Office 12 and Web 2.0 in the Enterprise
During the last couple of months I have been discussing some of the business implications of Web 2.0 with Doug Neal, you can read the result in this document – Management Messages on Web 2.0 – What you need to know about the next generation of the Internet. The discussion got me thinking about the characteristics of web 2.0 and how they might apply to the enterprise. Rather than create my own definition of web 2.0 I used this great visual from Dion Hinchcliffes’s blog on the SOA and WebServices Journal site as a start point.
Drawing my own version (not as nice) I then over-layed it (in yellow) with the areas that are addressed by Microsoft’s Office 12 (now Office 2007) and Exchange 2003/2007. I have a rough and ready PowerPoint presentation on the same topic as this post, which you can use if you email me for permission first. You can download it here:
You can see that Office 2007 gets pretty good coverage, although I have taken the liberty of redefining/substituting Ruby of Rails, BitTorrent and Skype with other web 2.0 essentials VOIP, RSS and XML, to increase the relevance.
I have explained my rationale in point by point fashion below, and although I have stretched the point in a few cases for effect, in the end I concluded that Microsoft have done a pretty good job, although their success will throw up significant challenges to many enterprises that are not ready for Web 2.0 thinking, but more on that in another post.
Because of NDA restrictions I am not able to talk about every feature, the following is a sample drawn from previously published Microsoft documents, reviews, PDC sessions and videos.
Blogs: Office SharePoint 2007 includes a blog template
Wikis: Office SharePoint 2007 includes a wiki template
Podcasting: Office SharePoint 2007 allows you to create document libraries, which can contain media files, and then publish them via RSS feeds with enclosures
Filtering: Office SharePoint 2007 allows you to create custom views with filters, these views can can be saved. Any SharePoint list and in SharePoint everything is a list can be further filtered, sorted, joined etc with other data using Access 2007 and Excel 2007
Sharing & collaboration: this is a core capability of Office 2007 system
Social book-marking: one of the weaker areas of SharePoint, you can create lists of links and share them but without the elegance and power of Internet social book marking systems
Rich Internet Applications: SharePoint itself is a fairly rich Internet application, but more interestingly Outlook, Excel, Access, InfoPath and Project are all rich web services clients that allow you to publish via web services protocols and more importantly work on-line and off-line with server side data, but using the power of the rich clients.
Ajax: SharePoint is not a very sophisticated Ajax application, but Outlook Web Access connected to Exchange 2003 is one of the best examples of a great Ajax application, and was in fact the first true Ajax app.
Secure Sharing Extensions: invented by Microsoft for synchronising list data between systems, I don’t think its used by Office 2007 right now, but you can bet that it won’t be long. However Groove, Outlook, Access and Excel are all able to synchronise replicas of SharePoint lists for use off-line.
RSS: SharePoint is a first class RSS engine, allowing you to subscribe to changes in any SharePoint list, and everything in SharePoint 2007 is a list, the subscriptions can include enclosures. If you subscribe to changes the feed body will include information on which list fields changed and the delta change. If you don’t list RSS then you can also subscribe to email notifications, and these can have sophisticated criteria.
XML: XML data is everywhere in Office 2007, my particular favourite is the ability to extract from XML word documents properties that are automatically promoted into list meta-data when a document is uploaded into a SharePoint document library. If you change the document, or change the list meta-data both are automatically kept in sync. You can then perform all manner of actions based on the list meta-data including searching, sorting, filtering, analysis or graphing in Access or Excel etc
VOIP: Office Communicator 2007 is an excellent VOIP client, with Active Directory integration, presence support and the ability to integrate into PBX systems, audio conferencing systems and web conferencing systems.
Unintentional uses: Take data in Access or Excel and publish it to SharePoint, take SharePoint lists, many of them if you want, link to them in Access and Excel and then join them with data from other systems, visualise them, run reports on them etc.
User contributions: SharePoint makes it very easy for users to contribute data (from Excel or Access) forms (from InfoPath), Emails (from Exchange) Documents (from Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote) Calendars, contacts and tasks (from Outlook) and discussions.
Effortless scalability: Effortless might be stretching it a bit, but SharePoint 2007 and Exchange 2007 are definitely more scalable than previous versions and seem to be able to meet the needs of most enterprises
Radical decentralisation: SharePoint, Excel Server, InfoPath server definitely push a lot of capability out of the enterprise core and closer to the end-user, but the real radical decentralisation comes from allowing people to take that SharePoint data into Groove, Excel, Access and Outlook. Groove even lets you take data from SharePoint and then replicate it to peers in other companies.
Self Service: SharePoint is built on a delegated, self service model
Software as a service: Many enterprises will access SharePoint and Project Server in this way either through an ISP, and OutSourcer or an internal shared services model
Right to remix: The ability to create process portals that integrate web parts, or to aggregate data from multiple SharePoint lists, or SharePoint’s meta-data aware full text search application are all examples of re-mixing. Also the ability to do application to application RSS subscriptions, however the ultimate in remix power is provided by Excel and Access as described previously.
Participation: RSS and Email subscriptions, discussion databases, off-line and on-line support, web access, rich client access and search are all of these are great examples of technologies that will increase participation.
Mash-ups: At the risk of repeating myself image that you can automatically extract data from Excel and Word, promote it into list meta-data, aggregate that meta-data, subscribe to the result in RSS, or download it and integrate it with other list data, local data or enterprise data in Excel and Access. The mash-up possibilities are endless, of course the potential for end-users creating massive support issues must not be forgotten (unintentional uses!!)
Beta: whilst the Office platform itself may not be beta, all of these end-user innovations definitely will be!
User control: users have a terrifying degree of control, not only can they have personal web sites, personal portal customisations etc they can also extract or take replicas of on-line data and do what they want with it. All subject to security access controls.
RSS, SOAP, REST: All of the interactions between Outlook, Access, Project, Excel, InfoPath and SharePoint/Project Server take place using published web services.
Small pieces: PowerPoint slides can now be built up by picking and mixing slides from slide libraries, XML documents can now publish document properties into SharePoint lists, every thing in SharePoint is built from lists, all examples of small flexible pieces that can be combined into greater wholes
Hard to re-create data: SharePoint can store links to enterprise data, for example SQL server data. These links can be maintained in one place and accessed easily in client applications. Active Directory data and other line of business data can be indexed by SharePoint search. Spreadsheets can be published from Excel Server just using Ajax web clients, without the use of Active X controls. Project data can be accessed using Project Web Access, again without using Active X controls.
Copyrighted & IP Content: SharePoint document libraries can be protected using rights management policies. Users with permission can download the documents, but depending on the policy they can be prevented from sharing them, printing them etc. In addition documents can be set to expire after a certain time. This is great for controlling leakage of information, but also enforcing copyright and increasing information integrity.
This post is intended to assess whether Microsoft “get web 2.0” in the enterprise, my conclusion is that they do. It is not meant to address whether Office System 2007 is a great product or not, or to imply that other companies can not do the same or better, the post is long enough as it is! If you want to read more of my posts on Office 12, you can find them here.