The dating game
By Joel Snyder03/11/96
The Alkwen proposal was coming together on schedule, but Mary in San
Francisco needed to double-check a few odd pricing details with Elliot in
Dallas. And Elliot insisted she pull Boston-based Adrian in on a conference
call for final approval before it could be thrown into overnight mail that
But Elliot was no where to be found, and he hadn't updated other
members of his local team about his plans. With the time zone difference,
it seemed likely Adrian would leave the office before Elliot could verify
the pricing information.
Mary was going to miss the deadline.
This pot boiler may be hypothetical, but that pressure cooker feeling
is all too familiar. A relatively low-tech tool might have helped Mary
avoid the problem and keep her blood pressure in line: a calendaring tool
that spanned the enterprise.
Had Mary been able to log into a corporate calendar and set up an
appointment early in the day, when both Elliot and Adrian were available,
or even if she could check to see where Elliot was, everything might have
fallen into place on time.
Picking a calendar manager that spans the enterprise means looking for
more than the prettiest GUI. You have to look at performance and
scalability, platform options, network and language support, and security,
as well as additional features, such as project management and real-time
Enterprise-wide scheduling tools are more than a personal information
manager. They help you track your own appointments, to-do lists, regularly
scheduled meetings and perform other tasks.
Enterprise-wide scheduling tools also enable team members to schedule
meetings by scanning for open slots on multiple calendars, as well as track
resources such as conference rooms and audiovisual equipment. Schedulers
keep the meeting agenda and note who is and isn't attending.
The most obvious difference between workgroup and enterprise
scheduling systems is in performance and scalability. To handle very large
groups, most enterprise scheduling packages use a true client/server
architecture and time-sharing servers mostly running on Unix and Windows NT.
CorporateTime from Corporate Software & Technologies International,
Inc. (CST) in Montreal and Synchronize from Crosswind Technologies, Inc. in
Santa Cruz, Calif., depend on Unix-based minicomputers to maintain back-end
databases of scheduling information.
But other products, such as Calendar Manager from Russell Information
Sciences, Inc. (RIS) in Laguna Hills, Calif., achieve scalability by
enabling network managers to mix and match servers. Calendar can be
deployed on four types of interconnected platforms: Unix-based systems,
Digital Equipment Corp.'s OpenVMS, Banyan Systems, Inc.'s VINES, and
Novell, Inc.'s NetWare (as an NLM).
Since a single server won't be of much use to large organizations,
communications between servers is crucial to keeping calendars up-to-date.
Two models are popular: replication and direct server-to-server real-time
The benefit of database replication is that the WAN link between
servers doesn't have to be up for a meeting to be scheduled.
But using a store and forward mechanism such as E-mail to replicate
databases, as many products do, can result in calendars getting a few hours
out of synch. That would make it hard to reliably schedule same day
In environments where the network is very reliable, a real-time
server-to-server connection provides more up-to-date information. Products
supporting this style are rare: RIS' Calendar Manager is one of the few.
PLATFORMS AND NETWORKS
An enterprise scheduler is only useful when it supports everyone in
the enterprise. Most highend products support the two most popular
platforms, Windows and Macintosh, although a few, such as Crosswind's
Synchronize, don't support Macs.
Diverse computing styles may call for supporting diverse platforms,
such as MS/DOS, X windows or Open-VMS.
Palmtop personal digital assistants (PDA) are a particularly popular
'platform.' As people stray further from their desks, the ability to
extend the calendaring system to work with these lightweight tools is
becoming more important.
PDA users anxious to link their isolated schedules to the corporate
network might look to MSI's CaLANdar, which works with most PDAs in
conjunction with an import/export application called Intellilink from
Intellilink Corp. in Nashua, N.H. Users of Apple Computer, Inc.'s Newton
might try Portland, Ore.-based Now Software, Inc.'s Synchronize.
Other packages, such as ON's Meeting Maker XP have a one-way
connection to PDAs: they can export to the PDA, but can't synchronize and
reconcile transactions later.
PDAs that run MS-DOS, such as those from Hewlett-Packard Co., and
users who take notebook computers on the road will need remote support.
Crosswind's Synchronize allows for 'disconnected' operation.
Disconnected operation requires you to take a snapshot of your
schedule before leaving the office. While out of touch, you can modify
your calendar and try to schedule appointments. When a phone line is
available, your laptop and desktop databases will be synchronized.
Most schedulers will send an E-mail message to remind you of upcoming
appointments, but MSI's CaLANdar takes it a step further by using mail
systems to send appointment requests to users that don't have scheduling
tools. With MSI's special E-mail message format, you can send an
appointment request to an E-mail-only user, who can respond using their
normal mail package.
For integration into existing networks, enterprise schedulers should
support a variety of protocols. This reflects the realities of global
organizations in that few companies have standardized on a single protocol.
High-end protocol support comes in packages such as ON Technology's
Meeting Maker XP, which lets you mix and match IPX, AppleTalk and TCP/IP
pretty much at will.
SECURITY AND LANGUAGES
Different schedulers offer different security models, but the
enterprise-oriented tools support a flexible set of rules that let users
define their own scheduling relationships.
For example, you may be able to force appointments onto some people's
calendars but have to request permission for others. Proxy support, used
when one person manages the calendar for another (such as an administrative
assistant), is another fairly standard feature.
As an example of one model, CST's CorporateTime separates privacy
issues from permissions to schedule. CorporateTime users can let coworkers
peek at their schedules, deny them access or provide something in-between
called 'view busy time only,' which shows when they're free without showing
what they're doing.
Individual appointments can also be marked private, which blocks
access even from users who would normally be able to see the calendar.
Scheduling privileges are also easy to customize. You can select who can
and cannot schedule meetings with you, along with who can and cannot
schedule and accept meetings on your behalf.
BELLS AND WHISTLES
Some enterprise scheduling tools have their hands full just keeping
appointments straight and meetings on-time. However, many offer features
that work well in conjunction with scheduling, such as contact management
and phone books.
For example, Crosswind's Synchronize integrates a small project
tracking and management system with its scheduling system. MSI's CaLANdar
offers a pegboard that shows who's in the office (and who's not, assuming
that they remembered to update their calendar), along with a real-time chat
utility over the network.
Other products add in legacy support to help spread their reach. CST
has concentrated on helping IBM's OfficeVision (PROFS) users migrate to its
product, while RIS has built in continuing support for DEC's All-In-1
Asking a single scheduling package to support an entire enterprise may
be too much - for social rather than technical reasons. Some of the
schedulers we looked at can scale to a 50,000-user organization. But it's
difficult to imagine all those people agreeing to run the same package,
even if it supported every platform ever invented.
The vendors don't seem to care much about this problem, since there is
little if any effort to standardize on a single protocol that might allow
two different scheduling systems to interoperate.
In any case, the perfect scheduler doesn't yet exist. Each of the
systems we looked at has some of the features that an enterprise needs, but
none of them cover all the bases.
Finding the package that's right for you will require a careful
examination of the exact feature set you need. The brief questions on page
x should help you get started.
Snyder is a senior analyst for Opus One in Tucson Ariz: (520) 324-0494
Copyright 1995 Network World, Inc