Client-to-server replication delivers immediate access to SharePoint sites by caching content locally on laptops and PCs. Caching improves user productivity by delivering a consistent SharePoint experience whether information workers are on or off the network and regardless of slow (LAN or WAN) networks performance. In addition to instant access, information workers also benefit from improved usability. Desktop software supports functionality that is not possible with typical web-based applications. For example, users can easily drag-and-drop content and right-click to quickly perform operations.
With increased productivity and usability, the result is better adoption of SharePoint. Organizations that use client caching solutions are able to increase the number of information workers using SharePoint and to significantly augment the amount of structured content managed in SharePoint.
When organizations identify the need for a client solution for SharePoint, a number of requirements typically arise. IT managers want a solution that is easy to deploy, secure, and flexible. Information workers want a consistent experience, whether online or offline, that delivers both the rich functionality of SharePoint and the usability of a desktop application. Below is a list of typical IT and end user requirements for a SharePoint client solution.
1. Client-Only Solution
A lightweight, client-only replication solution leverages out-of-the-box SharePoint web services and allows IT managers to offer instant access to SharePoint, without the need to deploy code to the SharePoint front-end servers or manage additional crawling servers. Content is cached on desktops, so access is instant, and background synchronization eliminates latency from the user experience.
2. User-Based Content Selection
Collaboration workspaces in SharePoint are being created all the time by project and departmental managers, and the population of offline and remote users is constantly changing. For a solution to be practical, IT cannot be often responsible for publishing each site and subsite for cached use. It is critical that the selection of content for offline sync be configurable by either the end user, IT admin, or both. For example, IT might define a core set of offline content for users and then allow them to add new SharePoint sites based on their individual needs.
3. Document Libraries & Lists
Information workers need read and write access to their project documents, whether they are online or offline. Lists, both custom and standard, are also being increasingly used in collaboration workspaces. One of the factors driving the increased use of lists is lookups. Users are realizing that lookups provide a much more flexible and powerful way of linking information, and are much easier to use than choice columns. So document libraries, lists, and lookups must all be supported by a client solution.
4. Metadata & Views
Access to metadata and views is critical from the desktop, to quickly organize and find content in SharePoint. With client software, metadata for documents and list items can be edited or added to one or multiple items at a time, with a simple right-click action. Default folder-level metadata can be also be set for automatic application at the time of drag-and-drop, whether online or offline.
5. 2-Way Sync
Where SharePoint is used for collaboration, users will need to access, modify, and add content. 2-way sync allows users to alter documents, add files, and change metadata offline. With client software, changes made are automatically synchronized to the SharePoint server when users are online. Access-based background synchronization ensures the latest content is always available when working online. Only content that is changed is synchronized to minimize network traffic.
6. Form Templates
Many organizations rely on templates stored on the SharePoint server to store blank InfoPath forms and other documents. With the introduction of multiple content types in SharePoint 2007, organizations are standardizing document creation based on content type templates. Client software must support use of forms and content types, regardless of connectivity.
7. Email Management
More and more, organizations are turning to SharePoint as a solution for sharing and archiving project emails. By providing rich Outlook integration, SharePoint client technology can provide rich access to document libraries and lists. More importantly, it enables users to drag-and-drop emails (including metadata and attachments) into SharePoint, all within the Outlook interface. And just like Outlook is available in cached mode to eliminate LAN or WAN latency and to provide offline access for mobile workers, client technologies allow users to manage emails and SharePoint content online and offline.
8. Conflict Resolution
Since users are making changes while offline, there will invariably be synchronization conflicts (where two users change the same document). Support for check-in and check-out is important, but users also need the ability to modify unchecked documents offline. Efficient and user friendly handling of conflicts is therefore critical. Client software offers a number of options: (1) “save as” a new document, (2) choose the local version, (3) choose the server version, and (4) use compare and merge.
9. Custom Desktop Applications
While IT managers want an out-of-the-box solution that provides immediate value in replicating the SharePoint experience on the desktop, they also want the option to extend its functionality. Their business environment may require more sophisticated metadata editors or integration to additional data sources. IT managers prefer investing in a client platform where the run-time engine can be leveraged to build custom applications.
Allowing users to only cache SharePoint content based on their user privileges is not enough. IT managers need to ensure that business data replicated on laptops and remote workstations is secure. Client replication software supports data encryption to ensure that enterprise data remains secure.
There are few client replication solutions available on the market today, but the most popular and top-rated on SharePointReviews.com is Colligo Contributor. It has been successfully deployed by multi-national pharmaceutical companies to give their sales professionals access to forms and sales information when visiting clinics and hospitals; by energy companies to keep project teams, supervisors, and managers working in the field updated with the latest information and safety bulletins contained in SharePoint; by consultants managing engagements when working at client sites as well as used in many other industries.
Colligo also has a great free tool: Colligo Reader. It does offer limited functionality (most notably, bi-directional synchronization is not available in the free version), but certainly worth “the money” for those that are budget conscious.