Using custom fields for SharePoint Contacts list to synchronize with Outlook

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Occasional Visitor

Hi,

 

I am posting this here to

 

  1. Share what I have found out already
    and
  2. To ask for some help to solve the remainder of the challenges found.

Task to solve:

We have created a SharePoint Contacts list in SharePoint Online in order to use the “File As” field as a lookup in other form and lists in SharePoint Online.

 

As an organisation, we would also like to enable everybody in the company to view, create new and update existing contacts without having to navigate away from native tools that everyone is already using, Outlook in this case. We also need two custom fields  that are “Choice” / “Comboboxes” fields.

 

Steps taken:

1.) Connect Contacts list from SharePoint to Outlook - DONE

 

While in the SharePoint Contacts List, switching to “Classic SharePoint” reveals the “List” ribbon at the top. On the ribbon, the button “Connect to Outlook” will create a live link of the data under Outlook contacts. When adding a new contact in Outlook, it is automatically synchronised to the SharePoint Contacts list.

 

2.) Creating a custom form in order to minimise the fields displayed to the user and to accommodate custom fields. -  DONE

 

Making the “Developer” tab available though the Outlook Options (“Customize Ribbon”), then clicking on “Design Form” brings up the form editor. Removing and rearranging fields is easy and quickly done.

 

Creating a dropdown (Combobox)  custom field requires to open the “Control Toolbox” and add a “Combobox” element to the form (4th icon from the left - top row). Then right click on the dropdown field and select “Properties” in order to define the name for the new custom field on the “Value” tab and define the “Possible Values” it should have (values are separated by a “;”)

 

When finished, click the “Publish” - “Publish Form As…” and save it to the “Personal Forms Library”. Close the the form and when asked to save changes, click “No”.

 

3.) Making the custom Outlook form available for local computer - HALF DONE

 

To use this form for new entries, in the left column of Outlook Contacts right click on the contacts list and select ’Properties” and select “Forms…” from “When posting to the folder, use:” menu. Then navigate to “Personal Forms Library” and select the previously saved form. -> This will display the form when a user clicks on “Create new User”

 

CHALLENGE 1: When existing contacts are opened, it doesn’t use the custom form, but the Outlook standard form and this makes it hard for maintaining the contacts (e.g. changing custom fields).

 

Some research revealed that the "Message Class" needs to change from "IPM.Contact" to "IPM.Contact.CustomForm" for all existing contacts and newly created ones - There is a link to a tool called "Existing Items Converter" at the bottom of this post https://www.itprotoday.com/email-and-calendaring/outlook-messageclass-property , but the tool no longer seems to exist. Also, while this tool might be able to change existing entries, newly created entries also get the “IPM.Contact” message class which continues to open the default template. This might be wrong understanding. Appreciate any advice on how to resolve this.

 

4.) Sharing the custom Outlook form with other staff members - HALF DONE

 

A custom form can be assigned using group policies if one has the correct license for SharePoint Online. In our case we don’t have the license, so the following describes the manual process to export/import a custom form into Outlook.

 

This option took quite a while to find as it is not available in the context of creating forms. Managing (export/import) forms is done in the Outlook “Options” -> “Advanced” -> “Developer” -> “Custom Forms”.

 

First, save the custom form as an *.fdm file by navigating to your “Personal Forms Library” in the “Custom Forms” dialog. Then share or transfer it to the other computer followed by “Installing” it from the same dialog.

 

Then follow steps in 3.) to select the custom form for “When posting to the folder, use:” dropdown.

 

CHALLENGE 2: Is the same challenge as CHALLENGE 1

 

5.) Synchronising custom Outlook fields back to SharePoint Contacts List - UNRESOLVED

 

Observations:

  • It is not clear how Outlook determines which fields to synchronise to the SharePoint contacts list (seems to only sync the standard fields - hardcoded?)
  • Fields of the data type “Choice” in “Core Contact and Calendar Columns” content type cannot be modified

 

What I have tried (all without success):

  • Utilising (Misusing) a standard field of  “Core Contact and Calendar Columns” to create my dropdown/comboboxes (e.g. “Gender”) by adding the field to the SharePoint Contacts list and creating a field with the same name in Outlook
  • Using the field “User Field 1” to link it to a combobox and then have it synchronise to SharePoint. Users would be able to select the right value from the dropdown in Outlook, but if anyone would fill in information in the SharePoint List, the field would appear as a free text field entry and values can therefore not be confined. -> Regardless,  Synchronisation doesn’t work

 

CHALLENGE 3: Is it possible to have custom fields (specifically comboboxes) synchronise with a SharePoint Contacts List? If so, how?

 

CHALLENGE 4: this might be an easy one, but is there a way to share a customised version of the "List" view in Outlook contacts with other staff members?

 

Alternative:

The alternative that we are currently considering is to have a contacts list for all standard fields in SharePoint and a separate SharePoint list with all the custom fields. Then use PowerApp to have a form that combines those two fields. This could be used for contact lookup, adding and editing.

 

Challenge 5:  While we could still have contacts synced with Outlook, lookup contacts through Outlook and use Email addresses directly for Email sending, custom fields still wouldn’t show and there is a chance that someone creates a new contact in Outlook without defining the mandatory custom fields. -> Does anyone have a solution for that?

 

Thank you for reading through this and sorry for not including any screenshots. I hope the explanations are clear. Otherwise, please feel free to ask questions.

 

Thank you

 

Rob

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