The corporate workplace has become a diverse mobile device environment mainly driven by the growing number of mobile professionals and demand for newer devices with improved user interface, applications, speed and cool factor. Core to this demand is employee mobility and the expectation for anywhere and anytime access to information, people, applications and communications to support increased demand for productivity and customer responsiveness.
In many ways IT is no longer able to control the proliferation of what they consider “Non-Standard” devices. To make it even more complex, many staff members carry multiple devices - work devices (BlackBerry) and personal devices (iPhone, iPad) they sometimes want to use for work purposes. With the increasing demand for Apple/iOS support in the corporate workplace, IT is looking for options that are manageable, secure and cost effective – across all devices.
From the user perspective, the perception is that “it should be easy” for IT departments to provide multiple devices and deliver user support and rock-solid security. But many still struggle with the basics - consistent Mobile access, providing employees with Mobile devices and plan that is justifiable, and data access to corporate networks. For more information regarding the Corporate Mobile Office read SharePoint Reviews article on “7 Considerations for Mobilizing Your Workforce: Building a Technology Program for Success”.
For IT and from a risk perspective, there are manageability and security issues with mobile devices, such as corporate application support (another platform to write code for), authentication, securing the device and its data from theft, and providing support for employees through help desk services. harmon.ie has addressed these areas with usability, security and a data-less footprint.
Options for Accessing SharePoint
For accessing SharePoint there are a variety of options available, such as using the native iPad/iPhone browser, which provides a decent browsing experience, but lacks the ability to upload documents and offline capability. A Microsoft blog explains the cause for limitations.
However, for those that want the Office Web App experience for creating, editing and viewing documents in Office Web Apps, the harmon.ie Mobile Client for SharePoint is available for download from the Apple App Store.
For the purposes of this review the author’s iPad 2, laptop and smartphone were used. The experience of the installation, configuration to connect to an Office 365 Team Site and browsing, viewing, editing, searching, replication and uploading content were evaluated.
Test Environment and Considerations
The following test environment was utilized:
- Apple iPad 2 64gb
- Apple iPhone 5 32GB
- Windows 7 with Office 2013 and harmon.ie Outlook add-on
- harmon.ie mobile version 1.5.6548 harmon.ie Corporation
- Productivity applications installed included Keynote, Numbers and Pages
- Remote storage applications DropBox and SkyDrive
- Office 365 small business license (SharePoint Team Site and My Site, Office Web Apps)
- Various mobile networks (Home, Coffee shops, Airport and Hotel with varying quality and speed)
- A 10 MB dataset consisting of documents (Office, PDFs), pictures, blogs and discussions totaling 25 items
Also note that if problems occurred, I utilized the user manual and set aside 5-10 minutes for the problem. I did not want to contact the manufacturers support for problems since the evaluation was also based on product usability, stability and functionality as posted on the App Store.
Native Mobile Browser
The first series of tests utilized the Safari mobile browser that ships with iOS - the reason for this is to set a baseline for the functionality for the reader. To access an Office 365 Team Site you simply enter the URL, your ID and your password, and the Team Site renders quickly.
At first glance, the SharePoint Team Site renders well and standard functionality appears to be present (SharePoint 2013 interface is a huge improvement over 2010). General clicking through the navigation appears consistent with no surprises. Entering text by clicking on Posts triggers the iPad keyboard to pop up and text is entered easily and posted. The Ribbon appears with the standard functionality items. I selected Discussions and was able to add a discussion item easily. No surprises with user experience at this point.
Next, I clicked on the Documents link to have a look at how the document library would render. Again, the browsing experience at first glance looked fine. The folders and documents appeared along with the icons for the Office Web Apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote). Highlight a document and the Ribbon appears. But if I click on Add Document, the option to select a document is grayed out (this key functionality is missing from the browser).
Overall, for basic access from within the office (Intranet) or through the internet to an Office 365 Team Site using the browser is an option, but it does have some key limitations – can’t upload documents and cannot take documents offline. If all you need is some browsing and basic viewing of documents and images, this might be an option for you, but for the mobile worker a better solution is required.
Consider harmon.ie Mobile
harmon.ie, the user experience company for the mobile enterprise, delivers a consistent experience across multiple social and collaboration platforms from different vendors such as Microsoft, Yammer and IBM. Several businesses including Citi, DuPont and BAE Systems use harmon.ie across mobile, desktop and cloud to evolve into more socially powered enterprises. For more information, visit http://harmon.ie.
harmon.ie offers SharePoint mobile clients for the iOS and BlackBerry devices (Android coming soon). What’s great about harmon.ie solution is that they also offer an add-in for Office Outlook. The iOS and BlackBerry clients enable you to access SharePoint site functionality, such as searching for documents, viewing documents and creating/edition documents with Office App Apps. The Outlook client enables access to sites directly within Outlook. Specifically, users are able to capture email, photos and documents seamlessly from within Outlook – which many work from most frequently.
What differentiates harmon.ie from its competitors? harmon.ie 4 is a suite of connected apps focused on “Bringing Office 365 to the Mobile Enterprise”. Their suite ties together SharePoint 365, Yammer, Office Web Apps and SkyDrive all in one package. Some other key points:
- harmon.ie is not limiting organizations to pick just one platform - it is platform agnostic and harmon.ie is offered on desktop, mobile and cloud, letting the organizations pick and choose the right infrastructure for their needs;
- harmon.ie ensures the success and adoption of Office 365 and SharePoint initiatives;
- harmon.ie puts a lot of emphasis on social initiatives.
For the road warrior these are key features that enable productivity while mobile. Also, organizations that support multiple platforms may want the ability to choose one product vendor to help manage costs associated with ownership, such as support, training and ongoing testing of standard images for devices.
The first client within the suite that I installed and used was the Outlook client. This client integrates Outlook with SharePoint and Yammer. The installation was very straightforward, simply click and follow a minimal set of prompts and its installed. The client displays to the right of the Outlook pane and can be easily minimized and maximized. The next step is to simply add your sites by entering a URL, ID and Password.
To view item from within Outlook simply right-click the item to expose the menu and select Preview. If you want to preview a few items in sequence, simply click the checkbox “Keep Preview window open”. Below are s of the Edit SharePoint Site window and item property content menu.
Also available within the suite is Yammer. The following screenshot depicts a sample threaded discussion within Yammer. However, if you wish to not use this feature it can be disabled under advanced settings.
The harmon.ie Mobile client installed easily and adding an Office 365 Team Site was straightforward. To add a site you touch the + icon in the upper left hand corner and the Add Site window appears. Enter the URL and under authentication area, select Mode (Automatic or Browser), enter user ID and password for my Office 365 Team Site. I also added My Site as well without a single problem.
The Home page for the Site uses the entire page area for primary navigation even when clicking on lists and libraries. To the bottom left there are icons for listing Sites, Browsing (Sites, Lists and Libraries), Updates (All, Documents and Colleagues), People, Favorite Locations (you could have a list of your favorite lists) and Settings (Caching of items).
Settings for caching and security are available from the bottom of the screen, both on the iPad and iPhone. These settings help you optimize connectivity and user experience. The iPhone interface is shown below.
To view list items, touch the list/library Name or the Arrow and the items will display. An arrow icon will appear in the upper right which refreshes the cache in case any updates have been made since the last page refresh.
NOTE: The Discussion and Task Libraries don’t appear and the site App didn’t appear as well. harmon.ie stated they will support Tasks, which will be added the third quarter of this year, and Custom Lists, including Discussions, the fourth quarter of this year. Also, offline support will be added the third quarter of this year as well.
To view item properties, touch the item and the Document Info window appears. The Document Info window contains tabs that enable you to Email the item, Copy Link, Open With, Properties and Checkout.
NOTE: Since the prior version I reviewed, the user interface has improved significantly. The functions now displayed include opening the item in Office Web Apps, mailing a link or the item, checking the item out, deleting and editing Metadata properties. Kudos to harmon.ie for making these great improvements.
To view an item, select Open With from the Document Info window and you can view the item in Office Web Apps. If you have applications installed that are capable of opening the item, they will be listed as choices for this action. For example, if you open a Word document, Pages will be listed as an application for opening the item. The screenshots below are of the iPhone and the steps you take to open an item.
The 'big deal' here is that users don’t want to rely on 3rd party editors (changes formatting, functionality differences) to work on Office documents – they want The Office Experience on their mobile devices. However, Microsoft is not providing this functionality as it may prevent people from buying Windows Mobile devices (see the recent CNBC interview with Bill Gates). The idea that you can open documents with other apps is okay, but that’s not what users want – because all of these apps, including Pages, don’t deliver the same experience as Office. That is why Office Web Apps is such a huge deal. Also, when you open using a 3rd party editor, some residue of the document is left on the iPad – making it a security data risk.
To upload/add and item, use the iPad copy function to highlight the item and navigate to the list/library, touch the screen and a message will be displayed stating “Image Found in Clipboard”. Select Yes and you will be stepped through an action of adding the item. From the Outlook client, you can upload documents when you send emails, the add-in prompts you to save the file to SharePoint and send as either a link or an attachment.
NOTE: At first, it took me some time to figure this out even though it’s a common iOS design pattern. Initially, I was looking for an icon of some sort, but played around for a minute or two and figured it out. harmon.ie is adding an icon in the next release.
Searching for pictures yielded the expected results as seen below in the screenshots for both an iPhone and iPad. Importantly, harmon.ie supplies a full metadata editor on all interfaces, including the mobile device. In fact, if a document library has required metadata, harmon.ie automatically walks you through the process of completing the metadata definitions, even picking from managed keywords. Note that from the native web interface of SharePoint, this is not supported. The document would remained checked out without the required metadata, but the user would never get an indication something is wrong.
NOTE: As with any search, utilizing Metadata effectively is the secret to success. For more information refer to the Dublin Core.
The continued increase of the mobile workforce will influence the adoption of mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones. Most importantly, users will expect to be able to create, edit and view documents in Office and not third-party editors. Overall, I found harmon.ie Mobile product to be very intuitive to use, it installs quickly, and once you’re connected to your SharePoint site(s) you can access content immediately. After using the products for a short period of time, you will be proficient in using all of its features. Also, for those that miss the Groove functionality, you will find the Outlook client fills the gap that Microsoft created in discontinuing that product.