Yesterday, Nokia’s announcement of availability of Microsoft Office for (some) Nokia Symbian mobile devices got me thinking about something of an evolution that I’ve had towards enterprise/office productivity over the years. I can make the argument that the behavior of word and data processing on a mobile for me began when I got my first PDA in 2000 (a Palm IIIxe). And since that point, I’ve made some interesting changes, some of which makes me wonder about the whole idea of using apps for this at all – at least where some types of information/data are concerned.
Back in 2000, it was all about getting my notes in a formatted way so that I could print them into a binder for reading later. Wordsmith was the application of choice when I used a Palm PDA, and it served me quite well. So well in fact, that I was loathe to move away from it two years later when it was barely supported by the developer any more. Eventually, I did though. And it was to a few other programs that I would begin to stretch things.
In respect to word/data processing, I became a user of the Documents-to-Go (Dataviz). It wasn’t just documents that was solid here. But the spreadsheets, and ability to view presentations that was handy. I expanded into using the database application from them, Smartlist-To-Go, when I needed a database solution (which was a good idea because syncing to/thru MS Access has always been a chore).
For contacts and such, I was an Outlook user, and on the PDA a Beyond Contacts user. I didn’t use the comparative Dataviz product here (forgot the name) because Beyond Contacts was almost exactly like Outlook. By, the time I gotten to using the Treo series of devices (I would say that was about 2004/2005), I’d moved to also using a call management app called AfterCall that filled in the spaces during/after calls and SMSes.
So far so good right? Looks a lot like how many others deal with data. In fact, you could make the statement that not much has changed since that first half of 2000 and how people manage to get around documents and data on their mobiles – find an app that works with whatever the desktop standard (MS Office suite) is and go from there. Here’s the thing with me, as a user of mobile, my needs for the data to stick and be used changed, and so did how I needed information to flow in an out of my device.
By the time I got to Charlotte and NouvEON (now hiSoft) in 2008, I no longer dealt with MS Office as the main trunk for documents. Yes, I still tried to maintain compatability with MS Office where possible, but I started to break out of the mold of that application suite for many personal tasks. Part of that was because I’d gotten to the point where I could write in HTML as easily as I could click the styles button in an Office product. And the other part of it was that I’d been living mobile-only for a few years, and Office (and its formats) are quite heavy for these devices.
At NouvEON, I started something that I think should be the future of enterprise/office productivity, and its basically what I mentioned in a tweet yesterday:
There was a time when MS Office on a mobile was necessary, then I got a decent browser, secure intranet access, and workflows
At NouvEON, I started working less in MS Office (aside from Visio and occasionally PowerPoint), and more in the context of an intranet and alongside data streams that had to be collaborative, had to initiate some other action, or had relevance beyond the screen of the work-issued laptop. Information had to be sticky in terms of whom it was relevant to, but not in terms of whatever the application or device was that carried it. It was at that place, that the idea of doing as much as possible using a small tablet computer (in my case, the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet) as a digital folder, and then enabling workflows within the SharePoint environment to make actions happen once data was entered into screens/forms. I was quite productive with this – almost too much. I had a decent argument for only giving out-of-office employees access to the Intranet through whatever device they had because of it (the beginnings of a BYOD movement).
After NouvEON (am self-employed at the time of writing this), I’ve gone a bit further in this thinking. I’m looking at what people do with enterprise/office information, and what makes them productive. For example, I train/consult with some small teams on their use of SharePoint, and most of the time, the data they deal with can and should be placed within a custom list or Infopath form, and then workflows programmed for the data to "go do something." There’s nothing terribly complicated about it, SharePoint becomes the dashboard/data collection space, and then those spaces and attending workflows would be designed to make sure that the data stays in a state of being valid, cross-user relevant, and applicable across the business environment.
Because I’m self-employed, I don’t get to play with that as much. I do, however, use a bit of this kind of thinking in my activities with data and documents. For example, ifttt has become my agent for several workflows which connect the online services that I use. Dropbox has become my replacement for emailing attachments. And Google Docs has become the place where I collaborate with others in an MS Office-like setting. In each case, the idea is to make sure that the data is usable in as many domains as possible. This means that I am more likely to build a document (single-person focus) in HTML, than I am to use a word processor. This means that if I am collaborating, that I’m also exporting said document at regular intervals to online and mobile storage areas. All I need is a browser (for the most part; sometimes, I don’t need that – an email address seems to be at most sufficient).
I think this is important because while it is nice and all that MS Office is available, I don’t know that just having that suite available on a mobile device actually speaks to why that data is necessary on a mobile. It speaks to making it readable, and in some respects editable. But, it doesn’t speak to the context of the data – why is it relevant, what actions does it make me do, and what should happen with me or someone else when this data leaves my state of relevance?
On the whole, I don’t know that enterprise/office productivity apps actually do a decent job of addressing this. If they did, an office app would look mobile like Dropbox + ifttt: a workflow management system that uses email and encrypted storage to facilitate data maniputation. In that world, its not important to know MS Office, its important to know how to build a workflow – which is a much more profitable and malleable skill.