SharePoint has been one of Microsoft's most successful products in recent years, and has become accessible to organizations of all sizes in one form or another -- be it the free SharePoint Foundation add-in for Windows Server or the full edition SharePoint Server 2010. Out of the box, SharePoint offers users a web interface, which works well but involves something of a learning curve for most users, and basic integration with Microsoft Outlook, for offline synchronization of SharePoint libraries. The limitations of these built-in components can pose a problem with SharePoint user adoption, especially if Microsoft Exchange Server public folders and file servers serve the same purpose.

Microsoft Office Pro Plus 2010 introduced SharePoint Workspace, an application that's based on the software that Microsoft acquired from Groove Networks. SharePoint Workspace provides a desktop-client front end for SharePoint, along with some of the functionality that was provided in Microsoft Groove. Although SharePoint Workspace is a step in the right direction, it's available only to those who license Office Pro Plus and has some significant shortcomings.

If you're looking for a more advanced level of functionality, Colligo's Contributor Pro provides full SharePoint integration with Outlook and Windows Explorer, through the Contributor Add-In for Outlook and Contributor File Manager. The included desktop client -- Colligo Contributor Client -- completes the suite.

Contributor Add-In for Outlook

Colligo Contributor Add-In for Outlook synchronizes not only SharePoint document libraries but also custom and standard lists such as events, contacts, and agendas. Unlike when using the standard Outlook interface, this add-in allows you to add files to SharePoint. However, probably the most significant feature is the ability to drag email from Outlook into a SharePoint library and have Contributor copy all the important metadata, such as sender, subject, and date sent. This capability is vital when moving email out of Exchange to another storage medium: Metadata provides the basis for most user searches and is crucial in ensuring that the data remains discoverable. If you use Outlook's default SharePoint integration side-by-side with the Contributor Add-In for Outlook, you'll soon discover just how limited the standard Outlook functionality is.

Being able to drop email into SharePoint is all very well, but if doing so is to be a manual operation, it's unlikely to serve as a long-term storage solution that frees up valuable space in your Exchange database. With the Contributor Add-In installed, Outlook rules can be used to automate the filing of email to SharePoint. Often, it makes sense to store the important information that's contained within email in a location that's easily accessible to all members of a project team and that can be managed according to corporate policy. If necessary, you can drag an email attachment alone to SharePoint, leaving the original message in Outlook, with a link to the document.

The add-in's Send & File button replaces the standard Send button in Outlook, so users can have all sent items automatically filed in SharePoint. Colligo Contributor also supports the copying of entire Outlook folders to SharePoint, with full metadata capture. Custom metadata and content types can also be configured. And when creating a new email in Outlook, you can choose to upload documents to SharePoint and send the SharePoint links rather than attachments -- a useful feature for reducing storage costs. You can edit metadata directly in Outlook by right-clicking an item in a SharePoint library, and you can use views to organize data in the same way as in the SharePoint web interface.

Contributor File Manager and Contributor Client

Colligo Contributor File Manager provides drag-and-drop support for SharePoint in Windows Explorer. Contributor Client (which Figure 1 shows) is a stand-alone application that includes the functionality of the other programs and allows you to filter synchronization with SharePoint. This capability can save time when only specific documents need to be accessed from a SharePoint library. As with Contributor Add-In for Outlook, File Manager allows users to check in or check out documents and edit properties directly from Windows Explorer. Documents and folders can be moved between SharePoint sites, and emails can be dragged from Outlook to Contributor Client.

 

Figure 1: Colligo Contributor Client
Figure 1: Colligo Contributor Client

Integration Ideal

Most SharePoint-integration features are available across all three products in the suite. The question is which interface users prefer to work with; it's unlikely that all three applications would be used on a regular basis. The Contributor Configuration Editor allows system administrators to preconfigure synchronization for SharePoint sites, synchronization frequency, and other important settings.

Although the individual applications worked as advertised, I did have a couple problems when switching between them. Colligo is aware of these issues and told me that they will be fixed in an upcoming service pack and in the next release of File Manager. Contributor is an expensive solution, considering that the applications that are included in the suite essentially achieve the same result through different methods. However, for those using SharePoint extensively, the price can be offset against reduced training costs and productivity improvements, no doubt making this suite an invaluable addition to the SharePoint experience.

 

Colligo Contributor Pro 4.3
PROS: Complete solution integrates SharePoint with applications that users are familiar with
CONS: Price
RATING: 4 out of 5
PRICE: $179; volume discounts apply after 10 seats
RECOMMENDATION: If your budget can stretch to it, Colligo Contributor Pro provides a valuable SharePoint add-on that can help reduce training costs and improve productivity.
CONTACT: Colligo Networks • 866-685-7962 •www.colligo.com