Skip to content
Jun 25 14

The Business Drivers of the Modern Application – Part 4: Experience Pillar: Reach Aspect

by Mikhail Shir

In Part 4 of this series, we are going to focus on the Reach Aspect of the Experience Pillar.

As a reminder, the Modern Application Experience Pillar focuses on ensuring a great user experience.

Reach Aspect

Traditional applications have a single user interface targeting a single audience.

Modern applications enable a multi-device, multi-cultural experiences.

Traditionally, employees worked at a desktop in a cubicle with applications developed only in US-English.  At best, the employee would be given a company BlackBerry to check email and make phone calls while away from the office.

The expectation has been flipped by consumers who are blurring the lines between personal and enterprise hardware.  Instead of asking the company to provide a mobile device, employees are asking to use their devices on the company’s network to access corporate information.

They expect the company’s applications to have a user experience that’s compatible with applications that they use on their mobile devices.  It’s not enough to just ensure that a website will run on a mobile device; it must function consistently with the way that other applications work on that platform.  The application should have a mobile-optimized website or must be available as a native application.

Increasingly, companies must provide consistent user experiences for cross-cultural employees and customers in the ever-widening global economy.  The application must be able to address the geographic and cultural needs of employees and customers around the world.

Successful IT Organizations are enabling multi-device, multi-cultural experiences for both employees and customers to ensure that they can access the information they need, when and where they need it.

Join us next week for the next of the business drivers – Cohesion.

Jun 18 14

The Business Drivers of the Modern Application – Part 3: Experience Pillar: Access Aspect

by Mikhail Shir

In Part 3 of this series, we are going to stay with the Experience pillar and focus on the Access Aspect.

As a reminder, the Modern Application Experience Pillar focuses on ensuring a great user experience.

Access Aspect

Traditional Applications only allowed information to be accessed from within the application.

Modern Applications make it easy for information to be accessed from multiple sources through a consistent user experience.

Consumers expect to be able to access personal and publicly available information easily from a consolidated source even though that information may span multiple backend systems and locations.

Online banking applications are great examples of how personal information stored in multiple backend databases are provided to consumers through a single unified user interface.  Online banking applications generally provide account, bill payment, credit card and investment information from a single user interface despite data spanning multiple backend databases.  The banking website consolidates the information to provide a 360 degree view of the user’s information and a consistent user experience for all of it.

Consumers also expect to be able to search public information.  The Google search engine is a prime example of how publicly available data is used for both personal and business purposes.  Increasingly, employees want to search and mine company information for business purposes just as they can on the web for personal purposes.  They will ask, “If Google can make web searches simple, then why can’t I just as easily query internal company information contained in databases, documents and big data stores?”

Successful IT Organizations allow employees to access multiple sources of information from a central access point.  The interface makes personal, enterprise and external data available through a consistent user experience within security boundaries.

Join us next week for the next of the business drivers – Reach.

Jun 11 14

The Business Drivers of the Modern Application – Part 2: Experience Pillar: Design Aspect

by Mikhail Shir

Let’s start the detailed part of the series by focusing on Experience.  The Modern Application Experience Pillar focuses on ensuring a great user experience.

Design Aspect

Traditional Applications required users to adapt to how the application was designed.

Modern Applications are designed to work the way users prefer to work.

One of the most significant trends of the past decade has been the infusion of user-centric design into application development.  The trend, not surprisingly, is strongly represented in the consumer space where companies vie for the attention and ultimately the loyalty of their customers.  At these companies, product owners partner closely with user experience teams to ensure that the product supports the way that consumers want to work.

This is a significant shift from the way that corporations have traditionally functioned.  In the past, there was no competition with internal applications.  Users had to conform to the tools their enterprise provided.  Today, there is indirect competition between a company’s internal applications and public alternatives.  Publicly available applications are designed to attract a large, loyal user base through exceptional user experiences that reset expectations about what’s possible.  Consumers, in turn, are demanding similarly well designed applications from their IT staff.  Consumers expect enterprise applications to work the way that they want to work when they want to work with them.  This is driving IT organizations to incorporate user experience design into their application development process.

For example, a financial advisor at a bank could not choose the software that they used to create financial illustrations for clients.  However, that same employee has access to public, web-based tools that perform similar functions and can use those applications to augment the information provided to clients.  Each time that the financial advisor uses the well-designed public site successfully, they will increasingly ask, “Why can’t my company’s application work just as well?”

The internal application must adapt to meet the employee’s functional and user experience requirements in order to be seen as successful within the organization.

Successful IT Organizations engage design and user experience teams during application envisioning.  This allows organizations to better understand their user challenges and how to build applications that support the tasks that their users perform on a daily basis.  This is done in collaboration with the product, user experience and application development teams.

Join us next week for the next of the business drivers – Access.

Jun 4 14

The Business Drivers of the Modern Application – Part 1: What is a Modern Application?

by Mikhail Shir

Over the next several weeks, we are going to explore the key business drivers behind the Modern Application through a series of blog articles.  This post is Part 1 in a series.

The software development landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade.  Disruptive technologies and design approaches have introduced entirely new types of applications and ways to build them.  The Modern Application captures a snapshot of best practices across multiple disciplines.  These practices are not static and will continue to evolve just as our understanding of customer needs and development platforms evolves.

The Modern Application is user centric.  It enables users to interact with information and people anywhere on any device.  It scales resiliently and adapts to its environment.  It is designed, architected and developed using modern frameworks, patterns and methodologies.  It is beautiful in its user experience as well as its technical implementation.

There are three pillars of modern applications:

  • Experience.  The experience pillar focuses on ensuring a great user experience.  In order to ensure a great experience, the application must be responsive, must be designed around how the user wants to work and must fit cohesively into the application ecosystem.
  • Architecture.  The architecture pillar focuses on ensuring that the application is built using modern development techniques to create scalable, secure and resilient applications.
  • Process.  The process pillar focuses on how software development teams are engaging with their business partners and customers to build applications.

These three modern application pillars work in conjunction to support the company’s business strategy.

The past decade has seen an increasingly knowledgeable and demanding technology consumer.  Exposure to rapidly evolving, personalized offerings such as smart phones and social networking has elevated consumer expectations and awareness.

Consumers not only bring heightened demands with them to every product that they buy for themselves, but they also bring those expectations with them to the office every day and exert pressure on their IT staff to meet those needs.

Successful IT organizations have evolved their technologies, design and methodologies to support increasingly savvy consumers.  These blogs will explore how the democratization of technology and information is transforming the workplace and how modern organizations are responding to meet their needs across the pillars of modern applications.

They will focus on aspects of three pillars of modern applications, with the business drivers broken out as follows:

Experience

Architecture

Process

Join us next week for the first of the business drivers – Design.

May 21 14

Four BlueMetal Speakers at SPFest NYC 6/18 – 6/20

by sadalit

 

Four speakers from BlueMetal will present six topics at SPFest NYC, ranging across power user, business intelligence, and developer tracks.

The event will be held June 18-20 at the Javitz Convention Center in Manhattan.

Bob German will present:

Panelist: KEY 200 – Expert  Panel Discussion: Bridging the SharePoint Gap: On-Prem vs. Online vs. Hybrid – Friday 6/20, 8:40 – 9:50 am

DEV 102 – Future-Proof your SharePoint Customizations: Build 2010 Solutions that become 2013 Apps - Thursday 6/19, 11:20 am

DEV 203 – Developing SharePoint Applications with MVC and Entity Framework – Friday 6/20, 1:30 pm

Becky Isserman will present:

DEV 104 – iOS Development with SharePoint using Xamarin – Thursday 6/19, 3:00 pm

DEV 204 – Office 365 Development: Sandbox Solutions vs. Apps – Friday 6/20, 3:20 pm

Dan Segan will present:

BI 203 – SharePoint Data Visualization with HighCharts, D3, and Processing.js – Friday 6/20, 1:30 pm

Randy Simmons will present:

PWR 105 – Spreadsheet Management, Control and Risk Assessment in Office and SharePoint 2013 – Thursday 6/19, 4:20 pm

See pricing and registration information here.

Use the table below to build your schedule!

THURSDAY JUNE   19, 2014
11:20 – 12:30 Bob DEV 102 – Future-Proof your SharePoint Customizations: Build 2010 Solutions that become 2013 Apps
3:00 – 4:10 Becky DEV 104 – iOS Development with   SharePoint using Xamarin
4:20 – 5:30 Randy PWR 105 – Spreadsheet   Management, Control and Risk Assessment in Office and SharePoint 2013
FRIDAY JUNE   20, 2014
8:40 – 9:50 Bob Panelist: KEY 200 – Expert Panel Discussion: Bridging the SharePoint Gap: On-Prem vs. Online vs. Hybrid
1:30 – 2:40 Dan BI 203 – SharePoint Data   Visualization with HighCharts, D3, and Processing.js
1:30 – 2:40 Bob DEV 203 – Developing   SharePoint Applications with MVC and Entity Framework
3:20 – 4:30 Becky DEV 204 – Office 365   Development: Sandbox Solutions vs. Apps
May 5 14

Jonathan Ralton to present “Taming Your Taxonomy in SharePoint” at BASPUG 5/21/14

by sadalit

Jonathan Ralton will present “Taming Your Taxonomy in SharePoint” at the Boston Area SharePoint User Group on Wednesday, May 21, 2014.  [note:  date changed from 5/14/14]

Location:  Microsoft New England Research and Development Center – One Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA.

Time:  6-8 pm

Register Here

Session Abstract:
​SharePoint offers extensive opportunity for flexibility in the storage and retrieval of your information and documents. Whether you are planning for a small team-based collaboration site or a department-wide portal, the value of taking the time to chart your course before you start diving into site settings and configuring views on your libraries and lists is inarguable. SharePoint offers you an arsenal of constructs to tame your disorganized data: lists, libraries, columns, site columns, content types, enterprise content types, managed metadata… Thinking these through properly at the outset will help you craft a solid foundation to build upon now and in the future. The additional capabilities introduced in SharePoint 2013 around managed metadata such as extended properties, pinning, and hashtags give you even more options to consider in crafting your taxonomy.

Apr 30 14

The secret to delivery – location, location, location

by James Horgan

Recently, BlueMetal was selected as a finalist for a best UX – product award at MITX, an esteemed network of technology marketers. This was for a large scale data visualization wallboard produced for the energy monitoring company EnerNOC.

What’s really impressive about this experience is we went from this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 11.26.28 AM

to this:

after1

in under 8 weeks.  Most of our clients and colleagues are astounded by this result and have many questions:

  • Which process did we use: Agile or Waterfall?
  • How many iterations?
  • When did the data architect come on board?

The answer is very simple – we put the team (a UX lead, a data architect, a UI engineer, an animator and a visual designer) all in one room, on site where the wallboard was being installed.

We used parallel streams of work to ensure design was aligned with architecture and that communication between the team was constant and consistent. Due to proximity with the client, the team was able to rapidly problem-solve on the fly. This became crucial as visual design and data got closer together.

There was a classic waterfall process but compressed: Discover, Define and Design, or as we call it: BlueSky, BluePrint and BlueMetal.

During BlueSky, interviews allowed the designer to sketch out the experience quickly, and the developers were part of that brainstorming. This allowed both the UI engineer and data architect to understand the scope of requirements, course-correcting as the design became more established.

With BluePrint we whiteboarded every piece of data that needed to be displayed on the wallboard in a single brainstorming session. Both the client and project team were part of this and a firm agreement was put in place that the brainstorming could not be considered complete until we were all in agreement on every piece of functionality. Drawing this line in the sand created intense focus and a rapid approach to design.

Finally during the BlueMetal stage (Design and Build) we ran separate streams of visual design, UI framework and data architecture, working side by side to not only converge on a rapid prototype but to iteratively create a solid high quality final deliverable.

The key to success on intense projects like this involves rapidly solving problems together, and a lot has to do with location.  By ensuring everyone was sitting side by side, every team member got equal accountability on the success or failure of the project, driving the team forward to ensure a favorable result.

An example is shown below of how location affects team dynamics.

workingtogether 

Though both team members are looking at the same screen, they are looking for different things. The visual designer on the left is looking at the readability of the typeface, the colors presented and the meaningfulness of what’s being shown. At the same time, the data architect is looking to see how the live data is feeding into interface and can not only troubleshoot, but work with the designer if the type size doesn’t work with the amount of characters the data is expected to pull in. Similarly, on the live file that both developers and designers worked on in WPF (Windows Presentation Format), designers used styleguide marking to indicate to the UI engineer how to adhere to the style, but also allowed the engineer to communicate in the same design language if certain parameters were not working.

usingstyleguides

Another simple example is the need for world clocks (shown below), something we observed was needed in the 24/7 work environment of EnerNOC. By having a cohesive team, the creation, placement, styling and implementation of the clocks was something we could easily do within a very short time span.

worldclocks

This type of constant communication, rapid problem solving and parallel streams of work can only happen when your team is in the same room, and you should always decide on WHERE your team delivers before you decide on HOW.

theteam

Apr 26 14

Jonathan Ralton to present “Taming Your Taxonomy” at SharePoint Saturday Durham, 5/3

by sadalit

Jon Ralton will present “Taming Your Taxonomy” at SharePoint Saturday Durham on Saturday, May 3 2014.

The event will take place at Durham Technical Community College, Phail Wynn Student Center, 1637 East Lawson St. Durham, NC 27703.

Click here to register!

 

Apr 24 14

Keep Calm and InfoPath On

by Jonathan Ralton

[Cross-posted from blog.jonralton.net]

A lot of hype was created around the announcement by the Microsoft Office team of InfoPath’s end-of-life announcement (blog post) by Microsoft back in January, accentuated by the ‘InfoPath Funeral’ held at the SharePoint Conference in March. For those following InfoPath’s progress over the past few years, or lack thereof, this was not shocking news. We didn’t see any new features in the latest release of the InfoPath 2013 client nor InfoPath Forms Services for SharePoint 2013, and we watched the product team at Microsoft disband. What are we to do? Where do we go from here?

Grieving the Loss

InfoPath was conceived over 10 years ago, introduced as part of Office 2003. Over three subsequent releases and incremental server-side integration with SharePoint via InfoPath Forms Services, we can rightly feel some emptiness and bewilderment at what to do. While users are unlikely going through the full-blown five stages of grief, we do indeed need to recognize that we’ve begun a journey of moving on from our faithful XML-jockeying forms application.

Not Quite Dead Yet

Considering we were met with complete disappointment during SPC12 having been offered not a single session on InfoPath, I will concede the fun of a funeral procession through the exhibit hall this year at SPC14. Attendees carried a ‘coffin’ for InfoPath and chanted “Bring out your dead!” akin to the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I actually think this movie reference is even more appropriate than some thought–just like the old man who wasn’t quite dead yet (video), I’d like to remind ourselves that InfoPath is still alive and well.

Don’t Panic

Microsoft’s announcement of the discontinuation of InfoPath is not an obituary. The product is still a healthy breathing component of the SharePoint ecosystem, and by the time the burial occurs, today’s elementary school students will be making their way through college. Let’s take a deep breath… OK? Life as we know it will continue for the near future. Our forms didn’t all of a sudden stop working. Someone didn’t cut the cord. Just as all Office products do, InfoPath will enjoy its full 10 years of support according to the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy. The plug won’t be pulled until April 11, 2023 (notice). As revealed to us at SPC14, SharePoint’s next on-premise release in 2015 will include continued support for InfoPath Forms Services, and SharePoint Online will maintain similar support until further notice.

Let’s Be Prudent

Just because those kids aren’t going to land in college for 10 years, we’ll still start saving up now for those hefty bills. You wouldn’t put off formulating a plan for their future success now, and similarly we of course shouldn’t just kick back and ignore the news we’ve been given. So what shape should our actions take over the next year? I think it depends on where your organization is in its development lifecycle around business process management and the forms that facilitate those processes.

Reviewing What We Know

As emphasized throughout SPC14, and specifically in the session SPC348 – Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms, Microsoft is clearly pushing us to rally around what they’re referring to as Contextual Process Apps. The idea is that our business processes should be connected just as we, the information workers, are. We need to make available the hooks into these processes wherever our users choose to be and however they choose to connect. What makes up this concept?

  1. Awareness
    Users need to be aware of relevant data where and when it is relevant to them without having to sift through too much noise.
  2. Capture and Output
    Getting data into our desired formats should be easy, thus putting it in motion through the process as soon as possible.
  3. Analysis
    Value should be created from all of our process data, thus getting users to interact with it. We should be able to utilize telemetry from the process to better understand what users are doing and continuously monitor and improve the process.
  4. Collaboration
    At this point we are very used to our collaborative tools to create content. This paradigm should continue while we’re within a process.
  5. Business Process Management
    A balance must be struck between effectively managing the steps of an activity while maintaining versatility and flexibility for the user.

How will Contextual Process Apps manifest themselves in the Office Forms product roadmap? For the moment… Microsoft has outlined four options that are available to examine now and some that are still being formulated:

20140404_office-forms-product-roadmap

Source: SPC348 – Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms (Deck)

  1. Excel Surveys
  2. List Forms (FoSL – Forms on SharePoint Lists)
  3. Structured Document
  4. App Forms

Two of these forms creation options for SharePoint 2013 have been around for a while. Also, keep in mind that further choices include…

  • HTML5/JavaScript Forms
  • ASPX Forms
  • Visual Studio

Much discussion has already ensued around the facets of the roadmap; there are advantages to each as well as recognizable absences of feature sets that will need to be addressed as the formulation of the Office Forms strategy progresses.

We were also had our attention directed to some alternative options to consider for an organization’s business process management needs, namely those of Microsoft partners providing products and services in this space:

20140404_sharepoint-forms-partners

Source: SPC348 – Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms (Deck)

These four are by far not the only players in this arena; they just happened to be present at SPC14. For example, during Q&A for the session, an attendee brought up Forms 7, a InfoPath alternative for SharePoint forms made available as a CodePlex solution.

Maintaining Existing Forms – My Advice

  • Should you take down your existing InfoPath forms?
    No. Nothing will break; these will continue to function.
  • Should you abandon any further updates to your InfoPath forms?
    No. You and your organization have already invested hours and resources in standing up these forms. The incremental evolution of updates to the interface, data, or workflow behind the forms will continue to provide value to your users. You already have overall InfoPath expertise as well as direct experience with these particular forms. There is no reason to abandon all of that; continue to build on that foundation you’ve invested so much in already.
  • Should you attempt to convert your existing InfoPath forms and processes?
    In my opinion, no, not yet. Wait until there is further clarity and direction out of the process underway by Microsoft’s Office Forms initiative unless you are making a near-term strategic decision to abandon whatever pure SharePoint-based forms technologies in the future for a partner/proprietary technology. Keep in mind–even the partners don’t know yet what will be made available as the roadmap proceeds. Down the road, decisions Microsoft makes in this space may impact the way you feel about your decision to go with a proprietary toolset. Don’t make the jump out of panic and uncertainty. Make it because of a compelling reason to leverage what a partner is able to offer you that InfoPath and current Contextual Process Apps cannot. Choosing to go with a partner at this point doesn’t completely insulate your organization from the changes that are coming. The road isn’t paved yet, and all of the on-ramps haven’t even been mapped out yet.

Developing New Forms – My Advice

  • Should you start using what’s available now?
    Yes! By all means… Start using Excel Surveys and App Forms, if they are appropriate to your information capture and user experience needs. These two options, of course, will not be sufficient for all situations
  • Should you just wait to implement new forms and processes?
    In my opinion, it is not going to be completely wasted effort to develop new forms and processes involving InfoPath. Unless you’re going to embark on a severely expensive effort over multiple fiscal quarters developing highly specific tweaks and hacks to bend InfoPath into a strategic mission-critical business process, I don’t see any problem solving your next business process problem with InfoPath. And besides my arguments around taming the hype and relying on sound supported functionality that isn’t disappearing, here’s why… The time and effort you and your organization expend on mapping the business process, discovering and validating requirements, considering and refining usability concerns, and all the activities around a basic BPM forms project–this will all need to be done regardless of the technology that is used for construction, and this work will be reusable when it comes time to consider conversion down the road. Weigh these advances in process improvement against waiting to make any changes to your workflows; the costs in lost productivity of paper-based processes; the frustration and low user sentiment resulting from ill-conceived ad-hoc solutions; the risk in relying on unsupported antiquated software crawling along as a critically weak link in a Tier 1 system. These are all challenges us IT professionals continually encounter and work towards overcoming with SharePoint-based solutions. This is not the time to stick our heads in the sand and wait it out. Go forth with your business analysts and do your valuable work! An upcoming technical hurdle shouldn’t derail all progress on solving business problems with today’s technology at hand.

Unprecedented Solicitation

This is indeed the start of a journey. We were not presented with a fully baked replacement for InfoPath, and this may rightly be an incredible disappointment for some of us. However, we have been presented with a completely unprecedented opportunity by Microsoft. They want us to tell them what we want. It sound so simple and logical, but this is new for us. While in many other areas we get pokes and prods to think in a certain way (blog post) and adopt what’s put on the table, we’ve instead been given a menu with featured entrees being concocted by executive chefs… with plenty of room on the menu to suggest our own selections. Go ahead, taste what’s been plated, and send your honest compliments and critical assessments back to the kitchen. The time to speak up is now, and myself along with the Office Forms team at Microsoft are all hoping you will via the Microsoft Office Forms vNext User Voice. Decisions are made by those who show up, people.

In Conclusion

InfoPath and InfoPath Forms Services are still viable and quite powerful components of a living, breathing, time-tested, and fully supported BPM toolset. Don’t give in to the hype around InfoPath’s demise. Instead, embrace the dynamic nature of this interim period and take stock of what you’re doing with these tools. Examine what’s been presented by Microsoft for review, try them out, and by all means participate in the discussion around what you and your organization would like to see from the next offering of Office Forms. Don’t go into mourning. Continue utilizing our tried and true InfoPath and seize the moment to help shape truly great successor applications!

Apr 21 14

BlueMetal sponsoring and speaking at SQL Saturday Chicago, 4/26

by sadalit

BlueMetal is a proud sponsor of SQL Saturday Chicago on 4/26/14.   SQLSaturday is a training event for SQL Server professionals and those wanting to learn about SQL Server.

The event will take place at 1221 N Swift Road, Addison, IL, 60101.  Doors open at 7:45 am for registration and check-in.  The keynote begins at 8:30 am and the event closes around 5:00 pm.

Ted Krueger will present SSIS – the DBA Multiplier.

Bill Lescher will present Fast and Flexible with Better Database Design.

Click here to register!