The smartest thing Microsoft has done in the last year is to make the announcement and the shift to a “cloud first – mobile first” model. Now that Satya Nadella has taken over as the new CEO, he was able to make this proclamation and it’s starting to pay dividends. Customers and partners are reaping the rewards and Microsoft, as a platform player, is enabling people to connect via any device at any place and any time.
The Cloud Wave
The “cloud first – mobile first” model is akin to the Internet Tidal Wave email that Bill Gates sent 20 years ago. Then – and now – it signaled a change in the way Microsoft saw its own future. It also heralds in a new way for Microsoft partners to engage, support and service the wide base of customers.
This is allowing Microsoft partners, like K2, to create solutions that fit directly into the “cloud first – mobile first” model. K2 has created K2 Appit for SharePoint to enable customers to access their data, forms, workflows and reports on a mobile device. The Appit solution enables mobile users to work where they want, when they want, and on the device they want with a responsive design solution, while allowing other users to connect and work on traditional personal computers. Because Appit has been built in an HTML5, responsive design model, all the end user needs is a device with any modern browser.
One Billion Strong … and Growing
The Microsoft Office suite of products has over one billion users today (source: Microsoft by the Numbers), and the Microsoft Office 365 products continue to gain market share. The rapid adoption of Office 365 is allowing Microsoft to gain new footholds into markets and businesses that previously were unable or unwilling to spend the money to buy the traditional Microsoft Office suite or products.
While there are differences in some of the capabilities available with Microsoft Office and Microsoft Office 365, the core products of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint are still the most commonly used content creation, analysis and presentation programs on the planet. This also includes access to the most common Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system on the planet – Microsoft SharePoint and SharePoint Online.
SharePoint Online allows customers to use the skills they may have already developed with Microsoft SharePoint to support content management in the cloud. Because SharePoint Online is built with the core capabilities of SharePoint on-premise, many of the core functions, such as records management, lightweight workflow, and archival capabilities are still available.
Again, this is a great opportunity for Microsoft partners to extend and enhance solutions that have traditionally been built and delivered as on-premise offerings can now be extended to the cloud. This is a great opportunity for Appit to provide advanced forms, data, workflow and reporting solutions that can help companies build vertical and horizontal solutions.
What about SharePoint Workflow?
One of the questions that comes up quite often is related to the perception that SharePoint workflow is powerful enough to handle advanced workflow scenarios. The simple answer is that the Out of the Box (OOTB) capabilities of SharePoint workflow are relatively powerful yet are typically more oriented to linear workflow steps. Microsoft continues to update the SharePoint workflow capabilities primarily to function in the cloud and also to enable SharePoint workflows to be able to function in a disconnected manner from the SharePoint platform. For a more in depth look at the SharePoint workflow and Workflow Manager model see Getting started with SharePoint Server 2013 workflow (short video).
Of course, as the SharePoint workflow product grows and morphs to adapt to new products and services available from Microsoft and to demands and expectations from customers and partners Microsoft will have the need to deprecate functionality. As such, Microsoft continues to remove features from SharePoint workflow and has, in a sense, relegated the functions to 3rd party tools. This is not unexpected and actually helps the Microsoft partner ecosystem and customers. Microsoft also continues to add functionality – primarily to support the cloud and hybrid models of computing. In the latest release of the SharePoint workflow engine Microsoft has added features, including support for stages, loops and steps. Microsoft has added a Workflow Manager and a Service Bus – both to directly support SharePoint workflows and to support workflow steps that can be activated autonomously from the Sharepoint platform.
SharePoint workflow is not going away. However, Microsoft is still leaving a lot of room for partners to extend the SharePoint platform as well as extend using SQL Server and other Line-of-Business (LOB) applications. As a partner K2 has built the K2 Appit product to work seamlessly with SharePoint workflow. K2’s Appit product is a great way to extend the SharePoint workflow capabilities while adding a lot of needed functionality including forms – both online and offline, rules, reporting, and one of the most important is reusability. You can learn more about reusability and the 3 R’s of Appit here. Another benefit of using K2 Appit is that the experience between online, hybrid and cloud is seamless. Which is important when deploying workflow solutions across departments and divisions. The K2 Appit experiences can be connected directly to existing SharePoint workflows too. Which makes it easy to work with existing investments. All the while maintaining security, ease of use and providing for a span of control from the IT department.
Cloud Security is Not an Oxymoron
Many customers have had concerns that storing their data in the cloud is a risk. Others have expressed concerns about uptime and access to the applications they need to run their business. Microsoft has made a significant commitment to building out data centers to ensure systems are up, running and secure. They do this on a global basis with multiple data centers that provide for redundancy that ensures customers and partners can confidently continue to recommend Microsoft “cloud first – mobile first” solutions.
To help keep Office 365 security at the top of the industry, we use processes and tactics to detect, prevent, and mitigate a security breach before it happens.
~Microsoft Office 365 Trust Center
With this shift in strategy, Microsoft takes advantage of the fact that over 1 billion users are familiar with the Office suite of products and many of them are ready and willing to embrace the cloud.
The shift is excellent news for every business that wants to take advantage of cloud computing and for companies that support these businesses. Microsoft partners are investing to help insure their customers stay connected and secure – whether they are working on-premise, in the cloud and especially in hybrid scenarios. K2 Appit for SharePoint has been designed to make it easy for end users to create no code solutions that include SharePoint lists while creating easy-to-use forms, workflow, data and reports in a secure, predictable and repeatable environment.
One of the biggest challenges has been the perception that information stored in the cloud is at risk. This is not an article ostensibly about security, but a key point about security is that many breaches occur from people within the organization – either via directly seeking to cause data breaches or indirectly by clicking on malware or otherwise accidentally providing access to hackers.
If any company thinks they can manage a better data center than Microsoft, they are deluding themselves.
– Joel Oleson at the SharePoint TechCon event in Austin
The Cloud is Good for Business
Microsoft and their change in mentality is at the forefront of what a lot of organizations must face every day related to older bring your own device (BYOD) mentality and the new paradigm shift for bring your own application (BYOA) model of computing.
The cloud has opened up conversations about the security of data, the collection of information, and the distribution of content. In the early days of BYOD, end-users would bring in their favorite devices to the office and into the field. In the current state we are seeing more of a BYOA model of computing, where employees have already gotten used to using whatever device they prefer.
Now, employees are starting to bring the applications they prefer into the mix. More and more, we are seeing apps related to productivity, such as DocuSign and TripIt, come into the mix. In the coming year, I predict we will begin to see more business process automation (BPA) solutions. In fact, it’s already happening. This is what Appit was designed for. We are seeing customers building solutions to address vertical and horizontal solution scenarios.
The New World Order
Customers expect it. Microsoft is making it possible by extending their platform. Partners are building solutions to help customer address both new and old business challenges. The “cloud first – mobile first” way is becoming a reality and it seems the big decision from Microsoft’s new CEO is paying off. The next few years will see massive increases in the use of technology – both hardware and software – to capture, share, and consume data in ways never possible before.
Jeff Shuey is an expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He is an international speaker and writer on the Intersection of People and Process in Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), Captaris, Open Text, Kofax, Kodak and Gimmal and is currently the Chief Evangelist at K2. (Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook)
Photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg