Schedule this PainPoint
As we move to more and more online meetings, with better quality and fancier features - the weak link in collaboration is becoming clear: calendaring.
It is shocking how primitive calendaring remains in the modern enterprise. The online calendar may have obliterated the personal paper-bound diary with improved functionality, but there’s still a lot of potential and not a lot of innovation. Calendar interoperability remains limited, particularly the specific act of finding an open time among participants with multiple calendaring systems. Calendaring tools are too manual a process.
Sure tools like Outlook have automated scheduling tools for internal calendars, but who limits meetings to internal resources?
It was actually the calendar appointment that was one of the first big improvements in inter-organizational communications. iCalendar (.ICS) formatted messages allow users to send meeting requests across most platforms including Exchange/Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, Notes, Thunderbird, GroupWise, and others. It was an underrated accomplishment. Appointments support multiple devices (mobile, desktop/laptop computers, tablets), multiple time-zones (and mobile users keep moving), multiple fields (who, when, where, why, confirmed, tentative), and multiple operating systems. Oddly, Google Android phones still can’t accept Google (or other) calendar invites.
Appointment invites work great as long as the proposed time is agreeable. At best, the appointment is just a confirmation of a meeting previously agreed. Worse, it’s received as a dictated non negotiable summons.
The unmet opportunity lies in tools that identify times mutually acceptable among all participants (across different organizations). Consider the rigamarole associated with scheduling something as simple as a conference call among eight participants on separate calendaring systems. It probably involves about 20 reply-alls - and we wonder why we live in email.
There are several web services that attempt to solve this as a middle-ware service. My favorite was Tungle, snatched up by Blackberry and presumably left for dead. I currently use ScheduleOnce. I can send out a link with a free/busy glimpse of my calendar that also allows people to select a requested. It’s a nice solution for me as an individual or even for workgroups, but isn’t scalable for enterprises.
My life has become more complex now as I straddle Google Apps and Exchange. Google used to provide a synchronization option, but now restricts this to Premium users. Microsoft doesn’t offer a solution to sync with Google Calendar.
iCal or other protocol needs to address free/busy. Perhaps each participant could send once a temporary link or other form of permission that allows systems to negotiate available times. The iCalendar protocol was in many ways ahead of its time. It connected calendars while many were still using “Daytimers,” and before mobile phones and the Internet being so predominant in our lives. However, the protocol now suffers from being good enough and entrenched enough to foster scheduling hell.
The e-calendar is quietly getting promoted. It is becoming more central to workflow and communications. Improved calendar integration is the next big opportunity for collaboration.