Monday, 21 March 2011 20:51

Keep your company address book healthy, wealthy and wise


Is your GAL, AD or LDAP address book fully populated? Does it contain position titles, street addresses, phone, fax and mobile numbers? If not, you fail one of my yardsticks for a quality systems administrator and you are missing out on recognition from your executive management. Here is why.

I strive to set high standards for myself in my own personal goals of making IT the backbone of the company I work for. I have developed various habits and measures which I now consider a minimum standard in corporate IT.

One of these is a fully-populated address book. Whether you refer to yours as the Global Address List (GAL), Active Directory (AD) or some form of Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) service, in my view if it is not the master source of truth for company contact details then a systems administrator is deficient in his or her duty.

You may vehemently disagree but I strongly believe my viewpoint has been developed by many years of working in enterprise IT, from studying and questioning where IT can provide efficiencies, and from observing the impact of what I will be discussing on the mood and productivity of an organisation.

Here is where IT can show strength and value. What I am going to explain here sounds so trivial and trite on the surface but experience shows it genuinely will wow people from executives down to ground level.

What's the big deal about an address book, you ask? Consider three things: accuracy, timeliness and efficiency. I really believe this is a business issue which is simply neglected and even goes unrecognised.

Consider e-mail signatures: if it takes five minutes to set an e-mail signature (including remembering the menu option, tweaking it until it looks right, testing it) and you have 150 employees then this is a waste of 12.5 hours of company time each time it has to be refreshed.

Consider the amount of mobile staff who need to contact someone back in the office but haven't got their number handy? They need to call someone else, and ask them to advise or pass on a message. Time is consumed for two or more people.

Consider the effort put into maintaining the phone book Word or Excel document, and it is not accurate anyway?




Let's start at the beginning. Your corporate network has multiple copies of contact details all across it. There is the global address list in your e-mail system, whether Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, Novell Groupwise or something else. There is your directory system where user logins and security groups are maintained.

There are people's e-mail signatures that appear on the footer of their e-mail messages. Of course, there are also the multitudes of phone books maintained in Word or Excel by administrative staff company wide.

These varying mechanisms are all in conflict with each other and it is more likely than not that they are inconsistent and inaccurate.

So, what is the solution? In short, I believe in one single source of truth. You don't want all these lists clamouring to be the one to use in some situations but not others and just generally only serving a half purpose.

Populate your company address book. Even if you have to hand type it all in, do it. Ideally, use a smart bit of scripting or utilities like CSVDE, ADModify or LDIFDE.

Now, that's only the first part of the battle but it is the most important part.

You are now in the position where your roaming staff can suddenly, and reliably, use the lookup function on their BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Android phone or other device.

Show your people how to use this. Even if they knew the lookup function existed, now with one request they can retrieve a colleague's title, phone and fax number, mobile number, e-mail address and street address.

Similarly, your office users can use their e-mail client to find contact information. They don't have to search for the phone book on the Intranet, which will be out-of-date anyway. Time is saved, efficiency is gained, reliability and accuracy is increased.

That is elementary. What you are also going to show your company is you can now actually create the company phone book at will. This will be achieved by some basic scripting, whether on-demand (ie everytime someone opens the phone book document it is regenerated) or nightly.

Let's go deeper.




Additionally, you will create e-mail signatures each time somebody logs in. This means nobody in your company will ever have to lift a finger to produce or set their own e-mail signature ever again.

Not only does that promote accuracy it also promotes consistency of the company brand. It saves a massive amount of time. Believe it or not, so much time is just squandered where people muck around with e-mail signatures. I have seen it happen; in fact, watching a highly paid national manager at a former employer is what set me off on this crusade. It was painful observing how long it took him to apply his signature.

It's worth mentioning that at this company e-mail signatures were 'designed' by the QA department. When I say 'designed', I mean they were typed into Microsoft Word, the PrtScr button was pressed, and am image constructed by pasting into Microsoft Paint and cropping.

These signatures were garish. They were a solid image. They could not be clicked on. They could not be copy and pasted. They were large in file size.

Worse, they often had appalling mistakes which somehow went unnoticed by QA and the individual alike. I saw e-mail signatures where the 'show codes' button had been left on and spaces and tabs and line breaks all were visible. I saw e-mail signatures which had squiggly blue lines under uncommon surnames and were being flagged by Word's spell-checker.

I have seen many vendors where e-mail signatures are textual, and are copy-and-pasted from a template. Invariably, these will have minor variances and mistakes in formatting. More often than not they will also have a hyperlinked e-mail address which reads as the sender's address, but hovering the mouse over reveals an underlying hyperlink that is totally different.

By setting e-mail signatures on login, these problems all go away. The signature is professional, it is precise, it is consistent, it is aesthetic. If any detail changes - whether an individual's position title or phone number, or something large-scale like the company adopts a whole new slogan or logo - you need only modify either your global address list or your template signature. On next login, each staff member receives the updated signature.




What I particularly like is that this system then becomes self-policing. Your staff will tell you when their contact details or title changes because it shows on their e-mail signature. If they tell you, then this means the global address list can be updated. That means the lookups on smartphones and within the e-mail client will always be accurate. It means the phone book on the Intranet will always be accurate.

Have I persuaded you? Don't dismiss this as mere triviality but allow yourself to ponder it. Discuss it, in fact, with your company management. Put to them, 'If I could make one single address book which drove everything else - e-mail signatures, phone lookups, the phone book, everything - how would it affect the company's time and productivity?'
Don't stop there. Listen to their response. Then act on it.

I've told you here what I believe and what one of my yardsticks is. You may be inspired to go now and achieve it.

Stick around next week here on The Wired CIO and I'll tell you how I do it.


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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