And the art of delegation is in Outlook

In the corporate world, an administrative assistant is a coveted perk. Administrative assistants make life easier: They handle distractions, they manage crises, and—best of all—you can delegate tasks to them. However, you don't need to be a corner-office bigwig to enjoy the benefits of delegation. Instead, you and your Microsoft Exchange Server's Microsoft Outlook clients can take advantage of the nifty delegation features available in most Outlook versions.

Outlook's easy-to-use delegation features let you automate resource scheduling and delegate Outlook tasks (e.g., Calendar management) to other users. But because the variety of Outlook delegation features can be confusing, users will probably come to you, the Exchange Server administrator, for help.

A Question of Permissions
The easiest delegation method is to grant other users access to your mailbox's folders through the Permissions tab controls on those folders' Properties pages. These controls look like and apply the same predefined roles (e.g., Author, Editor) as the controls you use to grant and deny access to public folders. Figure 1, page 100, shows that Carmen Siems has Editor access to the Calendar. However, Carmen doesn't have access to other folders unless you specifically grant it. You can use the Permissions tab's Permissions check boxes to modify a role's permission set, but you can't use this tab to give other users send permissions.

If You Trust Your Assistant
Giving an assistant permission to send items on your behalf is useful for delegating scheduling tasks. To grant an assistant send (as well as read and modify) privileges, you need to use Outlook to name that assistant's mailbox as a delegate of your mailbox.

To enable this feature, select Tools, Options from the menu bar, and go to the Delegates tab. You can browse for a user's name or enter it manually. Clicking Add, then clicking OK assigns that user as a delegate and brings up the Delegate Permissions dialog box, which Figure 2, page 100, shows. From this dialog box, you specify delegate permissions. To open this dialog box for a previously added delegate, click the Delegates tab's Permissions button. The Delegates tab's Properties button shows you the selected user's Global Address List (GAL) properties (e.g., distribution list—DL—membership).

The Delegates feature lets you assign only predefined roles: Editor, which permits creating, reading, modifying, removing, and sending; Author, which permits reading, creating, and sending; Reviewer, which permits reading only; and None, which denies all access. By default, new delegates have Editor permissions to the Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks folders and the None permission to the Inbox, Notes, and Journal folders. Although using the controls on individual folders' Permissions tabs lets you customize delegation with greater granularity, only the Delegates feature's settings let you enable another user to send items on your behalf.

The Delegate Permissions dialog box also contains check boxes that control delegate interaction and permissions:

  • You find the Delegate receives copies of meeting-related messages sent to me check box in only Outlook 2002. This feature sends your meeting requests, acceptances, and cancellations also to your delegate.
  • You find the Delegate can see my private items check box in only Outlook 2002 and Outlook 2000. Whether selecting this check box is desirable depends on your Calendar's contents.
  • Selecting the Automatically send a message to delegate summarizing these permissions check box causes Outlook to email the new delegate about his or her delegate access.

After you grant another user access to your folders, the user can select File, Open, Open Other User's Folder to open your folders. The folders open in Outlook windows that are separate from the delegate's personal mailbox window, so he or she can work simultaneously in both mailboxes.

When a delegate generates a mail item from your folder, your name appears on the sent item. However, when the recipient opens the email message, the message reveals that the delegate sent the item on your behalf. Nevertheless, be careful about giving another person the power to pretend to be you.

Automating Resource Bookings
Outlook offers yet another function that lets you delegate the scheduling of shared resources (e.g., conference rooms, teleconference lines, video projectors) to a mailbox you create for the resource. People who need to use a shared resource can treat the resource as any other Outlook user and simply send its mailbox an email message that invites it to their meeting. The resource's mailbox will automatically accept or reject the meeting. Two methods let you set up this feature: One uses only Outlook; the other uses a free third-party script. Rather than teach users how to set up the resource-scheduling feature, you'll probably need to set it up yourself.

The Outlook way. Outlook 2002 and Outlook 2000 offer automatic resource-scheduling capabilities. Setting up a resource mailbox is simple. First, create an account for the resource. In Exchange 2000 Server, you need to create a separate account for each resource. In Exchange Server 5.5, one account can host several mailboxes if you give each resource mailbox the proper primary Windows NT account. Giving the resources descriptive names such as "Conference Room 3120" helps users identify which resources they're booking.

Use Outlook to create a profile for each resource. You can collect resources into DLs so that users can send booking requests for any available resource in that DL. I also recommend logging on to the resource account to verify its time zone.

You then need to use each resource's profile to launch Outlook. Select Tools from the menu bar, and go to the Preferences tab, which lists a separate control group for each Outlook folder. Click Calendar Options. When the Calendar Options dialog box appears, click Resource Scheduling. Verify that the resulting dialog box's three check boxes are selected. If you want users to be able to book recurring appointments for that resource, clear the Automatically decline recurring meeting requests check box. Finally, click Set Permissions to give Author permissions to the Default User (i.e., everyone in the GAL). For more information about the Resource Scheduling feature, see the Microsoft article "How to Set Up a Conference Room as a 'Resource' in Outlook 2000" (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/exchange/cfsetup.asp).

If you use this process, only Outlook 2002 and Outlook 2000 users who are connected to your Exchange Server system will be able to book resources. Users' abilities to book resources will also depend on their knowledge about Outlook meeting requests. A useful resource for teaching users how to schedule resources is the Microsoft article "How to Successfully Book a Resource" (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/exchange/cfbook.asp).

The third-party script way. Exchangecode (http://www.exchangecode.com) did Exchange Server administrators a great service when the company released its free AutoAccept Utilities package. The AutoAccept script (one AutoAccept utility) is a server-side event script that handles resource requests. Using this script has several benefits over using Outlook to automate shared resource scheduling. You don't need to create Messaging API (MAPI) profiles for each resource mailbox. You can also use the script to restrict who can request meetings with the resource and limit the duration of recurring requests (if you choose to accept them at all). The AutoAccept Utilities are widely used and well supported by peer forums such as Exchange Server newsgroups and the SWYNK.COM mailing list. I highly recommend the easy-to-use AutoAccept Utilities to those who need to automate scheduling of more than a handful of resources.

Be a Hero
Anything you do that makes your Exchange Server users' lives easier makes you look like a hero. Teaching them how to use Outlook's delegation features and setting up automatic resource booking will go a long way toward helping you stay on users' good sides.