Do your users need offline work capabilities?

By Joanie Wexler, Network World |  Development

The newsletters I have written pertaining to mobile wide-area networking so far have assumed that users have wireless network coverage when attempting to tap into corporate resources. But we all know what can happen when we assume things. For example, what if you go to the trouble of mobilizing your intranet applications to make your sales force more productive, only to discover that the places your salespeople go don't have wireless network coverage?

This is one of the first factors to consider before developing your enterprise mobilization strategy. Users who are highly mobile but need continual access to resources -- such as inventory and price lists -- generally need a chunk of the application on the wireless client device (rather than just browser-based access to the intranet) in order to remain productive while out of coverage. Many software vendors now offer mobile extensions to their applications that include client software for one or more types of handheld devices. If you developed your application in-house, you'll have to build the client piece yourself or hire someone to do it. Whether or not you need "smart" client software will help determine which client device to deploy; many available devices have different memory and presentation capabilities that are more or less appropriate to working offline.

In addition, the client will have to support synchronization capabilities. Once a client is back online with the back-end intranet servers, both client and server should get updated, e-mail read on a handheld should show up as a read e-mail on user desktops, and so forth. Many client devices come preloaded with synchronization software, which may or may not be the type of synchronization capabilities supported by your back-end intranet application. Standards are in the works for having a single type of synchronization that enables all client devices to interoperate with all applications. Until that happens, you have to make sure you have matching synchronization software on the client and the server. If the synchronization method already in the device you choose doesn't match your application, you'll need to add that capability to your client.

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