The future of mobility is in the cloud, but when a connection to the cloud isn't available, it can be a problem without a simple solution.
Modern businesses, their information systems and mobile devices cannot be expected to hold all of the data that every user needs at any given moment, so the move towards a cloud-centric enterprise seems imminent. But we work in a world of real-time data sharing and collaboration, so anyone who is off the net is truly out of the loop.
We're still a long way from the promise of continuous Internet connectivity. The challenge is to determine what degree of offline operations is possible at any given moment, maximizing productivity even when users are working offline.
Working offline with data synchronization
Before the advent of cloud-based services, synchronization was the logical fix to the mobile-operations problem: The laptop, PDA, handset and tablet were, to quote a nautical friend of mine, dinghies for the desktop. The mobile device was not simply a terminal, but rather a full-fledged computer. As long as users remembered to synchronize the data cached on that device, synching worked pretty well.
The nautical metaphor survives even today if you replace “desktop” with “cloud.” Until the era of continuous connectivity arrives, synchronization will continue to be a valuable tool, and it will become even more automatic. Services such as iCloud offer automated backup, so it’s likely that this approach to working offline won’t disappear anytime soon.
Working offline with local apps
Local apps can provide a high degree of functionality even without Internet connectivity. IT can build automatic caching and related data management into applications, which eases app synching and minimizes opportunities for error. Mobile information management tools create secure sandboxes for enterprise data that are perfect for working offline. If we must operate offline, we can at least do so with some degree of security, integrity and automation.
The offline challenges of collaboration
When it comes to applications that depend on collaboration, things can get ugly. Editing shared files and accessing shared databases have become standard in customer relationship management, field service and many other applications. But this is also where the magic runs out. When you're working offline, you can't do any sharing, and it’s as simple as that. Again, the answer is automated caching. It’s vital to check the degree to which any of the options you're considering provide this capability. And any decisions made on cached data require some second-guessing, just to make sure obsolete or bad data isn't moving across the organization or to customers.
Sadly, the only real fix for the offline problem is in increasing wireless wide area network coverage and incorporating Wi-Fi offload to provision the broad indoor/outdoor coverage and capacity required to make "working offline" obsolete. The anytime/anywhere nature of wireless and mobile is of little value when service isn’t available, and our computing and communications options are severely limited. Carefully examine the offline capabilities of your applications and databases, and look at any automation that is available to minimize error and maximize productivity. And if there’s a wizard out there with that seemingly-magical solution in the interim, please give me a call.