Accelerating SharePoint Mobile Development
June 6, 2012 3 Comments
Liberate Your Content
The amount of structured and unstructured content in the Enterprise is ever increasing and it is a challenge for organizations to manage and access this content. Numerous systems and tools are used by organizations to store, manage and surface corporate information to users. Microsoft SharePoint is a popular choice for a majority of the world’s largest businesses, enabling these activities for tens of millions of users.
A second phenomena occurring in today’s businesses is the mobilization of the workforce and the need to access this content from anywhere, from any device, whether connected to the Internet or offline. From the sales person or field worker to the executive on the go, there is considerable need for employees to have access to the most up to date content that pertains to their role in the organization.
Furthermore, to make the information useful, it must be delivered in a meaningful way to the end user. In some cases, this may mean a need in delivering the content to the end user in a rich, compelling experience versus simply allowing them to browse to the location of the content and viewing it.
Given the mobile need for SharePoint content, Slalom Consulting developed the SharePoint Mobile Accelerator for Apple’s iOS. The Accelerator is a development “starter-kit” which enables rapid development of custom iPhone and iPad SharePoint content apps. By leveraging an established and rigorously tested code-base, the time and cost of mobilizing SharePoint content can be significantly reduced.
Development of the Accelerator was focused with four main technical requirements in mind: First, the Accelerator had to work with SharePoint 2007 and 2010 without any changes or additions to the SharePoint environment. Second, the Accelerator must support offline access to the SharePoint content. Third, the Accelerator must seamlessly ensure that the users have the latest version of SharePoint content, regardless of connectivity. Finally, the Accelerator had to support all document types handled by iOS.
In order to support the first requirement, Slalom chose to leverage the built in web services provided by SharePoint. Without any server configuration, the SharePoint 2007 and 2010 web services secure the transmission of data between SharePoint and the iOS device. Via the web services, the Accelerator can access all of the document metadata, including customized fields, and download each of the documents stored in SharePoint to the local device. Additionally, the web services honor SharePoint security down to the individual documents, ensuring that the end user can never access a file that they do not have permissions to view or download.
For offline storage of content, the Accelerator utilizes a local database that stores the SharePoint document and metadata allowing it to be fully searchable. One key benefit to this approach is a user can browse, and search a SharePoint document library, even when they have no network connectivity.
To ensure users always have the latest content stored in SharePoint, the Accelerator checks SharePoint for changes to documents whenever the user has connectivity. If a document has been modified, the Accelerator updates the document’s metadata and re-downloads the updated content. If a document has been deleted from SharePoint, the document and all of the associated metadata is immediately deleted from the device.
Finally, to view the SharePoint documents on the device, the Accelerator takes advantage of the excellent document and web viewers supplied by Apple’s iOS framework. With these viewers, the user can easily email, print, or share the files with other apps (GoodReader, iBooks, etc) on their device.
The Accelerator, compared
There are existing apps available that allow a user to connect to a SharePoint environment, navigate, and view content. These apps generally work fine for simple tasks, but can be difficult for the user to perform complex business processes. Setup can also be cumbersome, forcing the user to understand details about their company’s SharePoint environment to connect or requiring the user to transcribe long URLs for setup.
Alternatively, there are solutions for sharing files from a user’s desktop to their mobile device that ultimately bypass SharePoint and oftentimes an IT department’s data and security policies in the process.
The Accelerator improves on both of these solutions by allowing a business to create an app that is exactly right for their users’ needs and does not circumvent IT supported systems or policies. Creating a solution that is tailored to the task at hand makes for happy users and opens the door to deeper integration across multiple enterprise systems beyond SharePoint.