With the recent mobile device explosion, we are seeing business users becoming increasingly more mobile. Many companies want to make the most of their SharePoint investments by giving their employees mobile access to important documents and content stored in SharePoint.
Executives and business travelers want to have instant access to their content while on the go. In today's fast-paced world, clients expect answers in minutes instead of hours, so waiting for you to get back to the office to send them pertinent information is not ideal.
But before you run to your developers to have them get started on your SharePoint mobile project, it is important to understand SharePoint's native mobile capabilities as well as the alternatives. There are also several other aspects to consider before jumping in.
New Mobile Features in SharePoint 2013
With the release of SharePoint 2013 has come some vast improvements in its mobile capabilities, as well as some cool new mobile features. Among these features are:
- Optimized mobile browser experience — a lightweight browsing experience for users to access SharePoint content; it allows three different views — classic, contemporary and full screen UI
- Device channels — allows rendering a single SharePoint publishing site in multiple ways by creating different designs to target specific devices
- Push notifications — developers can now create notifications that send updates to a mobile device when specific activities occur on a SharePoint site
- Location — supports a new geolocation field type that can be used for mobile app development
- Office web apps — the viewer for Microsoft Office documents provides enhanced experiences when interacting with documents and has been optimized for mobile devices
Responsive web design isn't a new concept with SharePoint 2013; however it is popular as ever if you opt to build a mobile SharePoint website instead of an app. Responsive websites adapt the layout by using fluid grids, flexible images and CSS3 media queries. Media queries are useful for applying different CSS styles to different screen resolutions.
Stefan Bauer, Information Architect for Box Consulting, warns however, that using media queries alone are problematic, especially when considering accessibility.
Just because the screen resolution is 800 pixels wide doesn't mean that the user is accessing with a tablet. It can mean that someone visually impaired has reduced their screen size. Or it can mean the user has split a regular display with resolution of 1680 pixels wide so that the browser window covers half the screen — still not a tablet."
To address this issue, Bauer says:
Device channels combined with media queries are the best way to go. This is because you can create a unique user experience for every one of the three most common device classes — desktop, tablet and mobile."
Whether you build a responsive SharePoint site, an app or just use SharePoint's native mobile browser functionality depends on several criteria, which we will explore below.
Define the Business Need
As with any SharePoint project (or any software project for that matter), your mobile solution needs to provide business value first and foremost. You need to define what it is that mobile users need to have access to and what they should (and shouldn’t) be able to do. Perhaps they need to quickly find content that they need, or collaborate with colleagues in order to quickly solve problems, or have access to their content while offline.
You also need to define your audience and your use cases. For example, if your main audience is the sales team, then walk through the daily routine or tasks that a sales rep would need to perform while on the road visiting clients. Doing this will help you to see which features are really important, and you won't end up with a bunch of extra features that you don't need, even though they may be really cool.
Also important is deciding which devices you must support. If all your sales reps only use iPads, for example, then this may have some bearing on your decision of whether to build or buy a solution; and if you build, whether you create an app or a mobile SharePoint site. It will be much less expensive to support one platform vs. several in this scenario.
Build vs. Buy
Is there something already out there on the market that will provide most, if not all of, the functionality that you desire? If it's not exact, can it be customized to meet your needs? Oftentimes it is cheaper, quicker and easier to buy a third party solution rather than employ your own development and testing resources for a multi-month project.
There are some great SharePoint mobile solutions out there right now. While not an all-inclusive list, a few are listed below:
- Cirrus Insight to Unite Salesforce, Gmail on Mobile Devices
- The Future of Digital Marketing: 8 Trends
- 2014 Predictions: What Side of the Future Are You On?
- Ignoring the Cloud Costs Money, Ignoring Big Data Could Cost You Your Business
- 'Have it Your Way' SharePoint: Two Paths, Many Options
- Gamification: Game With the Concept?
- Gartner: OpenText is on the Right Track #OTEW2013