Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Adding Employee Photos to Outlook Contacts, Part 1

Life Without Contact Photos
Not so long ago, any random sample of an employee's smartphone address book would reveal that they had almost no contact pictures.This is despite the fact that smartphone address books have had that capability for several years. Even though Microsoft Exchange and Outlook have had this capability for over a decade, few organizations have embraced the capability.

Familiar Faces and Employee Contacts

An infant learns facial recognition in the early stages of development. Babies recognize parents and other caregivers by facial mapping and association. As an adult, associating a name with a face is something we may do dozens of times per day. When I see an employee directory with empty picture thumbnails, it seems like there is a small void. This omission may seem irrelevant to some, but I feel that we are being deprived of the visual cues that make us uniquely human.

I can remember once searching for an employee named Jim Smith. When I see three people with this name, it can be a chore to differentiate. I could have really benefited from a picture to instantly identify the correct Jim Smith as it was embarrassing to send a message to the wrong person.

In addition to adding a visual dimension to both Outlook and Smartphone address books, the benefits of seeing someone's picture when they call you, or, seeing Outlook email messages with the picture of a sender is always helpful in several ways. For one, there is the aspect of physical security behind pictures. We have had our photos on employee badges for decades, and just like we match facial patterns to the person wearing the badge, we can also have value and security when we detect a mismatch. How much simpler could it possibly be to provide an employee picture database that can benefit everyone by adding photos to their Smartphone address books?


Employee Contact Pictures already collected
Just in the past few weeks, itrezzo has had several customers ask about enabling employee pictures on Smartphone address books. Some have already assembled pictures that are sitting in a Windows file share, while some have recently installed thumbnail pictures in Active Directory. Others, meanwhile, have an Outlook Public Folder with contacts enabled with employee pictures. 

If the customer has the pictures in an Outlook Contact Folder already, we simply tell them they are all set. There is a global setting in the itrezzo Unified Contact Manager to enable enable the photo field to be replicated to end user contacts. This is a very easy solution to implement. The only tool you need is Microsoft Outlook. However, the downside to it is that pictures will still be unavailable in the Active Directory or Exchange Global Address List.

In most cases, the best strategy is to add photos to Active Directory. However, there are two different fields in the AD Schema for Photos: jpegPhoto and thumbnailPhoto. Which is the best one to use?

The jpegPhoto attribute provides a higher resolution and seems like the best choice. My wife calls me an HD snob because I don’t want to watch TV unless it is in HD. I also save all my camera photos in 20MB cannon raw format so you can guess why the jpegPhoto AD attribute was my first choice. It can store photos up to 25kb with dimensions of 200 x 200 pixels. Why would I possibly want to use a format that has a lower resolution?

It is a bit confusing why Microsoft has two different fields for a user photo in Active Directory. However, to get maximum utility from these pictures, both Microsoft Outlook and Lync require the thumbnailPhoto attribute. As such, we must fall back to 96 x 96 pixels and a total image size of less than 10kb. If you are worried about Smartphone address books slowing down and using too much memory, the thumbnailPhoto is a prudent choice.

Now that we know that the thumbnailPhoto attribute is the way to go, let’s explore how to implement photo distribution from a central database – such as Active Directory – to hundreds or thousands of Smartphones. See Part 2 of this blog posting for those steps.