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WorkPlace Suite v10 – 4th Generation – The Evolution

Our release of the WorkPlace Suite this month is our 10th within 5 and a half years.  It is also our 4th generation of the product and our product line.  I’ll review our release history and the 4 generations.  It highlights the changes in the  product architecture and gives you a sense of where we have been and where we are going.

Generation 1 – a Componentized, Modular UI

With the release of SharePoint 2003, we launched v1 of the WorkPlace Suite (the “Suite”) in December 2003.  Our approach was to offer a suite of modular components and templates to enable people to create simple collaborative business applications.  The first release includes our now “famous” Roll-Up technology to connect to and aggregate data from across sites, site collections, and web applications.  This proved to be a key way to add value and increase productivity in the distributed environment of SharePoint.  It was a favorite tool to integrate distributed teamsites into peoples portals.  It was also perhaps, one of the first point & click “mash-up” technologies.

In this 1st generation, each modular component was a separate display web part with its own .dll.  The UI, business logic and data connections were all in each .dll.  We had 4 releases over this period during which we greatly extended the core capabilities of navigation and displays, added application templates to get people started quickly, and added additional capabilities such as email notification, data publishing, and Outlook integration.

Generation 2 – Separation of the Business Logic and “Building” of Applications

Generation 2 kicked off with our Summer 2005 release (v5) which included a “builder” administration interface to enable non-technical builders to easily create new display web parts and configure them. In our Winter 2006 (v6) release we brought to market our Action Framework which enabled the builder to create custom actions that automate end-user tasks.  Thus, instead of just seeing information users could act on it, and, they could act on many items in one step from across the environment – great productivity gains.  With the framework and admin interfaces we began to separate the business logic from the UI moving towards a multi-tier architecture.  Through the next 2 versions, we fleshed out this generation running on SharePoint 2003 to include items such as Runtime Action Forms and chained actions, so users could create new items or update items, without having to navigate to where the data was stored.

Generation 3 – Application Configuration and Separation of Data

With our Winter 2007 release (v8) we launched into CorasWorks on SharePoint 2007.  To support our user base, we introduced the Design Migrator to support application migration and to allow for programmatic updates of sites/applications with changes in design.  We also introduced a number of application configuration elements including central configuration and portfolio management.  This was the beginning of our journey to make application configuration of modular apps across the distributed environment more manageable.  We launched v9 in October 2007 chock full of enhanced features to flesh out building applications and business processes on SharePoint 2007 and enhanced it in September 2008 with our Fall 2007 Update.

Beginning in November 2007, we also took another major step by introducing a new product, the CorasWorks Data Integration Toolset (“Toolset”).  This product allows users to build composite applications with read-write access to external data.  It was a major step towards separating the data from the UI and business logic.  The direction was to make SharePoint the enterprise front-end for any data.  It has rapidly evolved over three dot releases, and has been quite popular for building self-service portals, composite business processes and surfacing data from legacy systems and SOA environments.

Generation 4 – v10 Wave – integrated, multi-tier application development system

The v10 wave includes a major new release of the WorkPlace Suite and tight integration of the Data Integration Toolset.  It is a revolutionary release where we brought together the elements of previous releases, and, integrated them via our One Touch system for application life cycle management.  In addition, over the last 5 years web-based application development technology has evolved and we incorporated Ajax and Rich Internet Applications technologies into the UI.  As a result it was a complete re-build from the ground up that can run side-by-side with CorasWorks v9 and that lays the groundwork for the eventual upgrade to the next version of the SharePoint platform.

So today, in v10 what we have is an Ajax oriented, integrated application development and management system.  It is a declarative, point & click “development” model powered by a comprehensive set of Ajax-based wizards.  The UI is separate from the data and the business logic.  Users are now able to enter, view, and edit information from across the SharePoint environment, using Ajax pop-up forms ,without having to navigate to lists and libraries.  They are also empowered to work with the information and to do things like group, sort, filter, search, email, update, publish, and act on their own .  This means that builders don’t have to touch the UI to meet each end-users needs

The business activity/task automation has been enhanced and extended.  The end-user can have a broad range of custom actions at their disposal to automate tasks and now there are automated back-end activities using event triggers and scheduled activities.  All of this is configured with web-based wizards.

The new integration of the Toolset with the Suite, means that you can now see and work with information coming from any data source, external data and/or SharePoint in the same interfaces.   Thus, you can have a mash-up of SharePoint data with any external data from anywhere.  With our v10 wave, we’ve started to publish database applications on SharePoint built with point & click tools.  This is a major breakthrough that really starts to change the role of SharePoint in the workplace.

Lastly, our One Touch system allows organizations to really manage their application environment.  Applications and sites can now be referenced through global links (a variable name) vs. a hard-wired URL. You can build Central Views that are consumed by any displays and are centrally configurable. You can now build applications or components in a “development” environment and push them out into production without having to touch a site, a url, or a display web part.  These and other elements bring programmatic application life cycle management to SharePoint – a challenging problem given its modular and distributed nature.

What’s Next

Since we launched in 2003, the mission on our web site has always referenced the year 2012.  This is the year when we believe that our vision for the workplace will be broadly adopted and the move from content-centric to activity-centric work will be realized.  Not to tip our hand, but, here are a few pointers about our roadmap along the way:

  • -  We’ll see one to two releases of the SharePoint platform and the tighter integration with cloud based environments and application services.
  • -  Take a look at our new Community.  This is evolving to support more business user oriented solutions and the exchange of applications and information.  And, you’ll shortly see partners applications and solutions appearing the community, many of which won’t have any custom code, but, will be very rich in features
  • -  Imagine database applications, departmental applications, and business processes available at a click and easily customized with a wizard – Should it really be so hard to get a pretty simple and standardized app for my department?
  • -  What about real-time collaboration technologies?  When will you have whiteboarding, conferencing, dialing, and video in your workplace?
  • -  At some point will we realize that all of this notification/alert/inbox stuff is getting out of control and perhaps better off in a different interface than our email inbox?  Maybe our mobile device…
  • -  Is the system behind the workplace really helping me?  Couldn’t it be a bit smarter and helpful – maybe it should learn a bit along the way.

Until then,
william

Posted by William Rogers on 25-Mar-09

Solution Head-Start with CW “Solution Sets”

A few weeks back we released our Solution Quadrant for SharePoint white paper. Over the last 2 weeks, we’ve released two “solution sets” with downloadable elements that are FREE and ready to work for CorasWorks customers. In this post, I’ll talk about how these fit together and give you an overview of our solution set approach.

The Solution Quadrant white paper discussed 30 solution areas that fall into 13 categories. The solution categories are horizontal solution categories such as Project and Program Management and Line of Business applications. CorasWorks can provide value in most of the categories.

Two weeks ago we released our Document Management Solution Set. It is a set of 10 elements that support each other to provide a comprehensive solution for document management needs. The set wraps around the Document Review and Publishing application to more specifically address situations where you are contributing, reviewing, approving, and publishing documents. I’ll talk more about the contents of a Solution Set later. The key point is that this Solution Set was the first that addressed one of the 13 Solution Categories in the Solution Quadrant.

As a horizontal solution set it is accessed via the By Solution Category menu of Resources as shown below. When you choose the category you see featured items and a listing of elements of the solution set.

screenshot

Last week, we launched a second Solution Set for HR Administrative Processes. It was another 10 elements. It included two main applications for Vacation Approval and Training (with two parts). It is targeted for the HR department. This is the first of a new type of solution set that is targeted at specific departments. The departmental solution sets are accessed via the By Business Function menu option of Resources as shown above.

So, the basic plan is to routinely release and announce solution sets that either address horizontal solution categories or specific departments/business functions. At any time in the interim you can browse Resources to see how the solution sets are coming along. Over time, each solution set will be further fleshed out with contributions from CorasWorks, partners and customers.

Now, let’s talk a bit about the components of a Solution Set. They each consist of Applications, Building Blocks, How To’s, and Blueprints and Demo Apps that support the solution. Here’s how they work together as a solution set…

First, each solution set will typically center around one or more Applications. These are downloadable and “ready-to-work” applications. They each contain an End-user Guide and a Setup Guide. Usually, they take about 30 minutes to a hour to install and configure for your organization.

Solution Sets also usually contain downloadable Building Blocks that enhance or extend the applications. For instance, the Document Management solution set contained distributable Snaplets that allow contributors and reviewers to work remotely from their user consoles/portals without having to go to one or more sites to do their document work. This Solution Set also referenced Building Blocks in the Forums that can be downloaded and snapped into the application to add charts and calendars.

In addition, the Solution Set typically has How To documents that are designed for business users/builders. They enable the user/builder to customize the application/building blocks in fairly simple ways.

Lastly, each solution set will typically have a number of Blueprints and Demo Apps. The Blueprints cover design patterns used in the solution, best practices or implementation options. The Demo Apps show examples of applications or other elements of your work environment that you can build on your own. An example is the HR Administrators dashboard for the HR solution set – a great place to start putting aggregated views of Time Off Calendars and downstream business processes.

When used together, you get a rather robust set of elements that enable you to quickly start addressing the typical requirements covered by the solutions. They offer a head-start to get you up and running quickly. You can then leverage the Community and your own resources to move them forward.

If you aren’t yet a CorasWorks customer, you can become a Community member you can also access the elements that may help you with your work. You can also request a Sandbox from CorasWorks to try out the solution sets in your own online development environment.

Behind the Curtains of the Solution Quadrant White Paper

Well the biggie is now out, the Solution Quadrant for SharePoint for 2009 White Paper. This was an ambitious undertaking, with a lot of content and feedback. Let me go behind the curtains and unveil some of the controversial topics people have been hot about and emerging solutions that people seem jazzed about.

The Quadrant includes 30 solutions broken down into 13 categories, fitting onto a single “plane”. That was the first overarching controversy – Why did you pick those 30 solutions and bunch them into your 13 categories? Well, we got a lot of input, and did our best; we have to have a bit of editorial license.

So, now lets get into the other 6 top Controversies about the meat of the white paper. There has been a great deal of spirited discussion, here are the top “debates”…

1. Centralized, content-based, information portals are passé – More of an “Emperors New Clothes” issue. Many just won’t give it up. Generation 1 Portals are prevalent, expensive, take a long time, are centrally designed. Adoption is low, little innovation, and they don’t serve business needs. Gartner predicted Portal evolution away from these Generation 1 models and they were right. It is time for different approaches…

2. SharePoint 2007 Drove a Wedge into Portal Evolution – Gartner thought Portals would evolve. We say SharePoint has bifurcated portal evolution with a new distributed, work environment paradigm. Are Gen 1 portals dead? Maybe; the distributed work environments of SharePoint are different beasts. And, the new portal-like creatures are also very different animals (see application portals below) – maybe these new work environments didn’t evolve; they were created…

3. Classic content-driven, passive Intranets transforming into application/activity-centric workplaces – They have the same departmental structure – end of similarity. People are jamming applications, business processes, user consoles, dashboards – all activity centric stuff into these new workplaces. They are dynamic, interactive, even transactional. There is nothing passive about these environments.

4. Community-of-purpose vs. Community-of-interest – Are communities-of-interest dead? No. But, increasingly we are seeing communities-of-purpose arising like a Quality Program for generating and implementing quality ideas in a consumer manufacturer, and, a disaster relief effort coordinating specific activities. These communities are there to accomplish specific objectives. They are designed differently, have different activity-centric processes, and, they produce measurable results.

5. Breaking up Social Computing into 3 separate solution categories – There is a lot of talk about Social Computing these days. While many vendors are working to create integrated “Social Computing” solution sets, in a SharePoint context, we see it diverging into the 3 different solution types that are serving 3 very different needs and going in different directions.

6. Front-end SharePointees meet Back-End SOAers – There are two big things happening in the enterprise. SOA on the back end is being understood for what is realistic and people are doing it. And, SharePoint is emerging as a great front end. But, are these groups talking. No, and it is a powerful constraint. It is a bit like the Reese’s peanut butter cup – some like chocolate, some like peanut butter – get these two groups together and you have something really sweet.

Okay, now for the top 8 Emerging Solutions and topics that seemed to grab people and get them excited about the potential for SharePoint in 2009 (many also somewhat controversial). It is a little longer, because, well, it is more fun…

1. Emerging Solution Sets for Departmental Workplaces – “Wow, we don’t have to figure it out on our own.” Not any more. In fact, the applications and processes are quite standard for given departments. There are standard design patterns that can be applied across applications and departments. In this modular world, they are easily, very easily, repeatable and reusable. There is order in the new world.

2. SharePoint for Internet sites – It is really happening. In fact, this was probably the biggest surprise to many in 2008. People are building Internet facing web sites that are cool and work. Definitely one to watch with the FAST acquisition by Microsoft.

3. Enterprise Shared Application Services – Roll over cloud lovers, the enterprise is here! Enterprises are creating their own, internal, web-based application services based upon SharePoint. These are big and broad. Our top 10 customers doing this have over 1m employees that will be using these services in 2009 to build applications and workspaces. To give you a sense, this amount equals the full subscriber base of Salesforce.com. And, IT is charging the business groups. AND, the business groups are happy because they can build their own apps using the service. One to really watch and follow.

4. Application portals ARE ready for SharePoint – There has been a bunch of innovation over the last year (like the CorasWorks Data Integration Toolset – hint). But, while many analysts and non-SharePoint platform pundits say that SharePoint doesn’t do Application Portals or is very custom and expensive – folks, the tables have turned. People are building complex, composite app portals, and, without custom dll coding.

5. Composite Business Processes – Business processes on SharePoint are not just about approving documents. A very large group of people are now designing and building robust, composite business processes, mashing up external data and services into the front-end business process in SharePoint. The limits are fading fast.

6. Who says SharePoint isn’t for Federation? – There are many non-SharePoint platform people who deride SharePoint for lack of Federation. Well, in fact you can Federate and quite painlessly (see my post about Lotus/SharePoint integration) . You just need to check out the 3rd party products, CorasWorks AND others. We see SharePoint as yes, providing information, not just a place to put information. The full ISV ecosystem backing SharePoint is really going after this one in 2009.

7. Social collaboration is the glue – Of the 3 social computing categories we see social collaboration as the strongest value driver. Through bookmarking, commenting, work sharing, tagging, and relating the siloed sites and piecemeal items are being glued together into their related business context. It is no longer about “proximity”, i.e., what site an item is in; it is about how it relates to other work and people. This is good stuff and will drive forward the idea of collaboration on SharePoint.

8. Getting Work Done: Work Consoles eclipsing Dashboards – Dashboards are great, you get to see good information in nice charts. But, how about taking action, making things happen, and, doing so without having to navigate all over the place. Hence, the rise of Work Consoles, the next gen dashboard. From one place, people can see, and contribute, and act on information across the distributed work environment of SharePoint. Work Consoles for individual users, role-based, or groups are a big crowd pleaser.

That’s what I’ve got on this years Solution Quadrant on SharePoint. Give it a read and weigh in with your comments.

Welcome to “William’s Blog”

Hello all. Welcome to my blog. I am one of the founders of CorasWorks and serve as our Chief Workplace Architect. You might call me the “Vision Guy”. I try to keep tabs on the SharePoint space, the software industry, and the new ways that people are looking to use software to create value.

In this blog, I’ll be talking about a lot of different things – the industry, the solutions market on SharePoint, CorasWorks and the Community, application design, workplace design, cool applications and solutions in our community, and how organizations are finding ways to create value in this new world of modular software. What I won’t be talking about are bits and bytes. We’ll leave that to our “From the Field” blog and other places in the Community.

During the past 4 months, I’ve authored 4 white papers in our “Modular Application Development” series. They cover the kinds of topics that I’ll be talking about in this blog. You can go to the Blueprints section of Resources and download them to get a sense of how seeds I’ll plant here can germinate.

If you have things to say or subjects you’d like to hear about, just go ahead and make those comments. I look forward to chatting with you.

Welcome to the CorasWorks Community

It’s a new year, and now, we have a new way to work together. The Community is not just about interacting with CorasWorks (the primary purpose of CorasWorks Central), but, is designed to encourage interaction and sharing amongst our 1,200 customers, our 5,000 builders and developers, and our 1,000,000+ end-users.

2009 is definitely a year where we all need to drive business value. Our hope is that the CorasWorks Community is a vehicle that allows you to leverage your investment in CorasWorks and SharePoint in order to do just that. Our Community has the features you’d expect, such as Forums, Blogs, and How To’s. In addition, we have a section called Resources. Within Resources you’ll find downloadable Applications and Building Blocks that are ready-for-work. If you are running CorasWorks, you can download these items and immediately put them to use.

 A little background… Since we began in 2003, we have focused on IT and the application builder/developer. We have been focused on enabling people to use our products to design and build applications on SharePoint. We have done this through our product, documentation, training, support, and professional services. Along the way, as our products get used in organizations, we have begun to increasingly interact with business users. They typically want the application first, and get into customization options later. They are trying to improve a business process to increase productivity.

Accordingly, with the Community we are adding a new layer of “products” to support the business user. We are investing in off-the-shelf Applications and Building Blocks. With CorasWorks, you already have the application-enabling platform installed; now, we are providing you with the Application – for FREE! You just snap them in and get to work. The key is that because you run CorasWorks, you can take an Application from the community, install it, and use it without having to “twiddle” any bits.

It also means that you can make improvements and post the resulting Application back into the community. Or, a partner can create their own applications and post them in the community – for FREE or for a price. All CorasWorks customers can use all of these without having to install and support separate software (the .dll’s).

We see this aspect of the Community as a practical way to add value. Visit the Community and download a few applications and building blocks and you’ll see what I mean. We are committed to providing an ongoing supply of free Applications and Building Blocks. The vision, of course, is that the community responds in kind.

A couple of notes to get you started with the Community:

-  If you are a CorasWorks Central user, you already have an account, so just go to the home page and login with your Central user name and id. As a customer on our Premier Annual Support and Maintenance you’ll have FREE access to download Applications, Building Blocks, and Blueprints (Design documents and Technical Solutions).

-  The Community is open to Guests. Guests can browse most of the information in the Community.

-  If you Register and become a Member, you’ll be able to make comments, bookmark items, work in the Forums, and download more Resources, such as Blueprints.

So, welcome to 2009 and the new CorasWorks Community. I look forward to seeing you all online.

William