If you’ve been exposed to the technology media at all over the past half-decade, you’re probably familiar with the term bring your own device (BYOD). For the uninitiated, this refers to the use of personal technologies – typically mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets – in the owners’ workplaces, usurping desktop computers and company-issue laptops. As of 2015, it’s practically universal.
In January, for example, a survey by Tech Pro Research found that 60 per cent of businesses worldwide had embraced BYOD. A further 14 per cent expected to roll out formal policies for its use within the next 12 months. And as the release of the Apple Watch draws near, it’s not impossible that wearable devices will drive the next wave of BYOD adoption.
But is BYOD compatible with SharePoint? It’s an interesting question. On the one hand, yes – SharePoint’s web-based nature means that it’s accessible via almost any device with a browser and a network connection. And in SharePoint 2013, you can use the Device Channels feature to create pages that display differently depending on whether they’re viewed on a PC, smartphone or tablet.
On the other hand, though, providing secure and practical BYOD access to SharePoint can be a much tougher proposition than it first appears. It’s not just about getting your sites to show up on iPhones and Android handsets as well as on desktop computers, but also means accommodating a whole new way of working. And that presents a number of difficult conundrums to solve.
Here are four of the most common hurdles to a successful SharePoint BYOD programme.
Getting the user interface right
Even when you’re using Device Channels to ensure that your pages display correctly regardless of screen size and dimensions, it’s entirely possible to overlook their basic usability. You don’t want your users to squint to decipher text and menu items, and you don’t want them to struggle to navigate sites when they’re stuck with touch-based controls.
A user interface that relies on mouseovers, nine-point text links and typed inputs will be difficult to use on a smartphone screen, and no amount of responsive layout voodoo will fix that.
Keeping your content suitable
It’s also worth thinking about whether certain types of content should be displayed on a desktop computer and not on a mobile device, and vice versa. A lot of SharePoint intranets are rife with complex tables and graphs of data, for example, which are close to unreadable on smaller screens. And some are used to host file types that are unsupported by iOS and Android apps.
Perhaps even more significant are the security implications of providing BYOD access to SharePoint, which we’ll discuss in more depth below. It might be acceptable to allow employees to open, edit and download confidential data on desktop computers in the office, but the same won’t always be true if they’re connecting to the intranet from a smartphone at a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
Updating your governance plan
A good SharePoint governance plan is a living thing, not a static document stashed away somewhere in the furthest depths of your intranet. This means updating it whenever business technologies and processes change, and the implementation of BYOD is no exception.
Specifically, the use of unmanaged mobile devices – and, potentially, remote working over unsecured connections – are phenomena that many governance plans predate, and that dramatically alter the company’s ability to control the conditions under which SharePoint is accessed. In order to roll out a successful SharePoint BYOD programme, you need to make firm decisions about the data and applications that mobile workers should be able to use, as well as the ones that they shouldn’t.
Making BYOD working secure
It follows logically that once you’ve updated your governance plan and usage policies, you’ll need to set up new security controls that automate those changes as far as possible. For example, if you’re going to make SharePoint accessible from the internet to allow non-domain joined devices to connect, you’ll want to set up some form of network-level encryption.
Another thing to consider is the security of your files once they’re moved outside of SharePoint and onto local storage. Microsoft’s own Information Rights Management solution is one way you can limit the distribution of confidential data, offering controls like screengrab-blocking and the automatic encryption of files when they’re downloaded.
Back in 2013, a Trend Micro survey found that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of Britons have had as many as three devices used for work lost or stolen. It’s obvious that you don’t want your intellectual property copied onto an iPhone or Android handset and then left on the train, so take steps to prevent it!