“SharePoint’s integration of external social alongside its own capabilities are exciting,” Dell’s SharePoint MVP Chris McNulty, said recently.
But they’re also problematic.
“The problem is, social is the seventh newsfeed for users to check. Most folks need or want only three or four.”
Solution Hits 2 Goals Once
At the recent Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, Dell won an award for Office/SharePoint App Developer of the Year, among other honors it grabbed. The reason was its Social Hub app, a free tool available on the Microsoft SharePoint App Store that enables users to view Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and RSS feeds within a single SharePoint site.
Dell had wanted to get an app in the SharePoint App Store, and the company had other product ideas going, but, McNulty said, “This one got there the fastest.” And, it didn’t hurt that a social app lined up with Microsoft product positioning as well.
SharePoint’s Social Challenge: Eyeball Time
Still, while social in SharePoint might be the next greatest thing, it creates new issues to wrestle with. “The challenge with SharePoint social is not that there’s a lack of capability. It’s that it’s got to contend with eyeball time.” McNulty related how the nature of interactions changes as people move out of legacy apps. For example, on a desktop, typically, “People will communicate in four sessions a day. When you sit down to work on something, you work in four sessions of 36 minutes.”
Smartphones prompt almost the reverse style of working, where people communicate in “about 36 interactions of four minutes each.” Work on a tablet, he said, falls somewhere in the middle of two.
The goal is to help someone work most efficiently in a world where interactions and contexts are constantly changing. After all, it’s the context switching that drives all but the most attention-deficit multi-taskers crazy.
“People are doing more in less time. We want to reduce the context switching that has to occur and help them stay in context. How can we bring things from Web 2.0, bring them into SharePoint? How do you help someone not to have to check seven different places?” Thus the Dell free app.
“Customization is a large investment for us,” McNulty said. What better way to understand the new Microsoft app model than by writing a new app? And making it free to gauge expectation and reaction. “We’ve been very gratified by the levels of response from customers,” he said, adding that the Dell app pages have had thousands of visits.
“I would love to tell you case studies about how they’re deploying and using it,” McNulty said. “But we only get aggregated numbers” from Microsoft.
One way to use the app, he foresees, is as a way to centralize social communication in a browser and get away from using Microsoft Outlook. Or, he says, “It’s a quick way to polish off an Office 365 deployment. They’ve stood up the ‘pages of blue boxes’-- this is a way to add a little flash.”
“We also see it used as an education tool for consultancies to see what it means to have an app store and how to install apps—in a post-[SharePoint] 2013 world,” he said.
Someone Must Still Make Decisions (Cough. Governance.)
Before SharePoint 2013, McNulty said, SharePoint was “a platform managed and built by architects and managers. IT used to be engaged because you had a product key, or you had to have admin authority to install into a SharePoint environment.”
Now, with users who’ve gained a certain comfort level with apps from adding them to their smartphones, app consumption looks different now. And whether SharePoint apps are loaded from a Microsoft-owned store or a local catalog owned by the enterprise, IT and SharePoint admins are going to have to make some decisions.
“Decisions need to be made at governance,” McNulty said. “An organization might say they’re fine with changes. Others might say ‘we’re going to block or we’re going to pick a list’. Or IT might run the list themselves. If you look at ongoing trends (BYOS, DIY app models) the trends are driving toward more business engagement in what the app model will be. Especially as more powerful apps come into the store.”
O Brave New World of the SharePoint App Store
With Microsoft controlling the store, what challenges might vendors, developers, or even app users face?
“Microsoft has struck a balance—they do look at things—and if there’s a technical issue [with an app] they’ll flag it and won’t push it out. They’re looking at the right things. In our experience, we haven’t seen them get into functional governance. That is, they’re not saying ‘we don’t like Twitter anymore so turn off Twitter in your app’.”
“There is a somewhat busy and friendly ecosystem emerging in the app store. We are all interested in seeing this work.” That said, on-premises is not going away anytime soon. Nor the need for SharePoint developers. “The APIs available for this next-gen development are less seasoned. If you’ve been a SharePoint developer, you may be faster at getting something out there rather than dealing with this somewhat restrictive code base. There’s still more power in that legacy code. But this is the way of the future.”
Someday, even, priorities in the SharePoint industry around cloud and on-premises might be reversed: “You’re going to see ISVs who will sit down with all the new APIS and someone is going to say, ‘will this be also for the on-premises market?’” McNulty said.
Fear not. You’ll see it coming.