NextGenerationPortalsMobileMicrosoft has recently taken a new approach in developing portals for Office 365. They’re called “NextGen Portals”; Microsoft’s Office Product Management GM Julia White says that they are “intelligent, collaborative, mobile and ready to go”. The first NextGen portals to be released are the Video Portal and Delve, a portal that uses machine learning to connect people with content and people that they’re likely to need across the Office 365 suite.

Microsoft’s NextGen portals are “ready to go” and they’ve done a great job of choosing portals that are useful to everyone. However often enterprises want something that’s more “tailor made” to fit their specific business and industry needs. Last week I presented a session at IT/Dev Conference 2015 on how to develop just that … portals that follow the patterns Microsoft uses but that are custom made, and that can combine Office 365 content with Line of Business and Cloud data. While these aren’t officially NextGen portals, they follow all the patterns Microsoft uses, so they are intelligent, collaborative, and mobile.

For many years, Microsoft promoted the idea of SharePoint as a Platform. With this approach, custom portals and business applications are developed to run within SharePoint sites. This approach still makes sense if you want to make use of a lot of SharePoint’s native functionality; this fits well for ad-hoc collaborative workspaces and document management scenarios for example. But if you want something that “doesn’t look like SharePoint”, that is mobile ready, and incorporates custom functionality and line of business integration, SharePoint as a Platform can be more trouble than it’s worth.

I recently wrote about this in an article I called “SharePoint as a Service”; Andrew Connell also wrote about this and it led to a very interesting discussion with a “rebuttal” from Doug Ware and this follow-up.  Actually I think we probably all agree overall … it’s time to stop thinking of SharePoint as a Platform as the only approach, and start to think about SharePoint and all of Office 365 as services that can feed content into dynamic, custom portals and web applications. That makes Office 365 the new platform, with SharePoint and all the Office 365 services backing it up.

SharePoint as a Platform Office 365 as a Platform
Application runs on SharePoint pages and infrastructure Application runs with any page model on any web platform
Application in SharePoint accesses Line of Business data through BCS, web services, etc. Application outside of SharePoint accesses Sharepoint data through client API’s and web services
Application gets access to SharePoint capabilities such as document management, search, profiles, and more Application gets access to SharePoint capabilities such as document management, search, profiles, plus Exchange, Yammer, Office Graph etc.

The demo I used in my conference talk shows data from a number of sources, brought together in a way that groups information to improve user productivity. In the screen shot below you can see a mash-up of items a user might need when calling on customers: (1) Exchange calendar entries, (2) Line of Business data, (3) Customer contracts from SharePoint, (4) the customer’s location on Bing Maps, and (5) document recommendations from the Office Graph.

NextGenerationPortalsScreenAnnotated

This example illustrates the same themes found in Microsoft’s NextGen portals:

  • – Office 365 and SharePoint data is mashed up in ways that are convenient and productive for end users
  • – Related Line of Business data is included. In the demo, I used the Northwind database and some Microservices from my colleague Bob Familiar for my line of business
  • systems.
  • – The application provides a Single Sign-On experience. Whatever method the enterprise uses for Office 365 login works for this application too, and the application can securely access Office 365 data on behalf of the user without requiring any additional sign-in. This is provided by the Active Directory Authentication Library for .NET and for JavaScript and AngularJS.
  • – The application is designed for a “mobile first” responsive experience, with elements of the Office 365 look and feel using the new Office UI Fabric.
  • – The application includes content from the Office Graph, Microsoft’s machine learning system that helps users discover relevant content based on their actions within Office 365.

The application is written mainly in JavaScript using AngularJS, which is hosted in an ASP.NET MVC application with an WebAPI gateway to business data and Azure-based microservices. This kind of application can be deployed in Microsoft Azure or on premises, and can scale up or down based on business needs.

NextGenerationPortalsArch

 

All of this opens exciting new opportunities for enterprises that want to improve productivity and provide a truly modern user experience for their employees.

If you’re an architect or developer and want to learn more, please join me on October 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm Eastern time for IT Unity’s Office 365 Developer Pulse where I’ll join Scot Hillier to dig into the technical details. We’ll dissect this sample so you can see how it works and learn how to start building your own Next Generation portal.

If you’d like some help developing a Next Generation portal for your enterprise, please contact BlueMetal at sales@bluemetal.com; we’re experts in this technology and can make your project a success!

Oh, and one more thing … with the exception of the Office Graph, these same patterns can be used on premises as well as in Office 365; these applications can even bridge on premises and cloud in hybrid environments.