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The SharePoint Mobility Forecast: Outlook Cloudy

SharePoint Mobility ForecastMaking SharePoint mobile — something Microsoft’s customers have been after since at least the 2007 version of the platform, and something Microsoft and its partners have delivered on with mixed results in the intervening years.

While the release of SharePoint 2013 and even more recent developments have reflected major strides in this area, the true holy grail of an accessible SharePoint environment — document sharing and collaboration — remains unrealized.

It’s a matter of more than responsive design and browsers versus native mobile apps, because it touches nearly every major organization in America and yes, the world.

Why? Because most every one of those organizations uses SharePoint, that’s why. Whether it’s a favorite son or a red-headed stepchild, the conversation about SharePoint and mobility is one that has to be addressed in nearly every CIO’s roadmap before too long.

The question as to when, how and even if Microsoft ever intends to address this popular requirement in a way that will satisfy most enterprise users is a question that remains on the table.

What is Microsoft’s strategy for making SharePoint mobile? What drives that strategy? How can enterprise customers take advantage of, augment or get around that strategy as needed to make SharePoint available on-the-go?

To answer these questions, we need to take a deeper look at how the product has evolved, how demand and the marketplace have evolved, and the forces behind Microsoft’s own roadmap. Forces that might have less to do with SharePoint than one might imagine.

The Product

We know from Forrester that the most common uses of SharePoint  by far remain document collaboration (i.e., team- and project-based document management) and intranet scenarios. Since 2003 and 2007, respectively, these have been the platform’s historic strengths. Emerging use cases like enterprise search, business intelligence and most recently, social collaboration are gaining ground but most users still associate SharePoint primarily with these two classic workloads. Not unlike associating Journey with Steve Perry despite a succession of mediocre replacements — this makes good sense.

The Intranet workload is actually something a modern SharePoint deployment can do quite well, with the keywords being responsive design. A “responsive” design is one that responds to the specific browser or form factor being used to access the content. In responsive design, the same content and navigation are served up to a user regardless of device; instead of valuable content or navigation options being truncated, they are simply resized and/or rearranged to fit the flow of the particular device’s screen (often optimized for vertical scrolling on phones and tablets) and interface style (touch, swipe, mouse, keypad). 

Most intranets are primarily web content, with a sprinkling of forms and unique applications. As such, the same customizations to the UI that make public Internet sites built on SharePoint so responsive can be leveraged for a corporate intranet. These might include customizations to the out-of-the-box framework for device channels, content by search, and other useful tools that already exist as building-block web parts within the 2013 platform.

Utilizing the platform’s publishing framework for web content is a win, then. But what of document collaboration? What about emerging workloads like social business? The answers are a mixed bag, and that’s due to factors beyond what makes sense in the tool itself.

The Marketplace

At times in its lifespan, SharePoint has been the victim of poor timing — and yet despite this, has thrived and even achieved a certain degree of ubiquity in its core workloads. SharePoint 2010 hit the market just as the iPad began to explode. I was working for Microsoft at the time, and I remember discussions among Softies about what users could possibly see in a device that couldn't create content. The answer, as it turned out, was that a device that remarkably simplified content consumption didn't need to do content creation.

Even so, the ribbon interface of SharePoint 2010 and its clumsy translation to an iPad didn't hurt SharePoint adoption any more than it hurt iPad adoption. Both products exploded in the enterprise in roughly the same time frame. SharePoint 2010 brought interactivity into an intranet world that had previously been the realm of static HTML content — the “Web 2.0” (remember that term?) of the enterprise. The iPad led the way in forcing the BYOD conversation.

 

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