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Sometimes you just don’t have access to the Internet. Whether you’re traveling in a plane, or in a remote (or sometimes not so remote) area that has no WiFi, 3G or 4G coverage, or simply because your cable or T1 line is down due to weather or some other outage, on occasion you will have some forced downtime because you can’t access your cloud-based documents, send emails, or pull up a client’s contact information from a cloud-based provider. In fact, it is likely to happen at the most inopportune moment. Fortunately, there are ways to access online information locally.
Although Gears is gone, Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar are all still available in an offline mode. You won’t be able to send and receive messages, but Gmail email and contacts are available offline through a Chrome web app (in BETA). Of course ,you can also set up IMAP or POP to maintain a local copy in the email client of your choice. Likewise you can install the Google Calendar Chrome web app and access a read-only version of your calendar anytime. Alternatively, you can sync it with a local calendar application. At Google’s Sync Center you can learn to sync Gmail and the calendar with most all of your desktop (PC and Mac) and mobile (Android and iOS) devices.
To set up Docs offline go to the settings in Google Docs and click the link at the bottom to “set up Docs offline BETA.” You can set up offline docs locally, though you will have read-only access to Google docs, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. For Microsoft Office or other document formats you uploaded to Google Docs, you will still be able to edit them. You will also need a Chrome web app, and this will only work in the Chrome browser. Google recommends that you do not use this option for shared computers, since the files will be available to anyone who has access to those computers. Google Apps administrators can use the Chrome browser for Business MSI to push out offline capabilities to the entire office.
So, you say you want to have your cloud and eat it, too? There’s another option for offline access to Microsoft Office documents that allows for the power of collaboration with Google Docs, with the familiar and local format of MS Office: Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office through Google Apps. Tech Republic noted that Cloud Connect was less expensive than Microsoft’s own Office 365, a selling factor to the price-sensitive enterprise customer. Office 365 lets you take advantage of all your local MS Office applications in the cloud—and offline.
Online file storage and sync services like Dropbox keep a local copy of your file, unless you take steps to remove it. Drive, Google’s new competitor to Dropbox, allows for offline access in the settings, through a few clicks and a Chrome Web Store install. Apple’s iCloud, similar to Dropbox, maintains a cloud copy of your Apple content.
Tools like Evernote also make having a local copy of your data easy and available. A lightweight software version resides on the desktop, syncing with the cloud version and your apps. Offline or online you have access to all the information stored in Evernote.
Whether you’re creating documents and email in the cloud and maintaining a local copy, or generating content on your desktop and syncing to the cloud, offline access for the “simple” tools is pretty straightforward. What about offline access to more complex applications, like legal document management or practice management? In most cases there is not a complete replication of the software and data locally, although the growing development of HTML5 will be changing that in the near future. For now, many lawyers still have a few offline options.
Some practice management applications like MyCase, Clio and Rocket Matter have various sync capabilities with Google Apps, as well as Google Calendar and Gmail. Since Google makes these services available offline, you can access some of the stored data, though not the entire database. In all three cases the representatives for these products were enthusiastic that offline access was in the development calendar. Additionally, these providers have sync capabilities with Microsoft Outlook, which will also serve to create a local copy of some of the data (although you will need to sync Outlook with Google to sync with Rocket Matter).
Clio has added a specific offline feature for a time-entry application, called Express. The recently revamped Clio Express takes advantage of the same offline technology through Google Chrome that Google Apps offline uses, and you will need to use Chrome and download Clio Express from the Chrome Web Store. The last 30 days of time entries, all enabled account users, matters, activity description and running timers will be available offline.
One practice management SaaS product available with complete offline functionality is Advologix. Advologix is built on the Force.com platform, and it leverages that company’s (relatively) long history and focus on enterprise. A representative at Advologix said that while offline was available, it was not part of the standard offering and requires extra time and expense. They do offer standard Microsoft Outlook, Office and Google Apps integration.
While traditional document management software like Worldox now offers a SaaS version, the files are still available on the local server. Native SaaS document management provider NetDocuments offers to set up a local version of the NetDocuments repository, so that users can have access offline. This is the local document server, which is an add-on that is an additional 7 percent of the total user subscription fee.
Needless to say, the above is not comprehensive, but rather it provides a taste of some of the options. Check with your favorite cloud providers to see if and how you can access information offline. As we see business adoption of the cloud mature, we will likely see a rise in the number of offline options to address not only the concern for when Internet access is slow or impossible, but also for business continuity.
Catherine Reach is Director, Law Practice Management & Technology for the Chicago Bar Association. A popular speaker and author on law technology, previously she was Director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center for over 10 years, providing practice technology assistance to lawyers.
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