Software Vendor – are you moving your SharePoint Solutions to the App World?

sharepoint content typesSharePoint and its market penetration in enterprises can’t be denied. It is used by a massive amount of organizations and there are hundreds of thousands of developers building solutions using SharePoint as foundation for developing solutions. According to AIIM, one in two corporations are using SharePoint.

SharePoint is a popular platform for system integrators (SI) as well as independent software vendors (ISV). The former category typically sells custom application development services based on time and material or fixed cost projects. These solutions are typically “one-offs” even if the SI accumulates software assets in their internal code repositories. Effective SIs try to reuse these assets as much as they can, but that is unfortunately not a common practice among many organizations.

ISVs want to create productized solutions where the software assets can be reused in many organizations. However, creating real packaged solutions that can be deployed “as is” requires different skills than implementing customized solutions for different companies. I have seen quite a few system integrators struggling with productizing their offerings even if there is a real pressure for SIs to sell solutions due to price pressure on projects based on time and material. Creating solutions with real intellectual property (IP) provides a springboard to better profitability as well as higher hourly prices if the business model is built in the right way.

I have been part of organizations using SharePoint 2007 and 2010 in solution development but the architectural model and delivery methods have not been very flexible specifically for ISVs. For an SI that wants to sell time and material, the platform is perfect as some things are labor intensive and just need time to get done. Both of these releases of SharePoint (2007 and 2010) are built on “full trust” model while the new SharePoint 2013 is based on a new “app model” that Microsoft introduced in this new SharePoint 2013 release. What makes this model exciting is that it opens up the world for ISVs to reuse existing codebase as the foundation of the architecture is not to build intelligence in the SharePoint Server, but outside SharePoint. Besides this, Windows Azure is a perfect companion that can be used to house some of the solution. I am convinced that there will be quite a few solutions that combine technology from both SharePoint as well as Windows Azure.

SharePoint in some scenarios becomes the user interface (UI) to information and the logic resides outside SharePoint. An example would be a calculation engine that resides outside SharePoint and provides an API (Application Programming Interface) for other applications to consume. Microsoft guidance for SharePoint developers is to develop an App for SharePoint rather than classic solution whenever that is possible. There are of course many scenarios where this is not possible.

Most of the current SharePoint 2010 solutions have been implemented by using the “full trust solution” approach and these solutions can’t run for example in current Office 365 environment (with SharePoint 2013 Online). Microsoft enabled a new model in SharePoint 2010 (Sandbox) where some of the code would live in a “Sandbox” environment. However, the current recommendation is not to use the “Sandbox” approach due to different restrictions.

When I read about this new SharePoint 2013 app model first time, I thought about ISVs that have existing code assets that can be reused in different scenarios. I also got excited about this model as it provides a better experience for end users and IT to provide upgrades of the app in the same way as you would upgrade any tablet app. The application logic and the heavy-duty lifting can in many cases live in Windows Azure or even existing private hosting environments where the ISV just services new types of user experience to end users in a form of an app.

There is going to be lots of users in on premise SharePoint environments for quite a while, but starting to learn and review the possibilities in SharePoint 2013 environment should be a top priority for any ISV and SI that want to stay on top of the game.

 

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