Thoughts on ‘In the New World Order, Microsoft’s Biggest Competition is IT’

09-11-2013 9-20-36 AMThere’s an excellent article on WindowsITPro, posted on September 5, 2013, by Rod Trent called In the New World Order, Microsoft’s Biggest Competition is IT.

I encourage you to read the article in its entirety, but a few bits stand out for me.

…for [Microsoft’s Cloud offerings] to actually work, Microsoft also has to alter how things have generally been done. Microsoft has a large speed bump on the way to glory that has to be eliminated before companies will move to the Cloud en masse. That speed bump is IT.

and

…Microsoft has been looking for just the right moment over the past decade where they could literally supply complete IT services for every business out there. Technology has evolved, the Cloud has become ever-present, and Microsoft believes the time is right.

Bell Curve

image from UPDConsulting.com

One thing that is sure in all of this: “The Cloud” is a disruptive technology that most IT departments are still trying to figure out. As with all capabilities, there are “good” and “bad” IT departments and everything in between.

If Microsoft can support organizations better than the left half of the capability bell curve, then they can take over huge swaths of the IT world. The problem for those organizations is that moving back or forth is expensive, so they can get trapped into a model that may or may not work for them. That captive set of customers becomes Microsoft’s cash cow customers. Even with poor services and support, they are stuck there.

However, there’s a lot that Microsoft must do to make this work as they try to assimilate IT departments toward the middle or right on the bell curve. They need to have *better* services than those IT departments can provide. So far, the Office365 service hasn’t been providing that. Many organizations that move there are dissatisfied and some are moving back. “World class” service or “financially backed SLAs” mean nothing when your email is down or you can’t access SharePoint for weeks on end because an API is broken or migrated data isn’t accessible. Getting your money back for that downtime doesn’t cover even the most basic lost revenues or increased costs. At least in-house, one can fire someone; in The Cloud, no one hears you scream.

Perhaps the premise of the article seems far-fetched, but I don’t think so. Microsoft is looking for the Next Great Wave of revenue, and they may well see things as black and white as the article puts forward. As Microsoft’s customers, we all need to be testing their claims on a daily basis and making good decisions for our own needs and for our own requirements. Just because the marketing material for The Cloud looks good and all of the IT-related outlets are talking about it all the time doesn’t mean that it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Keeping up with the Joneses is not an IT strategy.

SPTechCon Boston 2012 Follow Up

SPTechCon Boston 2012The SharePoint Technology Conference (SPTechCon) has always been one of my favorite SharePoint conferences. It was the first big conference I ever spoke at, and the folks at BZMedia(where’s Katie’s photo???) who put it on are all aces, every single one of them.

I only did one session at the latest iteration in Boston because I totally forgot to submit anything before the deadline. On the day of the deadline, I begged a little bit and David Rubinstein relented and slid me in. Since it was almost literally in my backyard, I didn’t want to miss out! Next time in San Francisco, I hope to do a workshop or two as well as some “regular sessions”.

My session in Boston was one that I’ve been doing different versions of over the last year or so called Flying in the Cloud: New Ways to Develop for SharePoint. It’s different every time because I am always adding new examples based on the client work I’ve been doing.

In the session, I talked about some of the ways I’ve been building things in SharePoint way back to the early SharePoint 2007 days, when I worked for what I call Jornata I (ask Scott Jamison or Mauro Cardarelli about those heady days). To me it’s not a new way of working, but with SharePoint 2013 coming along with its new app model, it’s becoming almost fashionable to use things like jQuery, Web Services, DVWPs, XSL, and CSS. You know, that “no code” stuff.

If you’re interested in the demos I showed, I’ve packaged them into a couple of WSPs which you can download and instantiate in your own environment if you’d like. Additionally, for each of the examples, I’ve done other blog posts which describe what I did and how they work, along with the code. If you can’t find the posts, feel free to ping me via the contact for or on Twitter (@sympmarc) and I can shoot you a link for what you’re looking for.

From Annoyance to Harmonizer: Cloud Computing’s Maturity Curve

There’s an interesting article over on Forbes.com today from Joe McKendrick called From Annoyance to Harmonizer: Cloud Computing’s Maturity Curve.

Those who know me would probably say that I’m no shrinking violet in my commenting on articles on the Web, but I read a lot of articles that don’t provoke me to comment. This one did.

The article talks about, in part, the impact on IT departments of cloud computing efforts initiated by the business without IT’s support or buy-in.

Here’s what I had to say about that.

With the majority of my consulting clients “the IT department workarounds — to get applications up and running faster, or to get around IT departments” is a serious trend. IT departments can’t complain about those end runs unless they can provide viable alternatives. If IT doesn’t support the business sufficiently, the business goes elsewhere.

I work almost exclusively with Microsoft SharePoint. Even where SharePoint is rolled out as a corporate platform for collaboration, the Intranet, whatever, IT often sidles away once the servers are up and kicking. This can be because they don’t really have the skills to work collaboratively with their user base or simply because the budget isn’t there to do much more. Whatever the reason may be, if the platform isn’t supported and enhanced over time to meet new business needs, the users may turn to something like Google Docs instead. This makes the initial investment a waste and further degrades the IT reputation.

Get out of the server rooms and sit with your business users. Find out what they really need to get their work done. Don’t write huge specs; work collaboratively with them to build what will help them get their work done. Watch for patterns across different user bases and develop generalized solutions that can be tailored to meet specific needs. Be proactive. Lead.

I recommend the article for its interesting statistics as well.

When it comes to SharePoint’s maturity curve, you’ll be doing yorself a favor if you check out the SharePoint Maturity Model, invented, built, and maintained by the wonderful Sadie Van Buren (@sadalit).

Tonight’s Forecast: Cloudy with a Side of SharePoint

I just got back from a nice little event put together by our friends over at SoftArtisans called “Cloudy with a Side of SharePoint”. It was a freeform discussion at a local beer pub on all sorts of topics, but nominally “What’s up with SharePoint in the cloud?”.

Of course, you can get a bunch of techies together over beers without the conversation ranging all over the place (it was great to catch up with some folks I haven’t seen in a while), but we did indeed talk about SharePoint in the cloud.

Some of the more interesting takeaways for me…

Having servers in the cloud where novice developers can’t break things very easily (the sandbox is *supposed* to make that the case) means that the number of developers expected to start working with SharePoint over the next 3 to 5 years may be more possible. As more and more techies jump onto the SharePoint bandwagon – it’s everywhere, don’t you know – we have the danger of even more horribly badly implemented solutions than we’ve had in the past. SharePoint is a truly huge beast and it takes a *very* long time to get good with it. By adding a protective barrier between SharePoint and these newbies, the ecosystem may grow more safely and even faster.

The possibility of increased uptime because “the cloud” is a dedicated service (we were generally lumping together Office365 with FPWeb in the conversation tonight, but there are other good shops as well) with highly trained people running it (we hope, and so we’re told) can certainly be appealing. Interestingly, no one I talk to really seems to care about the “money back guarantee” behind Office365. After all, if it’s down, it’s down, and if your content goes missing, the money you get back certainly won’t cover it.

Finally, as we went around the table, it was interesting that even in a relatively small group there are very different views on what “SharePoint in the cloud” means as well as the impact it may have on each of us. The small-shop, high end consultants worry about developing in Office365’s sandbox and what it takes away; the partners who develop products see issues when it comes to licensing and as well as new opportunities; and of course there’s me, thinking that the cloud doesn’t change a heck of a lot about how I think of SharePoint, though there may be more people interested in the courses I teach at USPJA.

It was great to join in the banter with Ian Dicker, Ryan Thomas, Rob Windsor (Rob is infiltrating the US from his native Canada and his incursions have not gone unnoticed. First BASPUG last night and then CWASOS tonight.), Mike Gilronan, and Claire D. Willett, Ben Jones, and David Wihl from SoftArtisans. Unfortunately I was a little late and missed my pal Sadie Van Buren who had to cut out before I got there.

And no, there was no BAITR tonight, at least not at my end of the table.

p.s. Claire called it both CWACOS *and* CWASOS, so I’m right either way. She and Ben want it to be a monthly thing, so stay tuned if you’re in the Boston area…

Office365 Makes Developing in SharePoint’s Middle Tier More Relevant

If you’ve stuck your head out from under your rock at all recently, you’ve heard about Office365. There was a huge hullabaloo in NYC and elsewhere yesterday to accompany the “big announcement” (which most of us have been hearing about for probably six months now) as Microsoft launched Office365 globally .

It may not surprise you to know that the reason I’m excited about Office365 has little to do with Office365 itself. Office365 is simply SharePoint (with Office, Exchange, and Lync too, but I’m all about SharePoint) in “the cloud”. Some of us have been using SharePoint in the cloud for a long time already, through the good work of people like FPWeb. In fact, I’ve had my Sympraxis Consulting site in the cloud with FPWeb since late 2008 and it’s where I do all of my SPServices development as well as where I host my public-facing site. (Yeah, my public-facing site for Sympraxis is a bit tired; it serves me little purpose in the grand scheme of things, though is is where you can see my demos and such.)

So why does Office365 have me excited? Why, its limitations, of course! For every whine I hear from a “real” SharePoint developer, I see an opportunity for a SharePoint Middle Tier developer. All of the Middle Tier development techniques work great with hosted SharePoint, regardless where it is, because we don’t need to touch the server. All of our code (XSL, XML, CSS, jQuery, JavaScript) goes into the database just like any other content.

So if your organization is thinking about moving to the cloud, seriously think about which business requirements you can fulfill by developing in SharePoint’s Middle Tier.  Read the white paper called The Middle Tier Manifesto: An Alternative Approach to Development with Microsoft SharePoint which I wrote last April and see if it doesn’t start to make a little more sense now that you’re thinking about cloud computing. (Yes, I can be prone to saying “I told you so”, but I won’t do it this time.)

My recent survey about SPServices usage (more details on those results will be forthcoming) says that 26% of SPServices users may be heading in the cloud direction, and they are already well-equipped to take advantage of it.

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Here comes a shameless plug for a business I’m a part of and extremely passionate about. If you’d like to learn more about Middle Tier development techniques, consider taking one of my courses at USPJ Academy. I currently have three courses available in both collaborative and self-paced versions which cover SharePoint’s Middle Tier:

  • Data View Web Part Basics
  • Enhancing the User Experience with jQuery
  • Introduction to the SharePoint Web Services

So hurray for Office365!