I was a recent guest on the TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series. The series, which is hosted by TechnologyAdvice’s Josh Bland, explores a variety of business and technology landscapes through conversations with industry leaders.
In this episode Josh and I discuss everything from business process automation to workflow and forms, my SharePoint ideas, to the upcoming SPTechCon 2015 August 24-27 in Boston, MA.
Below are a few highlights from our conversation:
TechnologyAdvice: How are businesses starting to automate more and more of what they do everyday?
Brad Orluk: When we talk about business process automation, virtually every type of business has a collection of various processes that make up what their business activities are. That may be production lines, assembly lines themselves, or research and development procurement. Virtually every type of horizontal on a business function can really benefit from automation. Think of HR and on-boarding offer letters, exchanging those back and forth, obtaining signatures, and dynamically generating an offer letter.
Those different types of things can be completely automated with our tool set very, very easily.
Obviously we don’t want to take the people out, because people have to approve these things. So approvals can be done with our product inside of their SharePoint infrastructure or it can be done even via mobile, because we have a discreet mobile app that tasks can be assigned to users while they’re on the go. So we’re really starting to bridge this space between virtually every environment.
TA: Does that include workflows and forms – you mentioned those earlier – do you see those as being part of that ecosystem of automation?
Orluk: Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, a solution — any kind of custom solution developed through Visual Studio as a standalone piece of software or something that lives inside of SharePoint — is but a collection of inputs and processing.
So really what we’re doing is building tool sets that everyone inside your business’ constituency can really extract the maximum value out of — whether they are a power user or a developer, they can all use easy drag and drop tools to build out these types of solutions.
TA: What are some challenges in this industry and how are you tackling them?
Orluk: There are myriad challenges out there in this space. And it’s everything from headcount to paying employees to build custom solutions, to the cost associated with developing those solutions themselves. The expertise is a challenge because this is a place that’s really changing very rapidly, so skill sets become obsolete very quickly. And again, driving adoption of what we’ve already invested in. So making sure that customers who have bought things like SharePoint or SharePoint Online are maximizing the investment they have in that space.
Our tools really allow you to maximize those investments because they help reduce the amount of effort that goes into building these types of solutions. So again, numerous challenges from the cost challenges to the time it takes, because everyone’s doing more with less. I think that we really enter in with a unique value proposition because we make it easy and quick, and again, appeal to a wide audience.
TA: On mobile phones, how is the interaction of workflow automation going to move on devices more so than just a desktop?
Orluk: At the end of the day our audiences are really very mobile, they all over the place, they’re connected to the Cloud, everyone’s computing in the palm of their hands with their smartphone. We’re trying to bring solutions that our users are building with our tools. We want to make sure that we have that in their hands; we have things like the ability to create custom mobile branded apps that will really integrate with solutions we built.
At the end of the day, what we’re finding is the hybrid scenario is really the future. Everybody must maintain some kind of sovereignty of their data with their internal datacenters. We are finding that for extranets, other types of solutions, and integration with other platforms, they need to be in the cloud.
So as time goes on, the lines between the on-prem and the cloud are going to become very, very blurred. We’re in a unique position because we offer solutions in both of those places that can leverage all of that functionality.
This podcast was created and published by TechnologyAdvice. Interview conducted by Josh Bland.
It’s that time again, Microsoft conference season has begun! I have had the luxury of working with some great technology and even more amazing people in the Microsoft SharePoint ecosystem over the year since we were all in the desert for SharePoint Conference 2014. While there may not have been any earth shattering news over that past year, there certainly were some announcements that elicited joy (SharePoint 2016) as well as angst (SharePoint 2016* and the FoSL or Forms on SharePoint Lists cancellation). This is what make this such an exciting space in the IT field to work in because it forces us to be agile so that we can quickly digest these changes and dynamically adjust our plans so that we can better serve our business customers.
*Seriously, how many folks are still in the middle of a SharePoint 2013 migration? 🙂
So, while we are going to hear an awful lot next week in Chicago about what plans Microsoft has around SharePoint, Office, Unified Communications and more, I wanted to take a moment to throw a couple of predictions out there about where I see Microsoft guiding us and why.
1. Don’t expect a forms announcement because Microsoft is focusing on platforms and not end user tools.
In the announcements around the cancellation of InfoPath and FoSL, we see that Microsoft had deprecated these tools (for a myriad of reasons not the least of which is that InfoPath lead to some incredibly poor design decisions such as code behind, embedded workflows and logic, etc.) and at the same time talked up the virtue of various pieces of the Office 365 platform on which people can build amazing solutions such as Delve (OfficeGraph), PowerBI, OneDrive for Business, etc.
That being said, we see that Microsoft’s traditional IDE (Integrated Development Environments for my non-dev friends out there) is being released for free (Microsoft Visual Studio Community Edition) and the .NET code base is being ported to non-Windows platforms (.NET Core comes to Mac and Linux). This means that while Microsoft is betting big on adoption of these new technology, building solutions for them will be the province of traditional developers. But, I would expect some movement in this space in the not too distant future as we see traction gain through initiatives such as Microsoft Project Siena which focus on allowing non-developers in the business build apps.
2. Full trust code will still be supported in SharePoint 2016.
In an attempt to avoid another IE6 debacle in the enterprise space (due to the abundance of custom apps that were built around Internet Explorer 6 and the pain inflicted on many a Corporate IT shop attempting to upgrade their browsers) Microsoft will maintain support for full trust code solutions in SharePoint 2016. This is a bold statement with Microsoft pushing the app model so hard but the reality is writing custom .NET solutions and pushing them out inside of SharePoint 2010 and 2013 has been incredibly easy and if Microsoft forces folks to ditch those apps then adoption will surely suffer.
[EDIT] So as I was putting together this post I found out (via an image tweeted from a session at //build2015) that yes, full trust code will be supported in SharePoint 2016.
3. Migration, migration, migration!
Since Microsoft has realized that while there are a fair amount of folks out there that will go “all in” with with cloud by moving to Azure and Office 365. There will still be a huge number of people that will opt to keep on premise installations of SharePoint, Lync, SQL and the like. So, what does this mean for all of the content? Well it means that hybrid is here to stay. With that paradigm in play people who have solutions built out all over the place, they will need to be able to move content between them with ease. We’ve seen this as a driver around workflow with the introduction of Nintex Workflow for Office 365 and having a number of customers using our on-prem tools wanting to move some or all of these solutions with ease. Hence the Nintex partnership with Sharegate to help facilitate on-prem -> cloud migrations. So, I would fully expect to see others attempt to capitalize on the need to easy move, manage and migrate data in-between these various disparate content repositories.
So far it looks like I’m 1 for 2, not too shabby! Now I’m really excited to hear what announcements are made and to discuss these trends with all of the other IT Pro’s next week in Chicago at Microsoft Ignite. I will be there with the Nintex contingent (Booth #605 if you’d like to drop by and say ‘Hi!’) to share information around our awesome solutions (which fit incredibly well into the Microsoft cloud and mobile first story) and to revel in the community that makes my profession so enjoyable.
See you there!
After taking the weekend to recover (only mentally of course!) from the fun and excitement of a successful SharePoint Conference, in beautiful Las Vegas, NV, I have decided to share some thoughts about what I saw and heard in regards to forms (Session #SPC348 in particular).
Microsoft’s InfoPath was one of those products that, throughout the course of it’s life, had almost everything plus the kitchen sink thrown into it. What do I mean by that? Well here are just some of the things that one could do with InfoPath:
- Forms as a document (Submitted forms saving structured data as an actual document)
- Forms as an app (Custom .Net code or rules and macros embedded in the form itself building a functional application)
- Forms as an interface (Creation of attractive forms for SharePoint lists and libraries)
- Forms as a front-end UI (leveraging the various controls and rules to create the UX to data sources)
This said, where does the power or business user stand? Frankly, not with InfoPath. In my professional experience people that work in most organizations don’t have the time (or constitution for that matter) to sit down and learn how to build these sorts of things in InfoPath. They have discreet sets of objectives, myriad as they may be, that they must satisfy to make sure they are accomplishing to grow their businesses.
So what we found out at SharePoint Conference 2014 (SPC14) is that there will be no direct successor to InfoPath. Instead, Microsoft wants to focus on what each of their core products do well. Word, for example, will be utilized for fill-able forms, Access will help power a basic table view like forms functionality for lists a libraries (Forms on SharePoint Lists or FoSL, I really want to make a reference to dinosaurs here but I won’t do it… I won’t.) and then there will be Visual Studio options (LightSwitch).
These options don’t sound friendly to power and business users. What should they do?
Thankfully, Microsoft made it clear that partners are doing a bang up job in this space (an entire slide was dedicated to forms partners). They’re making forms accessible to regular, non-developer, users. While I am clearly biased by having a history with Nintex Workflow, I feel that the Nintex Forms product is a great way to move us forward when it comes to Forms. Why? Because I feel that forms are just that, forms. They exist as the user experience for data stored and manipulated inside of SharePoint. They need not be an object or application in and of themselves. They serve as the presentation layer to ones data and workflows.
Here’s just a few reasons why Nintex Forms makes a strong going forward forms strategy:
- A simple, browser based, canvas on which to build forms – Average users can easily build forms
- Integration with Workflow – Easily generate custom workflow forms.
- A powerful rules engine – Users can create validation logic themselves
- Mobile optimized forms at the click of a button – A mobile ready version of a form can be created with a single click
- Nintex Live publishing – Users (with IT supervision of course!) can publish a form to the web at the click of a button, no need to expensive extranets or reverse proxies (but you can still use those too!)
- Native Office 365 – Yes, regardless of your SharePoint environment (on-prem or in the cloud), Nintex Forms has you covered.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. Visit the link below to download a copy (or request a hosted trial) or spin up your favorite O365 / SharePoint Online tenant, visit the Microsoft Store and search for Nintex and download the app.
In the end, is Nintex Forms a like for like replacement for InfoPath? No, it’s not. But, with simple to create SharePoint forms and a powerful mobile story, Nintex Forms is a compelling choice for achieving your forms goals.