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Offline Use: Ensuring Documents Come Up When the Network Goes Down

7 Jan, 2013 By: Greg Milliken, M-FILES INC. imageSource

“The benefits of offline document access are far-reaching.”

Document management solutions are designed to organize business files and records digitally - whether they started out in paper form or were generated by software applications - for more efficient management and storage, fast location, retrieval and universal access, higher levels of data security and privacy, as well as automated and improved document-related business processes.

Yet sometimes users just can’t connect to the Internet, and as a result, to their documents. Whether traveling in a plane, in a remote area with no WiFi coverage, or simply because the network is down due to weather or some other outage, there will be times when employees be forced to work in “offline mode” because they can’t access their documents.

Ensuring remote employees can retrieve any document from home, while waiting for a flight, or while in a meeting at a client’s office or when visiting a project site, is paramount in today’s fast-paced business environment. The ability to “close the deal” is often based on how quickly one can respond with the information a customer or prospect is asking for, and without dependable offline document access, organizations run the risk of losing out on important opportunities.

The good news is that many document management solutions enable users with accessibility issues (when traveling, for example) to view, create, edit, and store documents in offline mode, with automatic synchronization once re-connected.

Which Documents Should be Available Offline - and Which Should Not?

While one might think it would ideal to have every company document accessible offline, the reality is that it would be impractical for a large organization with thousands of users to have millions of documents cached locally for offline availability. In fact, it would create a replication nightmare and have a significant impact on network performance.

It’s important that your document management solution can be adapted to meet your offline document access needs. Specifically, the system should be flexible enough to enable you to define what type of information is available offline, and which users are authorized to view, edit and/or approve.

Sophisticated metadata-based document management systems can be an effective solution. By leveraging metadata, users can establish dynamic offline filters in order to, for example, mark all files accessed within the last 30 days for offline availability, or to keep all documents related to specific customer, project or case always in sync with a user’s laptop.

Offline Access Empowers the Mobile Workforce – not just Cloud!

As many businesses become more project-oriented - and as the mobile workforce continues to grow - more emphasis is being placed on solutions that allow employees to access documents any time and from any location, whether they’re on a sales call or if they need to conduct a quick inventory check. Cloud-based document management systems enable mobile employees to access data off-premises, as long as there is a connection.

However, cloud computing simply does not address the need for offline document access. Many cloud-based document management solutions transfer large volumes of data between the server and the user every time user requests it, which increases bandwidth usage and associated costs.

However, cloud-based systems that offer native client software can take an advantage of local caching capabilities to reduce the volume of data transfers from server to user. This technology enables users to access files faster because they can be often downloaded from the local cache. In fact, the most-commonly accessed files are often already in the local cache when a user switches to offline mode, which makes the transition nearly seamless. In addition, the load is more effectively balanced between the server and client software, which leads to greater cloud infrastructure efficiencies.

Offline Document Management Capabilities Mitigate Power and Connectivity Issues in Africa

Offline access addresses very real and pervasive issues for businesses that, for example, operate in geographic regions with poor infrastructure or have remote and/or highly-mobile needs.

One such example is Banro Corporation, which is a Canadian gold mining corporation with production projects that reside along the 210 kilometer-long Twangiza-Namoya gold belt in the South Kivu and Maniema provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Banro needed a document management system to facilitate several
unique aspects related to multi-national business operations, including the geographic distribution of its organization and the need to effectively manage globally-dispersed subcontractors.

Banro leveraged its document management solution in a unique way to better cope with uncertainties in the DRC. The Congo continues to struggle with basic infrastructure such as reliable power - an environment not ideally-suited for deploying reliable IT systems -- and as a result, the company experiences frequent power outages. The offline capabilities of their document management solution enable them to maintain a high level of productivity even when access to the network or a particular server is unavailable.

Central to the document management advantage is access to information. With the ever-increasing volume of business documentation generated, the need to find the right information at the right time - including when there is no connectivity - becomes more and more critical.
The benefits of offline document access are far-reaching and offer the potential to improve accuracy and save time. As one might expect, the increased productivity and visibility that results can have a profound impact on the bottom line.

About the Author: Greg Milliken

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