One Way To Fix SharePoint's Outlook Problem

Microsoft's Outlook-SharePoint integration is terrible. But add-ons, including Scinaptic's OnePlaceMail, can help.
For as long as I can remember, I have connected the idea of "SharePoint on the desktop" with Colligo Networks and its suite of products for taking SharePoint offline and embedding it inside Outlook. But there are other players, including, Epona, and Scinaptic Communications.

Let's take a closer look at Scinaptic, which is based in Australia, just across the ditch from where I live, New Zealand. Its product, OnePlaceMail, is an add-on to Outlook (2003 to 2010) that connects it with SharePoint (2003, 2007, and 2010).

One of the powerful value propositions of OnePlaceMail (other products do this too) is that it eliminates the version/migration headaches with SharePoint and Office applications. This add-on takes whichever version of Office a user has and marries it to whichever version of SharePoint the organization has. The idea of delaying until everyone is at the current version of Office and the latest version of SharePoint is operational disappears--whatever you've got is good enough.

I've always held that it's important for users to be able to work with the data stored in collaboration spaces when they're not connected to the network, and Colligo led the way with the Contributor client. Microsoft, with the Groove acquisition in 2005 and the inclusion of a re-branded Groove-based client in Office 2010 called SharePoint Workspace 2010, has provided an offline client that's good enough for most people. But Microsoft's Outlook-SharePoint integration is terrible. A user with the latest versions of Outlook and SharePoint can't even drag and drop an email from Outlook to a SharePoint document library. It's either a deliberate decision by Microsoft to let third parties sell add-ons, or it's a sign that the company can't get its Outlook and SharePoint teams to collaborate.

Scinaptic doesn't provide a standalone offline client. Its strategy is to provide an integration mechanism between Outlook and SharePoint, with the express idea of keeping both products as original as possible. Within Outlook this means that a SharePoint document library is shown as a document library, instead of re-interpreting the SharePoint constructs as Outlook ones. The end user works just with Outlook and SharePoint, not a Scinaptic interpretation of one inside the other.

A OnePlaceMail management console lets administrators provision specific libraries to individuals and groups. As such, document libraries can be added to and removed from Outlook as client files, team projects, and other initiatives start up and shut down. Only the most relevant SharePoint locations are shown to each user, hiding the clutter and noise of thousands and thousands of irrelevant locations.

OnePlaceMail stands against the overwhelming complexity of SharePoint, helping users adopt those features most relevant to them and their work.

Michael Sampson is a collaboration strategist and author. You can reach him at [email protected] or +64 3 317 9484 (New Zealand).

More than 700 IT pros gave us an earful on database licensing, performance, NoSQL, and more. That story and more--including a look at transitioning to Win 8--in the new all-digital Database Discontent issue of InformationWeek. (Free registration required.)