are several products out there to help you move information between Outlook on PCs and applications on Palm handhelds. This article aims to help you choose the best solution for your company.

Manufacturers on both the Palm OS and the Pocket PC platforms usually ship devices with Outlook synchronization software. However, don't assume that because Microsoft makes both the Pocket PC operating system and Outlook, that the Pocket PC offers the synchronization advantage. Actually, so far, the more comprehensive Outlook synchronization options are more readily available on Palm devices.

Getting started: levels of Outlook synchronization

The first step is identifying the type of information your mobile workers need. Be specific about where in Outlook the critical information lies. In general, the more detailed the Outlook information you need on the handheld, the more advanced software program you'll need.

Typically, synchronization needs fall into three categories: basic, intermediate, and advanced.

Basic synchronization

The basic level of synchronization, used by someone who spends most of his time at his desk, generally includes:

* Business-oriented contact information

* Basic appointment information (including date, time, and location)

* Syncing of main task and note folders

Many handhelds come with this level of synchronization built-in; but even at this level, differences in ease-of-use and reliability between software options are noticeable. It's usually possible to replace out-of-the-box software if you find that you need a more convenient solution.

Intermediate synchronization

At this level of synchronization, you can expect the items I listed in the basics section, plus features that enable more flexibility and control. An example is the ability to sync multiple folders in all four applications (Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, and Notes). This makes it possible for workers to carry completely separate sets of information, such as a corporate and personal calendar or employee and personal address books.

Intermediate synchronization is often needed to make it easier for employees to access information on a corporate server. Additional flexibility at this level can let users view several co-workers' schedules on a single screen. Imagine how useful this is for the CEO admin who needs to book a meeting for his boss while away from the computer.

Advanced synchronization

Road warriors and traveling executives often become Outlook "power users," organizing thousands of contacts, appointments, tasks, and notes into dozens of categories and folders. This category of user isn't willing (and often not able) to rework this complicated Outlook organization system into a handheld application. For this user, the only solution is to use Outlook companion applications instead of the built-in applications. Created specifically with Outlook in mind, these applications don't require users to reorganize information on their PC to get it on their handheld.

An example includes a salesperson who wants to synchronize his handheld with both client information from the office PC and personal information from his home PC. Most advanced synchronization software supports this multiple-PC scenario. However, what differentiates the software for the handheld is the ability to keep work and personal information organized in separate folders and multiple categories used on the PCs instead of lumping items all into the same list, simply organized into a single category each.

At this level, users should be able to:

* Sync their most important contact information

* Add hundreds of categories per folder on the handheld

* Transfer full-sized Outlook notes (32KB) to their handheld

The program should also support unlimited folder syncing and full task information.

Before purchase

Now that you've determined what your synchronization level needs are, it's time to choose among software vendors and products. Below you'll find a checklist for evaluating your options.

Customization--Look for an ability to alter the program to match your needs. The program should be able to add particular pieces of information, such as a specific subfolder with sales contacts. Also check each vendor for a range of products, so you can choose basic synchronization for one employee and advanced for another. This sliding scale prepares you for growth by providing an easy upgrade path.

Ease of use--Don't assume all synchronization software products are easy to use. It's important for your handheld software program to be streamlined and intuitive. A program that's simple and easy to use means fewer calls to the help desk. In fact, a basic program should work so well users don't even know they're using it. The installation and customization process should also be straightforward for IT. The program should run fast and perform an uninterrupted sync. That is, it should not be continually prompting users to approve changes.

Reliability--Both you and the user need to feel comfortable relying on the software. After every sync, you should be sure that you have the latest information, and that changes are updated on both the PC and handheld. When performing a test sync, be sure to test for any unusual set-ups you may have or other types of special cases. Remember that many users sync both from the office and from home, so it's important to test for multiple-PC environments.

Stability--Your synchronization solution isn't going to be useful if it's constantly breaking down or if it can't handle an environment with mixed Windows and Outlook versions. Choose a software program from a company with a good track record solid, dependable products.

Total cost of ownership--Shop around for software that fits into your budget and don't forget to consider additional fees for updated software versions or technical support. Microsoft comes out with major Outlook updates about every two years. Will you have to pay for that update? Check with your vendors to see their prior upgrade policies. Minor fixes and updates should be free; make sure someone is available to help with technical support--without your having to pay extra for it. Also, don't forget to ask about volume discounts.

Big picture: Why PDA software is important now

Many products move information from Outlook to Palm handhelds. Your evaluation of the options could make or break your company's success in deploying mobile productivity. Getting in on the ground floor with a true mobile solution, before your competitors, can give you a significant strategic competitive advantage.


Mobile technology is all about productivity, right? So, how much time do you and your users spend fiddling around trying to get Outlook information synchronized between desktop PCs and mobile devices? Not very productive. There are products out there that can ease your pain--the trick is choosing the right one.

As Chapura's operational leader for the last three years, Keith has helped the handheld synchronization software company grow more than 150 percent. He leads the business development, operational control, strategic planning and marketing departments. In his last assignment at International Paper, Keith was director of technical services for the information technology division. He was responsible for supporting all of the company's IT infrastructure from the desktop to the data center. Keith holds bachelor's degrees in computer and information systems, mathematics and biology from Georgia College. Raised in a farming community where he still knows the names of all 300 residents, Keith now makes his home in Mobile, Alabama, Chapura's headquarters and that state's Silicon Valley.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Personal Information Management
Author:Ellenberg, Keith
Publication:Mobile Business Advisor
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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