By Kiril Matev

The trend towards BYOD is clearly here to stay - business users increasingly want to stay connected and have access to information resources while away from their desk, and companies are keen to reduce expenditure on mobile devices. The desire of users to remain productive at all times can only be met by making the workflows and capabilities they have on the desktop available on mobile devices. However, the real promise of BYOD lies in marrying the needs of the user with the unique features offered by mobile devices to deliver new ways to interact with data and enhance collaboration on all levels.

Many companies already rely on SharePoint to encourage users to share information and enhance collaboration. It also helps to integrate structured and unstructured data stores that often build up across an organisation. Due to the central role that SharePoint plays in enterprise IT infrastructure, mobile productivity can only be enhanced in companies that use SharePoint if users are able to access SharePoint resources reliably and intuitively on their mobile devices.

Until recently, mobile SharePoint access primarily meant using these resources via a browser on a desktop or laptop device. Unfortunately, browsers don’t provide business critical capabilities such as access to offline files or offer a built in camera or GPS capabilities. Browsers are also not able to provide the security that enterprise information deserves or the highly functional environment which mobile users increasingly expect to experience as the norm.

One solution capable of addressing these issues is the SharePlus application for SharePoint from Infragistics which helps to extend SharePoint into the mobile arena. It supports iOS, Android, and Blackberry Playbook devices; it doesn’t require a server component; it provides access to all the SharePoint data the user normally has access to; provides editing and offline files capabilities; has built-in previewers and many other features. All local data is encrypted with a built-in encryption algorithm, enabling users to interact with SharePoint data and documents in a secure manner.

Beyond enabling the workflows that users are familiar with on the desktop, a number of organisations have used SharePlus to take a fresh look at how they interact with data on a mobile device. This has led to some truly innovative uses of mobile functionality which would simply be impractical on the desktop.

For example, a major telecom operator has used SharePlus to provide users with access to a corporate social network. Implemented in SharePoint, it allows employees to find and join communities across departments, and to identify experts in a specific field that work nearby.

Similarly, a major pharmaceutical company has used SharePlus to facilitate its move away from desktops altogether in favour of mobile devices for its field sales force. The significant cost savings delivered by this change in platform would have been impossible without SharePlus. It has provided users with the ability to access and edit documents offline, as well as interact with list data stored on the corporate SharePoint servers.

Perhaps the best example of extending SharePoint workflows onto mobile devices is provided by a contractor hired to assess the 2011 earthquake damage in New Zealand. It used SharePlus and the offline capabilities of mobile devices to add data to an external list of geo-tagged photos of damaged buildings and infrastructure. It used the mobile device’s camera and GPS capabilities instead of entering this information manually which drastically reduced the time to enter a record to the list.

How can other companies find ways to extend SharePoint using mobile devices? I recommend that organisations first reach out to users to generate ideas about the functionality and workflows they would like to make use of on mobile devices. The involvement of user interface designers and SharePoint developers will help to deliver the end result quickly and effectively, whilst ensuring buy-in from key stakeholders at every stage.

It’s also important to remember that the delivery of advanced functionality to mobile devices must be matched by an equally sophisticated approach to data security to provide secure storage and secure access to saved data. SharePlus addresses this challenge by supporting all authentication methods (Web, Forms, Office 360), and by encrypting all credentials and local files, to provide the level of confidence needed to deploy SharePlus without reservation.

Kiril Matev
Technical Evangelist, Infragistics