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!Hi everyone

I would like to ask you guys for advice. Currently I am helping a small organization (4 PC's) to improve their IT system a bit. The main problem is, that each of them is having their own 'address book' in:

  • Outlook
  • some contacts in Excel (which they need for publishing address lists,..)
  • some in Microsoft Access (for label-printing and work-hour/project measurement/billing)

Therefore almost nothing is shared with the others. This requires everyone to keep track of their contacts by themselves, causing a lot of work. It would be nice to find one place to store all contacts.

The infrastructure:

  • 4 PC's, Windows 7, 3xOffice 2010, 1xOffice 2013
  • iPhone, Android phones
  • 1 installation using Microsoft Access

Needs:

  • address book synchronization across all four computers
    • contacts
    • contact-groups
    • wish: store additional information to each contact such as education, visited courses (however if a database could be hooked on the contact system it could be outsourced into a DB)
  • Excel
    • import/link contacts (export/copy from Outlook?)
  • Word
    • Mailing feature for letters (using contacts from Excel, maybe in the future Outlook?)
  • Access
    • could it be hooked up with the Contact-Management-'System'

What I did

I looked at outlook.com, Google and Office 365 E1/E3 (including Exchange Server). Reasons almost all of them disqualified are:

  • LDAP - for a small business very difficult to maintain (unless there is a simple solution I have not found?)
  • Outlook.com, Google - no contact group support (at least not across clients)
  • Office 365 E1/E3
    • management really difficult (at least once I won't be around there's noone who could keep an eye on all the configurations)
    • Global address list seemed perfect to me, but is, as far as I understand only modifiable by the Administrator (online or via PowerShell) and for 'normal' users hard to maintain
    • Public Folders nor Shared Mailboxes sync to mobile devices
    • otherwise this seems like the most viable solution

Alternatives

I started checking if my approach was wrong and if there are any alternatives, such as

  • synchronisation-tools (Osa-Sync)
  • maybe an alternative E-Mail client.
  • or simply use a shared Exchange Account b/c that would support contacts, also on mobile devices - (I am confident I will find viable compromises for the remaining problems)

Wrong approach?

I am wondering if my approach is completely wrong and larger companies use other solutions to manage their contacts or if a simple database behind all this would make more sense (if it integrates well with office)...

I am honestly surprised, that I have such a hard time finding a good solution and would be more than happy if anyone of you could share their experience if they had similar problems or make suggestions towards possible solutions.

  • Search for 'contact management software' (not be to be confused with 'content management software', so don't use the abbreviation CMS), then look if it has the features you want. – Jan Doggen Oct 17 '14 at 7:04
  • @JanDoggen Isn't Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software actually a better term for this? – localhost Sep 4 '15 at 3:08
  • One solution, as a temporary step in the meantime, though it would have be updated manually at some intervals (data loss could be an issue depending on the format of the output/import) is to consider one system a "master" and export the contacts from that system to a network location (or locally and copying to removal media) and then import that file into each system. As an example from previous and recent experience, exporting contacts from Windows Live Mail (essentials) into Microsoft Outlook 2013 did experience data loss -- the email address of all things! Though the names were intact! – localhost Sep 4 '15 at 3:11
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    What about Google Apps? – Huey Oct 4 '15 at 3:33
  • Hey @Huey - thanks for the suggestion - I'm not working on this anymore. However, I think Google did not support sharing contacts (especially groups) well. Furthermore Outlook and other Office Apps did not integrate well. I'm remembering Outlook was painful because it didn't even support CardDAV properly – skofgar Oct 4 '15 at 5:19
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address book synchronization across all four computers contacts contact-groups wish: store additional information to each contact such as education, visited courses (however if a database could be hooked on the contact system it could be outsourced into a DB)

If I understand your needs correctly, you may be able to do this using a single Google account that all 4 PCs synchronize with.

  1. Set up a Gmail account. This gives you access to Gmail Contacts and Calendar.
  2. Install CompanionLink for Google on each of the 4 PCs running Outlook. CompanionLink is free for 14 days; $49.95/user (one-time) after that.
  3. Configure CompanionLink to sync each PC's Outlook Contacts the Gmail account in #1.

This establishes a two-way sync system between each PC and the common Gmail account for Contacts.

For your need of Contact Groups, CompanionLink can be configured so each of the 4 PCs syncs their Outlook Contacts to a specific Gmail Contacts Group (ie - PC1 syncs to Group1 in Gmail Contacts, PC2 syncs to Group2, etc). All 4 PCs will get Contacts for all four Groups.

Disclosure: I work for CompanionLink. Shared Outlook setups is a common configuration we offer solutions for.

References

CompanionLink's website: http://www.companionlink.com/google/outlook/

Setup guide (scroll to Sharing Outlook Contacts section): http://www.companionlink.com/support/kb/How_to_Share_Outlook_Calendar_and_Contacts

  • Thanks! Well every PC needs to be able to access all contacts. The grouping is necessary for distribution lists etc. I looked into Google, but as far as I know Google does not support Contact Groups (aka Distribution Lists) - and creating this many contact group 'folders' as you described... wouldn't that also mean that if I had one contact, which is member of two groups, that it would have to be copied in both of them (not by reference but by value)? – skofgar Nov 10 '14 at 8:08
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I forgot to "close" this question.

We ended up using Office 365 for Business.

  • Contacts: I created a separate account, just to share the accounts, which every user has added. (So every user has their own and the shared Exchange account).
  • Advantages:
    • Group support & Mailing lists synchronized
    • Office 365 offers a lot more features that may be used in the future
    • Integration with Office apps
  • Disadvantages:
    • Every user needs to have two accounts (their own plus the shared)
    • Outlook shows 'contact-address-books' for every account and doesn't allow hiding all unnecessary ones (only a some can be hidden/removed, at least one per account has to be there..)
    • Complex setup of Office for business
    • Integration with Office apps (could be better, e.g. integration with Excel)

- Please let me know if you have better ideas / suggestions / feedback / questions / ...

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