“Has someone already solved that problem?” When the answer is yes, the existing solutions deserve a good look. In my experience, a combination of both buy and build often turns out to be the right answer. Let’s take a look at the challenge of getting data out of your SharePoint site and onto your iPhone…
At some point in every project, I’m usually confronted with the question – should we build or should we buy? The pendulum of thought on this topic swings back and forth. As a consultant that regularly advises clients on these kinds of questions, my current read is that the mindset has moved toward the “buy” side on some key fronts. The trends underlying this, and their impact on both business and technology, are complex and evolving.
Another way to frame the discussion is, “Has someone already solved that problem?” When the answer is yes, the existing solutions deserve a good look. In my experience, a combination of both buy and build often turns out to be the right answer.
Let’s take the issue of getting more out of all that data that has been loaded into your company’s Microsoft SharePoint-based collaboration site. Someone (probably many someones) has spent lots of time getting thousands of documents, contact lists, project plans, and other kinds of essential data into this amazingly versatile tool. And if your portal has been well-designed, you probably find it an invaluable resource while you’re using your laptop or desktop at the office.
As soon as you try to get this information out using your mobile device, let’s say using your iPhone, it becomes a different story. Even if you manage to navigate to the right place, the functional richness of the interface is not ideal when you move into the realm of finger touches and gestures .
So what to do? Build a new, mobile version of your SharePoint site (probably a tough sell given the current economy)? Or has someone already solved this problem?
As it turns out, the creators of SharePoint provided a shortcut to get to stored data directly. This method uses web services – in human terms we might call it the “just give me the data, please ” service – to make the data available without the need to navigate through a web page. It’s up to the application you’re using to determine how the data should look and be presented.
But until recently, not many people had solved the other part of the problem – taking the SharePoint web services and building an iPhone app to make it useable on a mobile device.
One of our talented staff members, a big SharePoint fan, was also excited about the idea, and he knew how to use SharePoint’s built in web services to get data out. So he wrote an app for that!
When he put two technologies together (buy + build), it increased the value of the data we already had, by making it more portable and our staff more productive. Kudos to him for seeing the opportunity and going for it!
A growing number of developers have followed this lead to build iPhone apps that put all of your SharePoint data at your fingertips. There are several choices now available in the Apple App Store, including (in alphabetical order):
- Attache: SharePoint Client (LUCRUM)
- iShare (Spyk Software)
- iSharePhone (Webstate)
- iSP-Browser (iSP Apps)
- Moshare (Moprise)
- SharePlus Office Mobile Client (SouthLabs)
- Sharetica (Celltica)
I’ll expand further on some of the topics touched on here in later posts, including more thoughts on the “build vs. buy” decision, the changing dynamics in data visualization, and how business intelligence solutions on mobile devices are impacting the way we work.