Monday, 4 November 2013

Maintain a Unified Contacts List across all your devices

I have faced this problem of having to synchronize my contacts list time and again. And this is generally done whenever one is in any of the following situations: 

 - You have a new laptop or multiple laptops or PCs
 - You have a new mobile or multiple mobile devices
 - You have a new email account or multiple email accounts...
 - You have are moving from an old mobile to a new mobile, etc...

During any of the above situations we generally get or send out messages from/to our friends to send us an updated contacts info and such other requests.

Call it the need of the hour, I dug around and found that there are multiple ways one could keep your contacts synchronised between computers, between accounts and phones and devices - call it a grand unification of contacts list.

Right now there are paid apps and there are free apps that you can use to keep your contacts synchronised and since I am an entrepreneur, I for one look to find the most cost effective way which works and with the available email accounts and devices that i had with me.

So to setup a unified contacts list, i did the following (guess now no one will absolve me if i say i did not have your contact or i cannot say, hey i lost your contact, or changed my phone and hence lost your contact, etc, etc. Well i dont intend to do that since everyone of my contacts is important to me.)

Step 1: Consolidate all your contacts to a single source:

A couple of online services (yahoo, gmail, facebook, etc) provide you the ability to upload your contacts as an excel or csv format online. The reason you would do this, is to ensure you are using this service to get all your contacts to one common place. 

I also looked to consolidate my contacts list across these different sources by looking at the inventory of the sources and which source already had the ability to consolidate these accounts. I had a yahoo account, a gmail account and a work account hosted on google apps for business, two mobiles (one a smart phone another a keypad phone), one laptop, an ipad and a old desktop. Each had different email clients and with their own contacts list over the period of time.

After researching on the options that are available in the accounts and devices that i had, I chose the Yahoo Contacts service since, the Yahoo Contacts service had the ability to connect to your gmail account and download the contacts just providing the username and password of your gmail account, and it also had the ability to import csv files.

I exported the contacts in an excel format from the smartphone, keypad phone, and all the other devices like the ipad, laptop, desktop. I uploaded all of these contacts to the Yahoo Contacts service. I connected my gmail accounts to the yahoo contacts services and imported all the contacts.

Please note here, that since you are doing this activity for the first time, you can be rest assured that you might have to update some details manually for at least 5 percent of the contacts, since its not necessary all your devices will output the excel in the way its required by the Yahoo Service. 

So after some initial hiccups and reading through the steps for extracting contacts from each of the devices, i went about and got all the contacts into the Yahoo Service.

Once i had all the contacts uploaded to the Yahoo Contacts Service, i ran the find and merge duplicates option. It threw up suggestions to merge and since this was the first time, i went about manually figuring out which contacts were duplicates and needed to be merged and which were marked by the program as duplicate but were actually different contacts. 

After a couple of rounds of running the merge duplicates, i came to a baseline version of my contacts list, i now had all the contacts from all the devices and services into one single location. This included the contact numbers, email ids and addresses all had been successfully consolidated into this list.


Step 2: Create a Backup

Once i had this baseline version of my contacts list i uploaded this version of my contacts list to the following services:

a. Google Apps for Business domain account; 
b. iCloud account. 
c. Yahoo Contacts

I Choose the Yahoo Contacts to be the "Backup" account since The Yahoo Contacts Service provides an option to download contacts from Gmail contacts.

To keep the backup updated, I created a reminder to go back into the yahoo account and run the import contacts from gmail once in a while. 

Step 3: Keeping your contacts across devices in sync: 


Now with the backup in place, i needed to provide a mechanism to keep the list synchronised. 

I chose the Gmail personal account, as the "Active" account, this would be the account that i could connect to all my devices. I chose this because, Apple does not have a synchronise option with Yahoo Contacts for its address book (https://discussions.apple.com/message/19287741#19287741). 

My Inventory of Gadgets: a Mac Book Pro, iPad, a windows 8 PC and an Android Phone.

a. Mac Book Pro Address Book: 
The MBP Address Book is updated by synchronising my icloud.com account with the google contacts list. Apple provides a service to synchronise your Address Book with your gmail account. This link will provide you with the setup details http://support.apple.com/kb/ph4625

b. iPad: 
I had configured the gmail account to be synchronised as a Microsoft Exchange Service in iOS6 , which allows for the contacts to be synchronised between the iPad and the "Active" gmail account. This link will provide you the setup for the iOS devices
 - http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4872

Update: Apple has now enabled direct google contacts sync in iOS7, find the details in the link below. This would mean, that if you did not have a Mac Book Pro, your iCloud and Google Contacts would still be syncrhonised using iOS 7.
http://www.idownloadblog.com/2013/06/25/apple-enables-direct-google-contacts-sync-in-ios-7/

c. Windows 8 PC: 
I configured the windows 8 PC to synchronise my "Active" gmail account using an open source sync tool available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/googlesyncmod/files/.

I used this option instead of Google Sync, since its got a more elaborate process to setup. http://www.google.com/sync/index.html

 Update: Here is a paid version of a mail and calendar sync with Outlook
http://scand.com/products/outlook4gmail/

note: Please do this task after you have completed the above steps.

d. Android Phone: 
I configured my "Active" gmail account to be the only contacts source , (you need to update the settings on your phone to show you contacts only from this source). So now whenever i add a contact on my phone, the system updates my "Active" gmail account with the new contact information across all the devices. Additionally if i were to update any contact information on my phone, the same will be reflected in each of my devices. 

Now with all your contacts consolidated and linked with all the devices, you are well on your way to staying connected with your friends, family and business associates from anywhere and more importantly from any device.

Please do write in with your comments and queries, we will be glad to be of help. 

Note: At this time, try and not connect with your Facebook Contacts since it seems to be forcing duplicate entries for the contacts. It will be great if somehow the Facebook service is able to "update" your existing contacts birthday's and anniversary instead of creating new entries in your address book.
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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Part 1. Your online presence, your domain, Linkedin, Facebook, twitter

Establishing a Virtual Presence allows you to expand the reach of your brand and your idea to a really large population. It has been found in many studies that enabling your social network through multiple platforms allows you to address audiences more effectively.


SETUP DOMAIN ON GODADDY:

To enable our online presence we went about setting up a domain name. While researching which vendor we wanted to go for, we chose godaddy as our preferred choice as they had a direct link for an automated setup with google apps for business.

We bought our domain from godaddy.com by paying for the relevant fees. You could choose the duration for which your domain should be active. You can extend the domain by setting up a yearly schedule.

Godaddy at any point in time has coupons and deals that allows you to get good offers. In our case we choose the option of picking only the domain from them, as we had planned on setting up our domain on the google business apps. 

However, if you want you could also go for additional services like web-hosting, email configuration, website builder and others.


CONFIGURE YOUR DOMAIN ON GOOGLE APPS FOR BUSINESS:

Once we setup our godaddy account, we went to the Google Setup wizard to setup Google Apps for our domain. Follow the steps indicated by the wizard and voila you have your domain records pointing to the google servers in no time. 

For sure, at this time it will be good to point out to you regarding the cpanel, MX records, A records and other such terms which will help you in locating and setting up your domain. Just copy the above terms onto google and get an understanding of what these mean. And trust me, setting up your domain cpanel and the google admin panel is a really easy task which can be done by meticulously following the documentation.

Now at this time, i would like to point out that till this point in time, i have spent about USD 2.50 to purchase the domain for a year. And starting with buying a subscription for 10 users on the google apps for business. Google provides a fixed plan and a flexible plan (allowing for adding user accounts as your company grows, will recommend this for the starters). 

  • Price: the Annual Plan is $50 per user account per year (billed in monthly installments) and the Flexible Plan is $5 per user account per month, totaling $60 per user account per year.
Once your domain is setup on google apps for business, the next apps that are automatically and immediately available to you are the mail, calender, docs, sites. So now you can get your business cards printed with your domain name and your domain based email id. All in a matter of a couple of days.

Cost of setup up till now : USD 602.50, for 10 users. We opted for a flexible plan.


CREATE YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK

Next, step would be to create a "company account" which you could use to share not only on your website, but also on all the other social networks. We found this to be really important since we were able to have all the social network chatter routed to this account, which allowed us to be responsive to the chatter from this single company account.

Once you have created the company account, you can proceed to each of the social networks and create your logins using this company account. Please note Google + and Facebook require personal sounding email id's to create your account on their websites. So be ready to provide your email ID's on those networks.

We went about setting up our company profile's on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Google +. We started with these social platforms but there are others like pintrest, foursquare and others that one could add your presence to.

With this we come to the end of the Part 1, of our series of setting up an online presence. We have for the sake of brevity not gotten into giving a step by step account of setting up purely because, the documentation is very elaborate and following it step for step will have you up and running in a couple of days. 

Please note however, while you are setting up your domain records, you might have to wait a while for the new values to propogate in the google servers. For this reason, the entire process might land up going to about 2-3 days.

Do write into us on info@hcitexpert.com with your comments. Alternatively, please leave your comments on our blog page and we will respond back.
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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

How to Setup a Virtual Office - My Journey

In the Winter of 2011, I decided to take the plunge into the entrepreneurial waters. I had been working in a Healthcare IT firm developing Healthcare IT products like HIMS, PHR, EHR, etc. Whilst working in a company most times you are "trained" to work on the specific area that you have been hired for, and generally the knowledge of other setups is gained  by talking to either your system administrator and she explaining the setup in a fleeting instance, as she is overwhelmed with the requests from across the organisation. Or perhaps its not even your focus area and hence you never even thought about it.

Everyone more or less is busy with their activities and working to complete their specific tasks that have been allocated and assigned to be completed "yesterday". From the comfort of having a system administrator to configure your system for you to access a simple thing as a printer is governed by a "process" and in case you have raised a ticket to the system admin. If the work has not been completed by the allocated person in 'x' number of minutes/ hours, customer satisfaction index is calculated for the relevant personnel.

From the confines of the organisation when one "startup" on their own, many things are done on a "First-time" basis. I find the experience very challenging and in some ways broadening of the horizons. You learn to do it all by yourself and from the ground up.


I went through varied experiences whilst setting up my virtual office and will highlight these in this series. I will be discussing on the specific options that presented themselves to me and finally what path I chose, i will not be detailing out the "other options" just so that this series does not get out of hand and become too elaborate and does not focus on the core, which is working very well for me. Well the sum of the parts that i plan to cover are highlighted below so that you will have an idea of steps you need to consider for yourself too. I will however, encourage you to write in your comments and views and questions regarding the options and alternatives, to which i can respond in more detail.

I dont intend this as a series only for budding, current, past entrepreneurs, but also for people working in organisations and who have the opportunity to create a project workspace or a product workspace to share information about their team's work within their organisation.

Part 1. Your online presence, your domain, Linkedin, Facebook, twitter
Part 2. Setting up your domain, using Google Apps
Part 3. Configure google apps for business
Part 4. Configure Gmail
Part 5. Configure and develop your company website, SEO and the works
Part 6. Configure Google docs
Part 7. Configure the backup NAS
Part 8. Configure CRM, Mailers and other apps with your account
Part 9. Create an electronic signature
Part 10. Configure company calender, share tasks 
Part 11. Configure shared printer using google cloud print, HP ePrint
Part 12. Your UPS
Part 13. Apps for everything
Part 14. My cost of setting up my virtual office
Part 15. Final words, and some more..

This list in itself serves as a check-list for you to get started on creating that online presence for your company, get started and keep checking back to see if there are any additional "options" that you could consider. 
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