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Author's profile photo Clinton Jones

Is it time to rethink the boundaries of your business and IT?

/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/brunel_186588.jpg There is an increasing interest in facilitating the provision of enterprise data on mobile device and companies with a BYOD policy are even more energized around understanding how enterprise data can be safely delivered and provisioned on devices like smart phones  and tablets.

Mobile devices are of course nothing new, they are amongst the earliest of technologies that connected to back end SAP and other corporate systems however in the past the whole provisioning activity was very limited and tightly controlled and controllable. Pretty much anyone with the requisite URL, user name and password can potentially access almost any piece of centrally stored data from anywhere in the connected world.

22% use SharePoint in a limited way

Osterman Research conducted a survey in early May 2012 in which 986 survey respondents in a combination of small, mid-sized and large organizations were polled. 79% of organizations have personal smartphones connecting in some way to corporate resources. 71% have personal tablet devices  connecting. Only 48% have formal policy in place. Many cloud based applications and storage repositories in particular are used without IT blessing. These present a particular data vulnerability since as much as 30% of mobile data is being synched using 3rd party products. 68% of the respondents are using SharePoint and 22% are using it on a departmental only basis. The most common use of SharePoint was collaboration (87%) and 65% for forms and workflow. Only 12% – 13% use SharePoint  via a smartphone or a tablet. This all suggests relatively low focus on SharePoint as an obvious target for BYOD support and yet it is an area that Microsoft is making major development effort around in SharePoint 2013.

Although this trend is of concern to businesses wary of unauthorized access to sensitive information, there are some interesting options from Winshuttle that enable the provision of enterprise data to mobile devices, remote users and extranet partners without providing all access to all areas. This idea of a unchained enterprise data furthermore, does not necessarily mean that the you have to consider cloud technology if your business is not yet ready to make a switch to cloud.

In the world of apps it is relatively easy to expose very cleanly defined data models in high constrained combinations because the app performs a very specific function. This makes complete sense if your role or job requires you to only perform some very rudimentary tasks but how does this tran slate when you have a number of different things that you want to do, from making a data inquiry, to changing a piece of data on the fly and then updating the backend system accordingly. Interestingly in the Osterman survey 63% of respondents said that they would prefer mobile users to access SharePoint using a client application instead of a browser.

Some of the leading customer relationship solutions in the market support both an application based, and a browser based way for you perform such tasks but in many respects simply having mobile device enabled websites are considered an old fashioned approach and there is an increasing drive for users to specify the total technology that they would prefer to use to get to and manipulate certain data.  Websites, even the mobile device optimized ones, suffer from what Jakob Nielsen, a usability guru, refers to as “read-tap asymmetry”; you may be able to read the data but navigation is difficult. 

SharePoint with unimaginitive use cases

In Osterman’s research the most common mobile related SharePoint activities were found to be:

– Access documents and files while offline (85%)

– Email links instead of attachments (64%)

– Editing documents/syncing changes to SharePoint (62%)

– Creating calendar items (59%)

Accessing SAP  data via SharePoint as facilitated by solution platforms like Winshuttle or Microsoft Duet is for example a common requirement enterprise-wide but not necessarily from a mobile device per se. One of the reasons for this  may be the level of effort real or perceived, around creating connectivity between mobile devices and the SAP back end.

The (BYOT) Bring Your Own Technology permissive approach by IT departments supports those who prefer to use mac books or windows devices as alternatives to corporate technology standards as well as those who prefer tablets or smartphones as their primary device for working with corporate systems. Supporting all of these possible combinations effectively with a unified platform can be technologically challenging for even the most energetic of IT departments and IT infrastructure groups.

It could be argued that the rise of BYO has come about due to failure of corporate IT to meet the demands of the user community.  Often the choice to go with an ‘own’ device is driven by frustration with having to labour under the draconian IT policies imposed on corporate issued technology. A lack of administrator rights to install software, disabled USB ports, and a geriatric operating system are all signs that IT is applying ‘best practice’ in controlling technology but at the same time missing the point that some users actually function best when their technology is unchained.  There are numerous examples of corporate IT policies overshadowing corporate user efficiency and effectiveness by blocking or disabling certain functions and user practices but these are not worth restating because they are pretty well understood.

Compliance bothers 50% of technologists

The TEC 2012 BYOD , Big Data, Compliance & Migrations survey  revealed an interesting Insight  from the 119 survey participants. Major compliance issues were ranked as :

  • Appropriate Access Rights (50%)
  • Appropriate Staffing for compliance handling (44%)
  • Managing compliance of devices (41%)

The mainframe mindset around desktop computing has to be undone and it has to be accepted that many employees are often far more technology literate than the IT department is prepared to give them credit for.

Avoiding the tide of BYO becoming an unsupportable Tsunami needs some different thinking and SharePoint may prove to be a saviour in this space. Having a policy for BYO is inevitable and many of the technology providers that help It organizations lock down desktops now offer user centric management approaches for users’ own devices.  Any BYO program has a tough tightrope to walk between being practically effective as well as reasonably supportable.

Some suggested things to consider around your policy:

  • Not all employees should be considered equal in terms of a BYO policy – how will you decide?
  • What  technologies will you really support?
  • What can they access?

Once you have determined your policies and tools consider the enabling technologies you will use to distribute corporate data in a secure and reliable way. SharePoint 2013 may pave the way for even more exciting and resilient ways for your user community to interact from their own devices.

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