While apps exist to sync calendars across multiple devices, the equivalent solutions don't exist to integrate calendars with key enterprise tasks. Calendars are key in many applications, such as CRM and support and ticketing systems. Let's look into some of the technologies that exist and if they could provide the solutions needed.
Most of the calendar problems between the key PC and Mac clients as well as iOS and Android devices have been solved thanks to Microsoft, Apple and Google (mostly) adding support for the two key calendar standards (CalDAV and Exchange). Even where there is a failure (Android support for CalDAV), outside vendors have provided the missing link (CalDAV Sync for example).
However, most of the calendars found in even the best CRM systems can’t do what Exchange can do. But Exchange has no connection to contact profiles in a CRM. What should be done?
Should CRM and other calendar dependent app makers integrate with Exchange or Google (and other CalDAV servers)? Should there be a focus on 2-way synchronization? Or are there other methods and processes that can help sales and support people?
Below are the technologies and the pros and cons of using each.
Most CRM native calendars allow users to set meetings with a contact and associate the meeting with the contact’s profile. However, unlike Outlook / Exchange or iCal / Google, CRM calendars typically do not send out invites to recipients. Nor do they handle responses. They are stand-alone and don’t work with outside calendar clients or servers.
Most CRM users use Microsoft Outlook for email and calendar (on Microsoft Windows). By having calendar information synched to a server (such as Exchange or Google), users can use multiple devices and still see the same calendar information.
But Exchange and Google support 2 different ways to sync with Outlook. Exchange uses Microsoft’s own proprietary communications method. Google uses an internet standard called CalDAV, an extension of WebDAV (HTTP-based protocol for data manipulation).
Unfortunately, Outlook, whether on Windows or Apple’s OS X, does not support CalDAV, leaving users only one option to work with their Google calendar: using Google’s own Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. Native support for CalDAV should be there as many other calendaring servers use CalDAV (Zimbra for example). But this is the only way at present to interact with a Google Calendar using Outlook.
Exchange is a mail / calendar / file-sharing server from Microsoft and is dominant in the Fortune 500. The protocol used by Exchange for communications with clients (Outlook, Apple’s iCal and iOS and Google’s Android) is Microsoft’s own and not an internet standard.
CalDAV is an internet standard for calendaring and is supported by iCal, iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch), Android via 3rd party apps and Outlook via 3rd party apps (iCal4OL for example).
Apple too has a native calendar client app. Unlike with Microsoft, Apple offers separate apps for email and for calendar. Its calendar app is called iCal. iCal supports both Exchange and CalDAV servers.
iOS is the operating system used by Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. These devices support Exchange and CalDAV servers.
Android is Google’s mobile operating system and can be found on Motorola, HTC, LG and Samsung phones. Android’s native calendar supports Exchange. While not supported natively, CalDAV servers can be reached and tied to the native Android calendar via a number of apps in the Google Play app store (CalDAV-Sync for example).
Google’s calendar can be reached via a web interface, via API and via CalDAV. This is interesting in that more and more businesses are hosting their email and calendar operations at Google.
So, how do these technologies fit with the calendars found in CRM applications? Not well unfortunately.
Ideally, a user in a CRM app would click on a contact and then invite them to a meeting setting a time, date and information regarding the meeting. They could also add other contacts and then send an invitation while simultaneously updating their calendar server.
Replies would be received in an email app (containing an iCalendar or .ics file), which would then update the native calendar client (more than likely iCal or Outlook). The native client app would then update the linked calendar server allowing other devices (iPhones, Android phones, iPads) to see the update.
Why can’t a CRM be one of those “devices”? Well, it’s just not that easy. Here are some of the problems in that regard:
Exchange support is difficult. That’s why it takes a team of talented engineers at Apple and Google to create apps to support Exchange. Most CRM companies, including the biggest don’t have the time and resources to support Exchange fully. And when they do, support is limited to an Outlook plugin.
Just because you’ve synched your CRM and company calendars doesn’t mean you have events placed against the proper CRM contact profile. For example, if you sync a meeting with Joe Smithfield that takes place on Friday the 13th at 2pm, what identifier ensures the meeting is also placed in the “meetings” section of the Joe Smithfield contact profile?
This could be email address based. But, multiple contact profiles can have the same email address in most CRMs as more than one user can claim to know a person. This could result in duplicate updates in the calendar and other related problems.
Many users have their mail and calendar hosted with an outsourced provider such as GoDaddy. And in these cases, calendars are typically hosted Exchange or a CalDAV compliant server (such as Zimbra).
Today there’s no simple or industry accepted approach to integrated CRM and corporate calendars. Developers, start your engines!
Title image courtesy of mmaxer (Shutterstock).
Editor's Note: To read more by Steve Youngblood:
- The Need for a Simpler Enterprise CMS Sharing Interface
- Online Document Distribution: Similar Companies, Different Directions