Secure Contacts app: More than a telephone book

We now have an app. More precisely, the Secure Contacts app. The application, which grew out of a seemingly simple internal Provectus requirement, has evolved over two years into a smart addition for any company with a Microsoft environment. We asked Tom Zeni, our senior developer and mastermind behind the app, how this came about and what exactly the app can now do.


The mastermind behind the app

At Provectus, Tom is known for being an absolute computer nerd even in his spare time. He loves to acquaint himself with new things and work late into the night to try out solutions. Since 2015, he has been advancing numerous customer projects at Provectus as a senior developer with his open and positive manner. In addition, on his own initiative, he puts many ideas that interest him and that he “just can’t let go of” into action. The fact that something doesn’t work is more of a challenge than a setback for Tom, so it’s only natural that he of all people has built a comprehensive and functional app from a simple idea. But for more about this, it’s best for him to tell us himself…

All about the app in the interview

Tom, why don’t you tell us how the Secure Contacts app project came about in the first place?

Tom: It wasn’t really a project in its own right at the beginning—we just wanted to make our working lives a little easier. I think the idea first came up at the beginning of 2021. At that time, a colleague wanted to be able to identify calls from new Provectus employees right on his smartphone, without having to manually enter them in his contacts. Since new colleagues being onboarded are already entered into the employee database in Microsoft Active Directory, it shouldn’t be that hard to use that data for caller identification on company devices.


That sounds pretty simple—wasn’t there already a ready-made app for that?

Tom: We thought so too, but no. We use Apple devices at Provectus and there were no ready-made solutions for what we needed. So I just tried out a few things. I borrowed a Mac and became acquainted with Apple’s programming language. I had no experience with Swift and had never programmed apps for mobile devices before. But when I created a dummy, I quickly realized that caller identification was not possible without an app coupled with it. That was when the whole thing became an official Provectus project. With the mindset of “then we might as well build an app to go with it” I dove deeper into the issue.


Were you already aware of the scale of the app and that there would be a market for it apart from Provectus?

Tom: Actually, the project continued to grow with new ideas and requirements—this was not foreseeable at the beginning. We were already thinking:”What makes our working life easier could also be beneficial for other companies.”But at that time, we were still in the early stages and struggling to get the basic requirements up and running rather than making big plans for the future.


That sounds like a rocky start.What were the biggest challenges?

Tom: Rocky start sums it up quite well. As a matter of fact, Apple’s programming language Swift did take me quite a bit of time at the beginning.We picked up speed when we became aware of Microsoft’s Xamarin framework, which made it possible to program mobile apps for iOS and Android in Microsoft’s C# language.The urge to play around in my “mother tongue” also came back quickly. ????

But I ran into a much bigger problem getting authentication and management of the app up and running.I wanted to use Intune App & Device Management and Conditional Access to define a set of rules for GDPR-compliant and secure access to company resources via the app.This requires the interaction of the Intune SDK, the Microsoft Identity Client, and Xamarin.

I couldn’t find any decent documentation for this specific use case and all my attempts were unsuccessful. After spending a long time troubleshooting, together with our partner Microsoft I finally [Link MS-Partner] found out why:A combination of Intune SDK and the Microsoft Identity Client in the context of the “iOS Xamarin Framework” had simply not yet been implemented by Microsoft in the “C# variant” of the Microsoft Identity Client. Since subsequent implementation by Microsoft in February 2022, these roadblocks have finally been cleared out of the way and the app is up and running.

A real test of your perseverance… But good things come to those who wait. Are you happy with the results?

Tom: Very! We managed to address complex data and information protection requirements, connect to various data sources such as a customer relationship management system (CRM), as well as MS Outlook and Teams and the complete Microsoft environment. And all this packed into a user-friendly app that makes life a bit easier for everyone in the company—I think that’s something to be satisfied about.


And is the app being well received by your colleagues?

Tom: I’ve already gotten a lot of positive feedback and also some great suggestions for potential improvements. Mainly people who have a lot of customer contact, such as our sales staff, see the benefits of using the app. If a contact is entered in one of the connected data sources, caller identification works regardless of whether a phone contact has been created or not. The app also makes life easier for new employees, because they have all of their colleagues’ contacts on their smartphones from the very start, without having to do a thing. That’s why the first customers have already shown interest in this intelligent addition to the Microsoft world.


Automatic caller identification is certainly a major plus, but that’s by no means everything, is it?

Tom: No, that’s why the app was created, but we’ve added a few more features beyond that. First, it’s no longer strictly about phone numbers. The app can also serve up email addresses, titles, Microsoft Teams status, and more in-depth info about people from connected systems. This gives you access to all the important information about your contacts in one place, enabling you to call or write to them right from there. By clicking on the Teams button in the contact, I can start a chat or send an email via the email icon, for example. Of course, there is also a search feature, like in any classic phone book, and we also added the option of making calls anonymously.

It’s also cool that you can connect company contacts from multiple sources, which are then also managed and maintained by the company. But I can also add my own contacts using Outlook and manage them myself. Duplicates are automatically identified and merged in the app.


But knowing you, that’s not the end of it. What else do you have planned for the app?

Tom: There are lots of ideas! We are currently implementing an out-of-office feature. This will only transfer calls from people designated as favorites. In addition, we are continuing to work on making the features easier to configure for each company. For example, in the future, each admin will be able to decide which contact options are available on the profiles or should be hidden. In the long term, of course, we want to make the app available for Android as well, but we’re still just getting started here.

The only thing left for us to do is to wish you all the best in your ongoing development! Thanks for your time. ????

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