I spent a great deal of time in January talking with customers. We did a lot of show and tell, mostly our customers showing what they have done using CorasWorks on SharePoint. They cover a very broad range of solutions. A common desire was to learn what others are doing. In this blog, I’ll go over the general classes of solutions that customers are implementing using CorasWorks to drive value on SharePoint. In following articles, I’ll drill down into specific customer solutions and the business value.
Ways that Customers are Putting SharePoint to Work
In this section I’ll give you a sense of the different ways that customers are leveraging CorasWorks to put SharePoint to work by looking at general classes of solutions. This is a bit of a “state of the union” as it reflects where they are today.
Investing in Work on top of Content – A lot of time, money and resources still go into the basic SharePoint infrastructure to support file sharing and good looking, and largely passive, content environments like Intranets. Our customers tend to drive value when they break out of the general content environment context, and, focus on specific work to be done, i.e., apps. The delta is just a mindset: is SharePoint an application for content or is it an application platform to get work done and drive your business. Thus, with CorasWorks, often either a business group drives the requirements or an IT organization does a really nice job of demand management and on-ramping applications onto the platform. In effect, what is happening is the consolidation of business applications onto the SharePoint platform which a) reduces costs and avoids costs, b) promotes reusability, and c) gives them the value of the app and the value of apps working together across a common work environment. But note, most of our customers also have nice looking Intranets, they just don’t focus on it.
Self-Service Work Management – With CorasWorks, basic work management is simply the ability to see, contribute, and act with information from anywhere. It is about doing structured work where you can control what users see, what they can and can’t do, and automate the work that they need and want to do. The basics are forms, displays, actions, and workflow/notifications that structure and automate the work of users. With CorasWorks and our wizards, creating these work management applets is a snap, basically, self-service apps done by business users. The majority of our customers are leveraging this broadly across their environments.
Project Work – This is really a staple of SharePoint and CorasWorks. It is an extension of work management. Many customers start with our straight-forward, pretty much out of the box, project portfolio approach where they have a portfolio dashboard and multiple project sites. With our pre-packaged Project Portfolio Management solution customers are moving up a notch to a more robust and out of the box feature rich solution for project work that is supported as a product. There is now a rather new trend to leverage our collaboration features with project work for enterprise wide, project collaboration. In many cases we are finding the new style of project collaboration, that is easy, interactive, and convenient, to be what people really want. Further, at the high end customers are creating custom “executive information systems” that surface project work and work in other project systems (like Microsoft Project/Server), SharePoint apps and external systems. With project work, our customers often implement multiple solutions up an down this continuum. We just make it much easier, standardized, and less costly to get this done.
Processes and LOB Apps – This is also a staple of CorasWorks customers. Using our standard app framework, customers spin up apps to get work done. A common one is a Help Desk. This often morphs into Request processes, ticketing systems, approval processes. With CorasWorks, it is easy for customers to create processes/apps that follow a stage-activity-gate structure. The work flows through stages. At each stage there is activity. We structure and automate what the user does and can do at a point. As required we fire off notifications, flow the work to different user consoles, and/or kick off workflows to support the process. These solutions may be simple point solutions, or, they can be very broad processes such as a multi-stage, multi-year, innovation process. Yet, they are easy to create, change, enhance, and maintain.
Purposeful Collaboration – You’d really think that by now, most SharePoint users would have effective collaborative environments. In truth, for most, collaboration is still sharing files within a team site, assuming they know it exists, have access, and, the will to navigate. Or, with SharePoint 2010 it could be social networking or social activity. Leveraging the newish CorasWorks collaboration solutions, customers are putting in place very effective, purposeful collaboration systems. These are systems with specific collaborative apps for knowledge, team work, project work, ideas, processes, news, policies etc. Each collaborative app has a purpose and becomes a visible and interactive resource across the environment that is easy, convenient, and interactive. Very slick, very collaborative, but, focused on the purpose.
Blending of Collaboration and Work Management – This is newish as we’ve rolled out the collaboration solutions. However, many customers are getting the hang of solutions that blend collaboration and work management. At the core is the idea of having structured work with a broad collaborative footprint. For instance, you might have the whole organization able to enter Product Change Requests and collaborate. They then get feed into a Product Team to slice and dice and put to work. Or, the inverse, you may have a small group that manages HR/Corporate Policies through a review and approval process that then publishes them out to the organization and enables people to comment, ask questions and interact. The collaborative and process activity is all feed into users business activity streams so that they can easily know what is going on with what matters and act on it.
Deep, Unique Applications – Particularly leveraging the “Advanced” toolset now in CorasWorks v11, customers are building very deep, custom applications. They may use SharePoint data, a database, or a mash-up of enterprise data, applications, and services. The value is the CorasWorks 80/20/20 value proposition. 80% is CorasWorks COTS software. 20% is the customer getting just the features that they want. The other 20% is the ability of the customer to continuously improve and extend the app. Since, all of this can now be done on the CorasWorks v11 platform, we take care of the dll’s and upgrading – no new compiled code. The result is that customers are able to create unique applications that drive competitive differentiation in a fraction of the time, risk and cost.
Broad, Distributed Work Systems – Certain customers are realizing fantastic benefits with distributed work systems that incorporate multiple activities across different phases of a workstream and allow people to engage from wherever they work. Examples are Idea & Innovation systems, Project Portfolio systems, and Capture/Bid/Manage/Deliver workstreams. These systems often have many sites, different processes at different phases, and, are loosely connected. Because of this they also allow for great innovation and extension. It would seem to be a natural for a SharePoint environment. In fact, I find it hard to imagine how such systems would be designed and implemented on any other platform. This provides a big competitive advantage. Yet, at this time most organizations just can’t wrap their minds and hearts around this. Those that have are really rocking.
Dashboards, Interactive Work, Virtual Slideshows and the Apps – It is two sides of the coin: the app and the UI that enables top down visibility and interactive work. Powered by the “Advanced” toolset, customers are creating very slick, interactive ways of surfacing information and getting work done. They are using SharePoint as the host, but, incorporating data from SharePoint and external data, applications, and systems. The secret sauce is the CorasWorks v11 “Advanced” toolset that allows them to structure the “middle-ware” in a SharePoint context. They can also create apps in SharePoint using CorasWorks for people to do their work that get surfaced. Because of CorasWorks’ flexibility, customers are able to evolve these systems as the need arises and do so much more quickly, easily, and for less cost.
What we have done to help our customers succeed
Let me start by saying that in most cases, success is customer driven. Our most successful customers have people that know what they want and use us to get there. You folks are the subject matter experts and the heroes of your success. With that said, here are a few things that we have done that customers tell us have helped them succeed…
CorasWorks v11 Base Improvements – we did a lot of base work for this release which first came out in October of 2010. It is going into v11.2 in March 2012. A couple basic items are improved installation and upgrade process, greater system integration, enhanced native SharePoint integration such as actions directly driving Windows Workflow Foundation, and 100’s of small features. It is also great that the same product runs on SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010 which has made it easy for customers to migrate.
Adding “Advanced” Toolset to v11 – In v11 we added the Advanced toolset into the product. This provides customers with the ability to greatly enhance and extend what they do. It includes a componentized middle-ware framework, an XML transport layer, and provides a great deal of flexibility at all tiers, UI, business logic, and data. This has allowed our customers to achieve just about whatever they want.
Our Pre-Packaged Solution “Frameworks” – Over the last couple of years we have built pre-packaged solutions for Collaboration, Process, LOB Apps, Idea Management and Project Management. These solutions make it easier to get to the business solution customers want without having to deeply understand SharePoint, CorasWorks, or do design. Usually, customers don’t use them right off the shelf. They customize them and leverage them to do what they want. With CorasWorks they are then empowered to maintain the solution and even enhance and extend it at will.
CorasWorks Product Learning Centers – Over the last year, we brought online product learning centers for the CorasWorks v11 Platform and for our packaged Solutions. These provide articles, videos, and other information to help customers succeed. It extends the existing resources in the CorasWorks Community such as Forums, Blogs, Online Help, Downloads.
Distance Learning – The recession put a crimp on travel budgets. This made our classroom training less effective. Since then we have been doing a lot more distance learning (virtual classes). We have standard, monthly distance learning classes and we also create custom distance learning sessions to specifically get customers what they need, when they need it.
CorasWorks Professional Services and Partners – Over the last few years we have grown our Professional Services. Our PS used to simply help customers create their own solutions. Now, we implement our pre-packaged solutions to their specs. We also do a lot of projects for custom solutions that we deliver to the customer and are accountable for. At the same time we are working with a smaller group of partners and going deeper to empower them to deliver more advanced solutions.
As above, in future articles I will be drilling down into specific customer solutions. Talk to you then…