Accellion's new Office for iOS solution walks the line between IT and users

Credit: audio-technica via Flickr

This morning, Accellion unveiled the first secure mobile file sharing solution for iOS to include complete viewing and editing of Microsoft Office documents. An Android version is following.

The updated Accellion Mobile App and its new feature, the Accellion Mobile Productivity Suite, builds on kitedrive, a mobile file sync tool that takes advantage of the company's secure mobile file sharing solution. 

When it announced kitedrive last year, Accellion referred to it as "Dropbox for the enterprise" because it delivered access to enterprise files and documents on desktop PCs and on mobile devices. The result was that business and enterprise users got much of the functionality of Dropbox but with some powerful enterprise additions like integration with SharePoint, plug-ins for various enterprise applications including Outlook and Lotus Notes, granular file-sharing permissions, and the ability to aggregate a range of back-end cloud storage solutions including private on premise hosting, public hosting from Amazon, and hybrid cloud deployments.

Having developed a secure enterprise solution for mobile devices, Accellion set itself the task of improving document security and functionality.

Addressing two big challenges: workflow and security

When developing the Accellion Mobile Productivity Suite, Accellion identified and solved two major problems with typical mobile workflows.

The first is the need to switch between various apps to accomplish key tasks, something that can be a particular nuisance on an iPhone or iPad because of Apple's refusal to include anything resembling a true file system in iOS.

In resolving that issue, Accellion also addressed a more serious second challenge -- the possibility that opening and editing secure business documents with outside apps might allow the contents of secure documents to be copied into other files or apps or for a document to be saved outside of the company's secure container.

The real value here is in the simplified workflow. Other companies have delivered solutions that create secure on-device storage containers. Good, in particular, has been very active in working with business app developers to integrate its container approach so that users have a range of apps that automatically use that container for business documents and files. That promotes a scenario where even though a user is switching between multiple apps -- one for viewing and organizing files, one for editing, and potentially others for commenting and collaboration -- there is a consistent level of security.

Accellion's approach, however, cuts out the need to switch between multiple apps for many business tasks -- and that isn't something that should be easily discounted. Users can browse available files, review them, make changes, comment, alert other users to those changes, and share files those users. All of these steps occur directly in the Accellion Mobile App. There's no need to launch a separate app or to send a document out of the secure Accellion container. That streamlines the entire process and makes it more convenient for the user. The user doesn't need to worry about if she can work with a document in another app and there's no concern that a file will be inadvertently synced to iCloud, Dropbox, or any other service.

Accellion also succeeded in adding the core features required by users in an Office-alternative app. The app includes support for track changes, in-document commenting, commenting on a document such that the file itself is tagged with metadata that other users can view without opening it, and supports the major Office file formats (DOC, DOCX, PPT, PPTX, XLS, XLSX). The interface for editing offers the most commonly used text formatting options. The integration with Accellion's file manager, delivers a desktop-like experience to working with business documents.

There's also the integration of collaborative features, such as creating a document and then sending it others to review, comment, or edit . The sync capabilities give users overall access to a cloud-based workspace that feels very natural to use. The app even leverages the camera feature of a device to act as a quick way of capturing data and sharing documents securely, such as recording notes on a white board.

It's quite clear that the company achieved a mobile document management and editing system with all the security controls and auditing options that any IT department might need.

The question is whether or not it will be enough to sway users away from other tools and workflows. That challenge will likely be most prevalent in BYOD environments. On the one hand, Accellion's mobile solutions do represent a measure of control by IT. On the other hand, its tools and approach are well designed and extremely straightforward, which will appeal to many users. There's also the fact that it places work documents in a separate environment from personal apps and files, which should appeal to both users and IT.  

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
View Comments
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies