Tag Archive for apps

The Power of the Perfected 80% Solution

Sure, we all want exactly the right app for our needs.  But, our needs today are usually not the requirements of next month.  People change, processes change, needs change.  So, does it work to buy the “100% solution” today?  Let’s explore how CorasWorks Apps on SharePoint are really designed to be a perfected 80% solution.

The CorasWorks App Store is filled with off the shelf apps.  Each can be put to use immediately and has extensive documentation.  This applies to apps from CorasWorks and independent publishers.  You’d kind of think that what you are getting as a 100% solution.  I guess that is true at the start.  But, the reality is that they are designed to be the perfected 80% solution.  Now, in the software industry, the “80% solution” has had a bad rap, meaning that really what the vendor is shipping is just short on features and then the customer actually has to spend lots of money to custom build what they really need.

Our approach is different.  It is a solution for the perfected 80% solution that actually addresses the downstream 20% by design, in advance.  And, this is actually even more valuable.

To me, this is what makes the perfected 80% solution for apps on SharePoint:

 First, it seems to be all there to start.  It works out of the box and addresses a single need – cleanly.  The core design is complete and the documentation makes it easy to be a user.  It feels like 100%.  But, think of it as the base…

 Second, it is easy to customize.  You can have it your way.  It is easy to do things like change the color scheme, add, remove, or rename fields, shows different columns, change their displayed labels (surprisingly just missing in most apps), pre-filter, add conditional formatting. etc..  This is the typical province of the customization part of most apps that profess to take you from 80% to your 100%.  But, with CorasWorks it is truly easy to do, supported by a very rich set of options, and, it is just the beginning of YOUR 100%. 

 Third, you get to add your own features.  This is where our 80% solution rally breaks from the app pack.  At the start and over time, you want to add features that aren’t in the app.  The fact is that your 100% solution changes over time – it is a moving target.  Imagine using Salesforce.com or any app and you want to add new features.  These features are completely new, maybe even using completely different information.  Can you do it in a few clicks?  With CorasWorks you can. Here are some examples:

-  Example 1: You are working on projects.  You want users to be able to select all of their tasks done for a week, mark them complete (changing 3 fields) and then email the project manager.  You want them to do it in one step.  With CorasWorks, you just create an Action and add it to a display.  Instant productivity.

-  Example 2:  You want to be able to take documents from one or more workspaces and publish them into a “Knowledge Base Review Process”.  Just create an Action and add it to your Workspace template.

- Example 3: You are a marketing manager.  Your users work on marketing campaigns where they subcontract vendors.  You want to add a shared resource to the environment that shows pre-approved vendors and contact information.  This is configured in one place as a Snaplet.  Then, the Snaplet web part is dropped on a tab in any project or added to your project template. Instantly, everyone sees the vendor information from within their workspace.

The ability to add new features is really the kicker for the perfected 80% solution.  You are in control of the app and where it evolves to.  Example 1 is a feature that enhances the app to increase end user productivity.  Example 2 is a feature that connects workspaces or apps across the environment.  Example 3 is a feature that creates a centrally configured, shared resource and allows you to distribute it across the environment.

Each of these is done easily, using point & click wizards.  When you create one feature for one app, you can then reuse this feature to add to any other apps (point #4, added features are re-usable).

 So why is 80% better than 100%?

Because at the start, you don’t know what you don’t know.  The perfected 80% solution actually incorporates by design the necessary flexibility and ease to customize an app and to add (or even turn off) features.  It has a vast set of options, that are easy to do, and manageable as part of an environment.  Any app dropped into a SharePoint environment that is really useful will end up being connected with other apps, portals, dashboards, workspaces, consoles, etc.  They simply should change as your people learn ways to work better together.  With the perfected 80% solution from CorasWorks and our independent publishers, you can get to and stay at YOUR 100% solution even as your needs change.

Feel free to test it out on us.  Next time you chat with someone at CorasWorks ask them for a few ideas about what someone may want to do next with a given app, how long it would take, and how it is done.  It’s a great way to get a different perspective of where you may want to go before you get there.

william  

Tipping Point? Structured Business Apps vs. Unstructured Collaboration

There must be something in the air.  Yes, fall is here, but, there is more.  Over the last couple of months, I have had a surge of customers and prospects that have come to me and said that they want a structured business application environment on SharePoint.  The volume and intensity mark a change.  Is it a tipping point?  Let’s talk about it.

CorasWorks has been pushing the idea of business apps on SharePoint from the beginning in 2003.  It was perhaps a bit radical back then.  It isn’t that there is anything wrong with unstructured collaboration and our software certainly supports it.  It is just that ultimately we see the real business value of SharePoint as structured business apps in a web-based work environment with a layer of unstructured collaboration to support the work.  This is our real workplace vision for real business value.

But honestly, over the last 6 years, we’ve simply not had the volume or intensity of people that come to us and tell us that what they really want is a structured work environment of business apps on SharePoint.  Particularly, from our customers.  It is as if a light just went off and our customers are now strongly asking for what we thought we have been selling and supporting for years.

I can’t say that I fully understand why this is.  But, here is my gut take which is why I am writing this article. 

Over the last 6 months, we have released an entire new software platform (v10.x) to support app management, customization and integration, we have created the online CorasWorks Community, we have built out the App Store, we and our third-party publishers have released a slew of very functional, well documented, plug and play apps, and, we released the AppEngine as a low cost runtime environment for apps.  We did all of these things to invert the model of getting to value on SharePoint – we put immediate business value first in the form of plug and play structured business apps that deliver right away.

What its really done is act as a lightning rod for latent demand.  At the same time we’ve been hearing about the iPhone and 1 or 2 billion downloaded apps, and with the economy there is just a lot more talk and thinking about real business value.

Our customers are downloading and using the apps and others are seeing what we mean when we say business value in minutes.  In effect, our customers and the market are beginning to believe that the story is now a reality.  As such, they are coming to us and saying “Okay, now you proved that it is possible and practical – let me tell you what I really want….”

You might say that I smell a tipping point, for CorasWorks, our customers, and, the SharePoint community.  When it tips, customers will simply expect that they can have plug and play business value, with low cost apps, as part of a standardized environment.  All of the sudden the SharePoint community will rise out of the muck of infrastructure, bits and bytes, knobs and switches, custom code, even collaboration and document file shares, etc. and be talking apps, business value, productivity, and process.

There will always be room for collaboration – it is good.  But, I think that in our space business apps will ultimately drive the web-based workplace with collaboration playing a supporting role.  So, speak up and tell me what you are thinking?

Oh, and I love the smell of fall,

william

App Store Apps: FREE to CW Customers on PASM

About half of the apps in the App Store are published by CorasWorks.  Of these CW apps, half have a list price.  However, if you are a CorasWorks customer on Premier Annual Support & Maintenance (PASM) , they are FREE to you.  The way the ecommerce checkout works it may not appear that they are Free.  So, lets walk through it.

 

 The Real Short Story

To get the CW Apps for FREE:

-  you need to be a CorasWorks Customer on active Premier Support & Maintenance (PASM)

-  you need to be logged into the Community

-  you need to be a CorasWorks Administrator (one of the people with rights to download CorasWorks software (the bits) from My Place)

 

The Longer Version

Most of our customers are on PASM.  As part of PASM, you get the apps published by CorasWorks in the App Store for FREE.  If you are not on PASM, then, you need to pay list for the apps.

All apps to be downloaded, whether they have a list price or are free all go through the same checkout process. You add them to your cart, go to checkout, then, you download them.

If you go to the App Store and you are not logged into the Community, then, all of the apps will show their standard list price when you add them to your cart.  This includes those apps published by CorasWorks that should be free to you as a customer on PASM.

Thus, whenever you go to the App Store, it is important that you first log in.  This is the only way for our system to know that you are a PASM customer and if you are the CorasWorks Administrator with rights to download apps.  This needs some explanation. 

CorasWorks Administrators are the people that we have on record that have download rights to CorasWorks software bits via My Place (formerly Central).  While the apps are different (being DLL-Free software vs. software product bits), only the CorasWorks Administrators are known by our system to be people that have PASM rights.  So, the way it works is as follows:

-  if you are the CorasWorks Administrator, log in, and when you add CW Apps to your cart that have a list price, they will show up as FREE.

-  If you are a customer of CorasWorks on PASM, but, not the account administrator, when you add CW apps to your cart, they will show a price. 

-  If you would like to be added as a CorasWorks Administrator, please make this request of your administrator. 

-  If you don’t know who this is, then, send an email to support@corasworks.net and we will figure this out for you.

 

We hope that this clarifies how it works. 

william

“Ready-for-Work” App Certification – The Process and the Value to You

Each of the apps in the App Store goes through a CorasWorks “Ready-for-Work” app certification process.  This includes apps published by third parties and CorasWorks that are built with CorasWorks and run in a CorasWorks on SharePoint environment.  In this article, we’ll review the standards, our process, and, how this translates into value for you.

 

“Ready-for-Work” Standards

To be certified as a CorasWorks Ready-for-Work app it has to meet a number of standards as follows:

  • it must be productized, meaning packaged, downloadable, and usable “out-of-the-box”
  • it cannot contain any custom DLL’s that require installation (it must be “DLL-Free”)
  • it must be portable, meaning that it can be downloaded and installed and used without requiring manual configuration of components for URL changes
  • it must contain documentation that is deemed adequate for the scope of the app
  • it must install in a normal manner (by normal we mean in accordance with the standards of CorasWorks and Microsoft SharePoint)
  • it needs to work in accordance with the documentation
  • it must meet the basic CorasWorks standards to be able to be customized and connected to other apps and the environment using CorasWorks wizards

 

Our Process

Each app is run through a process.  We review the package, install the app, deploy it, and put it through its paces in accordance with the documentation.  Now, with that said, we are only validating that it works without errors.  Our process is not intended to review the application for its suitability for purpose or to judge it.  However, we do sometimes write our own reviews of apps or promote them – these you can take as de facto endorsements of the app.

 

Are all apps “Ready-for-Work”?

At this time they are.  All of the apps in the App Store are by default Ready-for-Work certified.  However, we will have apps from publishers that contain custom code.  When they are published, we will note the app as a Custom app with an icon on the listing and detail pages, and, a notation in the Specs.

 

Why Ready-for-Work Apps are valuable?

So, what does Ready-for-Work certification mean to you?  Here are a few ways that this translates into greater value and lower cost and risks.

- They work – The apps will run on your CorasWorks on SharePoint environment – whether you are running the AppEngine, the Workplace Suite, or the Toolset – they are certified to run out of the box.

- Supportable by the Ecosystem – If they meet the standard then CorasWorks or any CorasWorks professional can support the apps.  This vastly reduces publisher risk.

- Portability – This has two benefits. First, that the app is easy to install and get started.  Second, that its configuration means that it is portable within your environment. This is important if you are running apps through a build, test, deploy process.  By being portable it means that you can promote the app into the next stage without having to reconfigure for URL changes.  This reduces costs and improves manageability.

- Lower Cost and Risk with DLL-Free Apps – You can use any apps from any publisher without having to install and support custom dll’s.  It also means that your entire app environment is effectively supported by CorasWorks.  It is our responsibility to move the app platform forward to the next version of SharePoint (2010) and to manage the app code base.

- Customizable and Connectable – You know that the apps can be customized and connected to other apps and your environment using the standard CorasWorks wizards and methodology.  This reduces your costs and gives you the power to move your apps forward on your own.

 

The bottom line is that an environment of CorasWorks certified “Ready-for-Work” apps can have many apps from many different publishers and they will all work on the same standards and be able to be customized and connected to meet your changing needs.  Effectively, CorasWorks is able to stand behind all of the apps and take responsibility for moving the underlying app platform forward onto new versions of SharePoint.

We did a good job of protecting our customers’ investments as they went from SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007.  By having the Ready-for-Work certification we are able to do the same as we plan to move from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 next year – the difference is that we are now effectively supporting an ecosystem of third party publishers, as well as, apps from CorasWorks and custom built by customers and services partners.

 

william

AppEngine for SharePoint – Quick Intro

This week, we released the AppEngine for SharePoint.  This new product is a key piece of our go forward product line.  In this intro article I’ll cover what it is, what you can do with it, and what is in it.

 

 What is it?

The AppEngine provides you with an extensive “app” runtime system for SharePoint.  It enables organizations to add immediate business value through plug-and-play apps.  It is a product you install onto SharePoint 2007 (WSS or MOSS) and it enables you to run any apps that can be built using the Workplace Suite.  You can run apps from any CorasWorks App Store app publisher, apps that you build, or apps that you contract to be built for you.  In addition, it allows you to customize all apps and to connect up apps and your entire SharePoint environment (including, CW-based apps, all team sites, other types of sites, and any other apps from anyone).

This product is now the first step in the CorasWorks application stack.  It is priced differently – $4k for the first server and $8k for unlimited servers and users on a farm.  This means that you can scale out your SharePoint production environment with the AppEngine without ANY additional costs.

 

What can you do with it?

First, you can use plug-and-play apps built for the AppEngine.  Standard types of “apps” consist of team sites/workspaces, business processes, departmental apps, project-based apps, department-group-role-and-personal dashboards, portals, and others.  Visit the See Apps In Action library to see video demonstrations of a sample of apps in the App Store from CorasWorks and application publisher partners that run on the AppEngine.

Second, you can extensively customize the apps.  The AppEngine comes with the CorasWorks Display Wizard used to customize all navigation, displays, and data connections of plug-and-play apps and components that you create.  Yes, you can create your own display web parts and navigation to add functionality to your native SharePoint sites, business applications, dashboards, portals, etc..  The product contains extensive documentation and online resources to make it easy.

Third, you can connect apps and build your own “front end” solutions connected to apps and team sites across your environment.  You can create your own custom dashboards, portals, my sites, extranets, task-specific consoles, and cross-app connections.  These  types of “apps” are typically custom designed; the AppEngine makes them easy to create,  to customize, and to connect everything up.

You connect things together through the data, through structural connections such as global navigation and line-of-site hierarchies, and through action based task automation, distributed application functionality, and connected workstreams.  The AppEngine is used to connect all apps and information across the entire SharePoint environment (across data types, sites, site collections, web applications).  The sites/apps may be built using CorasWorks, just native SharePoint, custom built, or, off-the-shelf from a 3rd party vendor – it doesn’t matter.  With the AppEngine you can connect them all to create a dynamic, integrated, manageable work environment.

 

What is in it?

It contains the full core CorasWorks v10 Modular Application System – the same as in the Workplace Suite.  Thus, it contains the same data engine, display engine, management engine, and custom actions framework.  It contains the full display set for Grids, Calendars, Charts and Navigation.  It supports the full set of custom Action types and forms.  It contains the Display Wizard and supports Global Links, Lock Down, Central Views, Snaplets, Central Configuration & Management and One Touch configuration – powerful system level features of the Workplace Suite.

The difference is that you don’t use it to design and build apps with custom business functionality, end-user task automation or system activities.  It doesn’t include the Builder Wizards from the Workplace Suite, the Timer and Triggers framework, the ability for end-users/site owners to Add or Remove actions from displays or attach Central Views, and, the higher level design and management features of the Workplace Suite.  It does allow you to connect to Toolset and any other XML data streams from across your SharePoint workplace or the cloud, but, the Toolset is sold separately.

 

Summary

The AppEngine for SharePoint is a very powerful runtime system for “apps” on SharePoint.  It is the front-end piece of the CorasWorks application stack.  It is priced to enable organizations of all sizes to immediately get the business value of plug-and-play apps as part of a fully connected work environment on SharePoint without having to worry about additional costs as they scale.

We’ll be drilling down into various aspects of the AppEngine, Apps, and the CorasWorks App Stack in future articles, stay tuned…

william 

CW Apps: Local vs. One Touch Configuration

CorasWorks and partners are releasing more and more apps to the App Store.  Typically, the business applications are being provided in one of two basic configurations – Local or One Touch.  I’ll briefly cover the differences between the two.

 

Local configuration is the classic way of providing portable apps.  By portable, we mean apps that can be built by a partner, and then, shipped to a customer, installed and used – without major configuration.  The Time Off Management app by R3 Business Solutions is an example.  The app is self-contained and ships as a single application template with all functionality.  Technically, the various application features are all configured to work with the data that is stored within the application site itself.  This makes it very portable and easy to install and use.  The end-user is free to customize the configurations, but, it is very easy to get started with.  In addition, local configuration is very useful for apps where you will have many separate instances.  Examples of these are the CorasWorks Our Workspace and the Add-Ons.

 

One Touch configuration is a new type of application configuration that is possible using the new v10 of the CorasWorks Workplace Suite.  Typically, these applications have two parts that are separate application templates.  One is an “application configuration site” and the other is the production site that holds the data.  Examples of these are the CorasWorks Department Dashboard and the Help Desk with Self-Service.  There are a number of benefits to a One Touch configuration as follows:

 

- Application Management – An application owner has control over the app, via the ACS site, and thus, the users can be prevented from “messing” with the app functionality

 

- Centralized Application Governance – You can have many ACS sites for different apps in a centralized site collection with control, even though the production apps themselves are distributed across your SharePoint environment (different site collections and web apps)

 

- Multi-Site Central Configuration Management – You can have a single ACS site, which is centrally configured, that serves as the basis for multiple sites.  this is very useful in situations where you have multiple instances of sites where you want consistency, such as our Department Dashboard or multiple project sites for a single program

 

- Distributed Application Functionality – The One Touch configuration enables you to distribute application functionality across your SharePoint environment.  (See my blog on the Self-Service Snaplets of the Help Desk).  Effectively, you can “snap off” any functionality from a production site and distribute it to portals, dashboards, my sites, or other apps.  Users are able to work wherever is convenient while working with the production app information.  Most importantly, the application manager can make one change to the ACS site and the many distributed UI’s will immediately update. 

 

The key technologies that power the One Touch Configuration are Global Links, Central Views, Lock Down Manager, and CorasWorks Central Configuration.  Using these features it is easy to build apps in a One Touch configuration and very easy to install them and even to distribute the application functionality.

 

For many apps, you’ll see CorasWorks publishing both a Local and a One Touch version.  However, certain apps lend themselves to one approach or the other. The short guideline is:

 

- Local configuration is for apps where you’ll be using it for multiple unrelated instances.  Great for workspaces, add-ons, and, business apps that would apply to different departments.

 

- One Touch configuration is where you want a more controlled environment, multiple instances of an app which are related, or the ability to distribute application functionality.

 

william

 

Check out the new CorasWorks App Store for plug-and-play apps for CorasWorks/SharePoint!