Archive for the ‘General’ Category
Over 1800 volunteers came together for the largest schools rehabilitation project for the year in Nashville, TN on September 24, 2011. Hands On Nashville Day is the largest fundraiser for the non-profit organization, Hands On Nashville–a successful volunteer coordinating organization in Nashville. HON has had significant affect on beautifying the city, helping those in need, empowering youth, and strengthening non-profit organizations. I have been fortunate to volunteer with HON for several years now, and have seen the effects of their hard work and dedication as an organization making Nashville a better place to live and work.
Volunteers of all ages gather to help beautify 55 area public schools. I am typically fortunate to lead teams of 15 to 50 volunteers. This year I organized a team for Nashville’s first African American high school–established in 1883–the Meigs Middle Magnet School. We painted, touched up landscaping, and provided other various projects for the school. The work is generally simple, usually doesn’t require much experience in those areas, and rarely requires a professional to do the work. We are everyday people coming together to support HON and beautify our city at the same time.
Interested in volunteering? The organization has dozens of opportunities each month. People can sign up via the Hands on Nashville website. There are plenty of schools and organizations that need volunteers. I look forward to seeing you!
For the past two years, I’ve been working on a standard corporate signature for Thomas Nelson Employees. We wanted to have a central place where we could modify a signature template and then, on-the-fly, incorporate the employee’s contact information when they compose an email.
Two years ago, I couldn’t find applications pre-built for this purpose. It was also at a time when the company’s computer operating systems ranged from Windows 98 to Windows XP and Outlook 97 to Outlook 2003. As a result, we decided to hire a Visual Basic programmer to build an application. Unfortunately, due to the varied systems, it became too risky to roll it out at that time.
Now, due to the recent reorganizing in the company, we’ve decided to revive the initiative. Fortunately since 2004, we’ve upgraded all of our computers to Windows XP and Outlook 2003 (or Outlook XP). This significantly reduced the variables we need to consider.
So that you can put the following tools in context, here are the requirements I used to evaluate options:
- The signature had to be viewable when composing an email
- Contact information had to be pulled into the signature for each employee via Active Directory
- The employee’s computer needed to check regularly for changes to the template
- We needed to have the ability to use different logos or signature templates for various company divisions
- The HTML in the signature needed to be relatively compatible with Mac Entourage, PC Outlooks 2000-2007, and most major email clients
- The signature needed to work with Word as the email editor in PC Outlooks
- The signature template needed to be easy to update
- We needed to be able to choose the fonts, colors, signature, and stationery settings in employee Outlooks
- The application needed to be capable of handling over 600 accounts
- The application needed to be able to grow with the company and technology
OUTLOOK AND ENTOURAGE SIGNATURES
In order to understand how the solutions I recommend below work, you need a little background on how the signatures work in Outlook XP, Outlook 2003, and Entourage. For the purpose of reducing length, I won’t talk about HTML email coding restrictions. If I haven’t posted an article about this, feel free to comment on this post with your questions. I’ll respond as soon as I can.
Outlook XP and 2003
Three signature files are used for every signature you create. When editing via the signature editor in Outlook, you are editing the signature using HTML. Once you save it, Outlook then creates three files: HTML (htm), rich text (rtf), and plain text (txt). It does its best when creating the rich text and plain text versions. But if you added any graphics or copied and pasted anything from Word (especially with tables), you’ll find spacing is weird or the signature may be totally different than its HTML counterpart. This is why using solutions that create separate versions of the files is important to reduce inconsistencies between the formats. Outlook selects the appropriate signature format based on an email’s format. For example, if you receive a plain text email and reply to it, Outlook selects the plain text version of your signature to use.
The three signature files are located in the following location on your computer (most likely):
C:/Documents and Settings/[your login name]/Application Data/Microsoft/Signatures
Note: If you are not on a corporate network, your login name will be whatever you entered when first installing Windows.
Another option is to have your Exchange server automatically add a custom signature to each email as it goes out. Users won’t be able to see the signature when editing an email since it will be added after the user hits “Send” in Outlook. Unfortunately, these won’t work for Nelson at this time, but I mention my top two favorite solutions for this at the end my list below.
Unfortunately, Microsoft’s Entourage is very limited in what code it will allow when composing an HTML email. It views received HTML emails fine, but strips out most of the HTML when composing, replying or forwarding. It also manages signatures completely different than PC Outlook versions. It uses one signature file to store all the information for all signatures a person creates. Up to this point, I haven’t conducted extensive research into whether this file can be programmatically altered.
Mac users’ only option is to modify their signatures manually. For Nelson, we created an HTML version that is friendly with Entourage so that Mac users can simply copy from an email, paste it into their signature editor, and then change the contact information. The disadvantage to this approach is that when the design changes we’ll have to notify and rely on each person to adapt their own. There is no reporting or verification available, and it requires more administration for our I.T. department. This also enables Mac users to have more control over the look and content in the signature, which the company is trying to regulate.
As most of you know, technological advancements in software occur regularly. Therefore after two years, fortunately, a few more appropriate applications exist. The following list includes the best applications I’ve found. If you find others, please add links as comments for all of us.
- Symprex Mail Signature Manager (my top choice)
- Fliximation Systems Mailbox Central
- ITeFlx Adolsign
- Exclaimer Mail Utilities (honorable mention)
- SecurExchange AutoContent Edition (honorable mention)
Symprex Mail Signature Manager
This is by far the best one I’ve found for our needs. The features outweigh many other tools I’ve found and what we’ve created with our own programmer. The price is reasonable for us (a little over $2000). The company, Symprex, located in the United Kingdom, provides excellent information about this application on their site. This tool meets all of our requirements when combined with Group Policy.
Features I especially liked:
- Easy to use editing tool
- Easy to install on the server and each person’s computer
- Deployment reporting
- Customizable signature templates or content for specific departments or groups of employees
Works with Outlook Web Access
The pricing for this application is unfortunately very expensive (via personal quote), but the features are in-line with our requirements and it offers a few more options than what we get with our own programmer.
Unfortunately, the information about this tool on the flexnet.com site isn’t helpful. The information never really discusses anything but overall benefits. However, responses from the Fleximation sales team were quick and with patience. They were willing to answer any questions I had and provided me with the User Manual to answer the bulk of my questions. The company is based out of Ontario, Canada.
The most beneficial function not included in this when compared to Symprex is that it does not affect Outlook Web Access. The implementation also looks a little more complicated.
- Central editing tool
- Works with Active Directory
- Uses a database to create signature
- Users can see the signature when editing emails
- Can use this across Outlook profiles (or persons using the same computer)
- Customizable per employee group in Active Directory
This is the cheapest (at $130) and the most basic application I’ve evaluated. Unfortunately for us, a couple fields we want are not available in the application. We could repurpose a couple of the fields already available. However, I contacted the programmer, and he was willing to make modifications as needed at an additional cost. This tool does the basics of what our programmer has already programmed for us when combined with Group Policy. It does not have a central signature editor or reporting capabilities, and we would need to add the ability to have a different signature for specific groups of employees.
- Creates signature files from user information in Active Directory
- Can create vcards (Outlook contact info files) and attach them to emails sent
- No known limitations with Outlook XP and 2003 on Windows XP
Exclaimer Mail Utilities
This is an excellent tool although it doesn’t meet all of our requirements—specifically the capability for users to see their signature when editing emails. However, if that isn’t important to you, then this tool is one of the best out there and has a sales team (in four countries) that is quick and patient when answering emails. Pricing is not available on the site but I have not inquired about a quote.
Just like my #1 choice, it affects signatures for emails sent via the Outlook Web Access, but it also works with emails sent via Blackberrys or the like. It also has the capability to change the entire look of the email by adding a header, employee photo, and much more (see example image). In addition to those, the Mail Utilities come with many other features you may find helpful, including footer disclaimers, auto-responding, spam control, etc. The flyer (PDF) seems to be best resource for getting information regarding this application.
- Entire email template design control, not just signatures
- Affects signatures for emails sent from Blackberrys (or other PDA device) via the Exchange server
- Can setup different signatures for various groups of employees
- Comes with several additional utilities especially helpful for small businesses
The final application I want to recommend is just as powerful as Exclaimer. Created by Nemx Software Corporation in Ontario, Canada, it offers several additional utilities your business might find beneficial. I don’t know what they charge for this application.
Although, this tool does not meet our requirements, it offers significantly more features than would be possible on a client-side signature application. I won’t list all of them here, but if you want controls over more than just the design of the signature, you should definitely check this out.
- Emails customized to employee groups
- Ability to exclude signatures for certain recipients
- Central editing tool
- Significantly more control than possible on a client-side application
I hope you found this information helpful. Glad to share my research. Good luck selecting your own corporate signature management application.
Microsoft Exchange—This is the central system providing all of Outlook’s functions on a corporate network such as calendar, email, contact information, etc. It is typically not necessary for running Outlook, but on a corporate network it provides content protection, collaboration, a central source for schedules, employee information, and much more.
wikipedia info | back
Active Directory—An element of Microsoft Exchange that offers the ability to control many computers in an enterprise. The signature applications I reviewed use this to access the LDAP database, which contains our employee contact information (LDAP is also part of Microsoft Exchange).
wikipedia info | back
Group Policy—Works in conjunction with Active Directory to control Windows operating system settings globally for every employee computer on the corporate network (including Outlook settings). There are of course limitations based on the operating system and version of Outlook, but most of our setting requirements can be managed via this application since we all have Outlook XP or 2003. What isn’t naturally part of the system can sometimes be programmed or worked into the Outlook COM Add-in (see below).
wikipedia info | back
Outlook Web Access—This is basically the web version of Outlook for employees that want to access email away from work. It does not have as many features as the Outlook software, but a person can handle the majority of their needs for conducting communication. This feature is only available on Microsoft Exchange version 5.0 and higher.
wikipedia info | back
Visual Basic—This is the programming language used in Microsoft Office applications. A novice can begin coding in this language via Microsoft’s scripting tool included with Office. Using this language, you can modify Outlook (or any Office application) to perform any number of simple to complicated tasks. This includes modifying the look of Outlook, creating a customer resource management tool, changing Outlook settings, and creating your own toolbar with your own set of functions.
wikipedia info | back
Outlook COM Add-In—Created using Visual Basic, this module offers a company the ability to expand features in Outlook tailored more specifically to its needs. Integrating this is as simple as dropping the add-in “dll” file in a specific folder on the user’s computer and “turning it on” in Outlook. Since I want users to see the signature when composing an email, an add-in is the only way to make this happen. All of the “solutions” I offered above use this approach.
wikipedia info about COMs | back
DLL—This stands for dynamic link library. These files extend the capability and features of a program (exe file). An Outlook COM Add-In is basically a dll file. Visual Basic is used to program the file.
wikipedia info (link didn’t work at time of post) | Other Info | back
As started by Mike Hyatt at Thomas Nelson, I’ve been “tagged” by Jim Thomason, the Vice President of Human Resources for Thomas Nelson Publishers. We were to tell five things “You Don’t Know about Me”. So, here it goes.
I grew up in the funeral business. My dad is the third generation running his family’s funeral home chain in Fort Smith, AR. His favorite part of the job is to wait on families and help them through the process of honoring their loved ones. He loves his business. However, I wasn’t so dead set on it. :o) I have a great appreciation for the service, but it’s not something I wanted to do for my future. I decided instead to go more creative routes.
I play the piano. Since I was five I’ve had my fingers on a piano. But I didn’t fall in love with it until I was about 13. Since then, I’ve never stopped my love for the instrument. Unfortunately, I haven’t been serious about it for 12 years. So my skill has dropped significantly. As an example, here’s a spur of the moment recording of a song I was writing nine years ago. I have plans this year to bring it back up. But, reading sheet music? What’s that? :o)
I grew up playing golf. My dad does two things every day: work and play golf. Nothing else unrelated really computes with him. As his son, he made sure that I learned golf as well. I was eventually good enough to play on a golf team in high school. But I didn’t like the person I became on the course. So eventually I decided to stop until I was mature enough to play the game with respect. Unfortunately since then, I’ve rarely picked up a club. When I do (about once a year), my shots are so sporadic it becomes more of a fun betting game. “Five dollars you’ll duff it!”
I enjoy photography. For about three years now, I’ve taken a greater interest in photography—as in taking pictures of God’s world around me. I would barely call myself an amateur since I don’t really even study the art form. Camera equipment is expensive, so for now I have a compact Canon PowerShot S1. It has a 10x zoom. Surprisingly, I’ve been able to capture a few okay photos. Recently, I went to Haiti with a ministry here in Nashville and was able to capture some good shots. The album you’ll see is meant to be a summary of the trip. So, you’ll see good and average shots in there—for an amateur of course. :o)
I went to college to be a sound engineer for recording studios. Although I loved making music (singing mostly) in high school, I realized the future was slim. So, instead of pursuing that life style, I decide to stay more technical and work on sound scaping. :o) Toward the end of my collegian experience, I realized that lifestyle was even worse than if I had decided to pursue being an artist or song writer. So, since I have a passion to serve, I decided to pursue work in Human Resources. Although that initially sounds right, we can all make life-changing impact serving people in any position and career. Fortunately though, I learned through the position that web design was the perfect blend of creativity and technology for me. So, I quit my job (with the little web experience I had) and went to look for a job in the web world. Soon after, a lady at Nelson decided to take a chance with me. That began my career at Nelson about six years ago from the date of this post.
Hope you enjoyed the tour. :o)
If you have any questions, feel free to comment. I’ll respond as soon as I can.