18 May 2012

How to use Outlook and Exchange effectively

For most of us, Microsoft Outlook and Exchange are everyday tools for communication, calendaring and more. They’re a powerful platform and, from CRMs to Unified Communication systems, there are many opportunities for integration with other business applications. The benefits that your business can derive from Exchange, however, will also depend on how you deploy it.

Effective Exchange

Exchange delivers a comprehensive mail, contacts and calendaring platform. But how it’s deployed can make a big difference to that platform’s flexibility and management costs. These are the most common options: In-house Having a back-office Exchange server has been a long-time approach. Your business meets its own hardware, licensing, support and maintenance costs. But on the plus side, you have complete control over your platform – making it easier to customise and integrate with 3rd party tools. On the down side, you need to manage your own backups and security, and make provisions for remote access. Hosted solutions With a hosted service, an IT provider manages your Exchange server for you, delivering it from their own data centre. This means that you pay on a usage basis (often per-user, per-month). Your provider then manages everything for you, including upgrades, maintenance and security. The benefit is a professionally managed service with high levels of availability and redundancy. There’s also the fact that you can scale with need while accessing your information from anywhere with an internet connection and on a range of devices. A pitfall to watch for, however, is the ability to customise. There are different types of hosted solutions, only some of which offer your business the level of control over your Exchange system that you might need to add your own extensions and integrations. Be sure that you know exactly what solution you’re buying into and how flexible it will be.

Effective Outlook – some productivity tips

With the amount of use it sees, even a slight change in how productively you can use Outlook can reap dividends. Here are a few tips to consider:
  • Streamline your emailing using Outlook’s Conversation Clean Up feature that shrinks and tidies your mail exchanges, making them faster to read.
  • Use auto-close to close emails after you’ve replied to them. Find the Mail setting under Options.
  • Use the “quick steps” feature to create handy shortcuts for categorising or moving messages.
  • When you create a view that filters your mail (looking for mail to a particular team, for example) save the view for future use.
  • Switch off new email alerts so that you can better concentrate on what’s at hand.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts so that you’re not reaching so often for the mouse. Press Alt at any time to see the shortcuts available.
  • Add LinkedIn’s Outlook Social Connector to send LinkedIn add requests and messages straight from Outlook.
  • When you’re in another application, jump quickly to Outlook’s meeting or contact creation tasks by right-clicking on Outlook in the taskbar.
 

Summing up

Exchange and Outlook are a valuable system for any business. And whether it’s SharePoint or Instant Messaging, integration with other services offers even greater potential. It’s worth having a conversation with your IT provider to ensure that you’re getting the most from your solution, especially when it comes to mobility and cost effectiveness.   Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT. (This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on May 17 2012)
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