The Challenge

Today’s business users are increasingly becoming more mobile – whether they’re using company-issued mobile devices or bringing their own devices to the office, mobile is becoming very prevalent in the workplace.  However, with this proliferation of mobile devices come many new challenges when it comes to sharing documents and collaboration.  The processes between the different platforms and devices can become cumbersome and difficult to manage.  And once users leave the office, the experience can become confusing at best, or completely unattached and disjointed at worst.

The Solution recently announced their release of Connect, a suite of connected products that can help to alleviate these pain points by allowing users to easily share documents and  collaborate with colleagues wherever they happen to be, whether in the office or on the road.  And they provide centralized deployment and provisioning so that organizations’ IT departments can maintain complete control of their SharePoint environments, both on premises and outside the office walls.

One thing I really like about the suite of products is that rather than ask users to learn another tool or try to completely change the way they already work, they integrate directly into users’ enterprise email programs (either Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes), which is where most corporate users tend to spend the majority of their day.  And now with Connect, when users are out of the office or away from their desks, they can still enjoy the same consistent user experience, and any changes they make to documents or interactions with colleagues are automatically synchronized across all devices and platforms.

Figure 1: Connect bridges the gap between Apple and Microsoft to create a unified social user experience for the enterprise

As you can see, Connect supports the desktop, iPads, and iPhones.  For this review, I used the Outlook desktop version, as well as my iPad and iPhone to test with.

Figure 2:  The desktop app integrates directly into Outlook for quick and easy access to SharePoint sites and documents

The desktop version of for Outlook adds a sidebar right in the email client that you can show or hide by toggling a button in the ribbon.  Once you’ve discovered your SharePoint sites, you can work with sites and documents from within the sidebar, without having to leave Outlook.

The iPad and iPhone versions look very similar to and provide the same functionality as the sidebar in Outlook, thus promoting consistency and familiarity across platforms and devices.

Figure 3:  A consistent user experience across platforms and devices breeds familiarity for users

As stated earlier, any changes made on one platform or device will immediately be visible on the others.  I tested this by adding a site, a document, and a favorite location to one of the three devices, and verified that they instantly showed up on the others.  In addition, from my iPhone and iPad I checked out documents and saved the changes back to SharePoint.

Figure 4:  Updating and checking in documents on the iPad

I also edited the properties of a document and successfully checked the documents back in.  Each time I verified that my changes were reflected on the other devices.  The updates were also extremely quick; there was no lag time between the time I saved or created an item until it showed up on the other devices.

Figure 5:  Viewing and editing document properties, and opening a document on the iPhone

The only downside that I could see on working with documents from a mobile device is that you need to have some kind of app installed that allows you to modify Office documents.  Depending on your needs, it may be an additional cost for your company if a free app doesn’t suffice.  As you can see in Figure 5 above, I don’t have an Office editor installed on my iPhone, so I was not able to actually edit the document before checking it back in.  However, this issue will remedy itself with the next release of Connect, as they have plans to support Office Web Apps.  It’s also worth noting that nothing ever gets saved directly to the mobile devices, neither the app nor Office Web Apps once that functionality is added.  This is very important from a security standpoint.

You also may be wondering when Connect will support mobile devices other than Apple.  They do have plans to support the Android and Windows platforms in 2013.  In terms of which comes first, it depends on market demand.

A very cool feature of Connect is the ability to save an email attachment directly into SharePoint, both from a mobile device and the Outlook toolbar.  Simply right-click on the attachment in Outlook and choose “Save Attachments to SharePoint”, or click the “Open in” button after opening an attachment from the native email app on the iPhone or iPad, and then navigate to the location in SharePoint where you wish to save the file.  In the desktop version, you can even replace the attachment with a link to the SharePoint location after it’s been uploaded.  This is a very powerful feature, as it will now reference the SharePoint link going forward as the single version of the truth, rather than an attachment on the email server.

Conclusion understands the way people work today and they have designed their suite of products to fit that model rather than try to force users to work in a different way than they’re used to.  This alone helps tremendously with the user adoption of SharePoint, but they have gone one step further and unified the social SharePoint experience across all devices and platforms.  Whether you’re in the office, on the road, on the run, or wherever, Connect delivers the consistent experience that helps you get your job done.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can read more about Connect, or download the free standalone versions – the mobile app can be downloaded from the iTunes app store, and the desktop version from’s website.  You can also view the differences between the free desktop application vs. the enterprise version.  To take advantage of the enterprise features, you must purchase an enterprise license.

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