SharePoint 2013's Secret Weapon: Killer Apps

Over the last two weeks, I’ve laid out an analysis of Office 365 and what it means to enterprises large and small.  But there’s one piece that I left out—quite intentionally—that today deserves to be brought to light: apps.  Not just any apps.  Killer apps.  Solutions to problems that transcend SharePoint… problems that have plagued businesses for years.  Now that Office 365 is released, I’d like to lay out my prediction for an exciting near-term future for SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 apps. 

From time to time I will highlight apps that I think are particularly noteworthy.  Today, I’d like to talk about a few—in particular a pair of apps that address very common business meeting and organizational challenges: MEETINGS and MY VIEW, which revolutionize your ability to leverage the Microsoft stack to manage effective meetings, and to roll up tasks and calendar entries across your SharePoint and Exchange worlds into a single view that can surface on any computer, tablet, or phone.

Before we jump to that discussion, I’d like to thank everyone at Penton—the organization behind SharePointProMag.com—for all their work on our BRAND NEW SITE, launched today with a great new engine that my colleagues—for example Paul Thurrott at SuperSite for Windows—have been raving about.  I think you’ll love the new look, and how easy it is (finally!) to register to make comments, and to find content you’re looking for!  So whether you have time now to read about a couple of apps that could change your work life, do jump to the new site to check it out!

In case you’ve been on vacation on Mars, SharePoint 2013’s new app model means, in effect, custom code runs “off box,” with the app surfacing in SharePoint, and with communication between the app and SharePoint using modern, standards-based approaches including OData and a rich JavaScript-based client side object model.

While sandbox and full-trust solutions are still supported on SharePoint 2013 (on premise), the new app model is clearly the way of the future, for all the right reasons.  Reasons aside, the implementation of the app model is, at this point, a stronger-than-normal “version 1.”  There are rough edges that my developer colleagues have described in their blogs, and the new model does not reduce app dev time by staggering amounts… yet…

But what it does do is accomplish two very important things.  First, the new model opens up the opportunity for developers to extend the functionality and capabilities of SharePoint by building apps using almost any language and toolset of their choice. In the past, becoming a “SharePoint Developer” was a big jump.  Now, the vast majority of coding, particularly at the all-important business logic layer, is done independently of SharePoint.  Data can be stored in SharePoint or elsewhere; and the user experience will be surfaced in SharePoint.   I’m generalizing broadly here, but the take-away is that now lots of developers will have a much easier time building solutions on top of SharePoint and Office 365 (and Office client applications, too).

The second thing the model accomplishes is to give visibility to apps through the SharePoint store.  An enterprise can enable, disable, or create an approval pipeline for app requests from the store; and can supplement the public store with a corporate app catalog. But the store is what matters for today’s discussion.  Now, any app can now reach a potential market of millions of users.  That creates incentive for developers to distribute the solutions they create.  Too many times I’ve seen a consultant deliver an excellent solution to a customer, but they were unwilling or unprepared to distribute it on a broader level, because of the investment it would take to market the solution.  Now, Microsoft is doing that for them.

Over the past months, I’ve been in on lots of discussions with developers and software vendors large and small who are planning amazing apps.  We’re going to get so much out-of-box functionality with SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 that our ability to deliver what our business customers want is going to be entirely different than it was just a short time ago.

And some of the apps will be killer apps.  Case in point: over the last two months, I’ve watched several awards being bestowed on AvePoint and Jeremy Thake for what I consider their killer app: 

MEETINGS FOR SHAREPOINT 2013 finally delivers a solution to something very few businesses do well: manage meetings effectively.  Sure you can schedule meetings with Outlook and Exchange, but what about establishing an agenda, particularly one that is developed over time by attendees?  What about taking and distributing meeting notes, or worse, trying to integrate everyone’s notes after a meeting? What about assigning action items?  What about recurring meetings, and remembering what topics were delayed (“parking lot”ed), or what topics need to be revisited and followed-up?  How about recording a meeting and actually having it be part of the meeting notes?  And what about remembering what decision was made, by whom, and when?

I have to say: about freaking time!  I’m so excited about this app I can hardly stand it.  And how much is it going to cost?  Zilch. Zero. Nada. An enterprise version will be available with more reporting features, but the core functionality will be there for free.  To me, this is a killer app.  It’s something every business should be getting the day it’s released.  If I didn’t already have one, I’d get an Office 365 account solely to use this app, while my organization took its time upgrading to SharePoint 2013 on premise.

Another AvePoint app, MY VIEW, rolls up tasks and calendar entries from across SharePoint, Outlook, and Exchange, into your Exchange task and calendar that can then be exposed through Outlook and on mobile devices (yes, iPads and iPhones, Android and even BlackBerry!).   The sync is two way, and offline caching is provided, so you can manage your life in a single calendar and task list, with the results getting back to the original events and tasks.  Very cool.  And, oh yeah, also free.

You might know that SharePoint 2013 has a task rollup capability out of the box, but only tasks, not calendars.  Furthermore, the out-of-box sync to Exchange requires Exchange 2013.  It’s also limited to one environment (not across hybrid Office 365 and on-prem), and doesn’t support selective task lists—it’s search based so it gets all tasks exposed by search.  So the My View app fills a very real productivity gap in a much richer way than the out-of-box SharePoint 2013 work management service app.

Having worked for AvePoint for a year, ending last spring, it’s particularly exciting for me to see a company that has specialized in enterprise-grade, service management solutions expand into apps like these that touch every business user.  Looking at the app store, today, I see a big increase in the number of apps over just a short time ago. We’re already seeing apps from well-established SharePoint names like Nintex, Pingar, Dell, Idera, HP, Habanero, Metalogix, Metavis, Lightning Tools, along with amazing individuals, like our own Asif Rehmani and Scot Hillier (whose apps will certainly get a preview of their own in the near future). 

It’s going to be an exciting time for businesses, and for SharePoint service organizations, which will have an easier time plugging-and-playing apps from the SharePoint store.

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