Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Of Yammer, data, decisions -- oh, and electricity

There is much talk these days about the massive amounts of data being generated in the world, about our ability to digest it all and then take action on it.
At a breakfast here at Microsoft's SharePoint Conference 12 in sunny Las Vegas, I shared a table with a few fellow East Coasters who had been touched in some way by superstorm Sandy. The talk turned to what many Long Islanders like myself say was a poor response to the disaster by the local power authority, LIPA. The storm knocked down many trees in my area, which knocked down many utility poles, resulting in downed power lines everywhere. And it seemed LIPA took way too long to located the source of trouble -- only later did we learn that they still work off paper grids and use Hi-Lite pens, so they could only update their own work. They were unaware of where other crews were, what they had accomplished, and where tree-trimming companies were to remove branches that were delaying the restoration of power. I guess the teams would somehow return to corporate HQ and sync up their info at night, and get a new grid the next morning. But this was a disaster, and crews were out working around the clock to restore electricity to harried homeowners and frustrated politicians. Compounding this was the fact that many of the work crews were volunteers from many other states, who were not familiar with either the grid or the local streets. I would often see them leaning against their trucks, bewildered that it was taking so long to get their next assignment, and then to find out where that was. Many of the teams took to simply driving around, and when they were stopped by homeowners, they'd try to fix the problem or call it in for a scheduled repair. After 16 days, more than 9,000 of the good people of Long Island remain without power, and utility chief Michael Hervey has resigned.
Adam Pisoni is from Long Island. The co-founder and CTO of Yammer, now a GM with Microsoft, believes enterprise social networks have the ability to change the way we work. Yammer itself, he said, is built as loosely coupled services that do not require coordination; they simply call out to each other and work. "It's wrong to assume you need complexity around this," he said. Using that as a metaphor for how we work, Pisoni said a social network that brings information to people and empowers them to use their capabilities beyond their particular role on the job allows them to be more loosely coupled from their peers. People don't have to work so closely together to get their tasks done, he explained.
But social information is but one part of the data picture. In a conversation with Steven Wong and Eric Riz of Canadian software company Concatenate, they explained that their RealTime asset and lifecycle management solution helps companies create corporate strategy and execute against it. Concatenate is putting no small effort into work management; the definition of content types and taxonomies for data that underlies an organization's business processes. "It's about how you use data in the business process to make faster, better decisions," Wong said. "Then you optimize the processes to gain insight from the data." Then, if you can drill back from the decision point to the source data, you can gain a tremendous amount of insight into how you got where you are.
Are you listening, LIPA?

Monday, November 12, 2012

We're coming to you live.. from Microsoft SPC

Watching as the throngs of SharePoint people file in to the opening keynote here at Microsoft SPC at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Lots of buzz about SharePoint 2013 (to be expected). I had a short conversation with a woman in the elevator coming to the keynote, and she said her company is going to a hybrid approach -- they're on 2010 but ultimately will move onto 2013 for what she called the architectural advantages. That's undoubtedly how adoption will go, as people pilot 2013 projects that will either run alongside a 2010 deployment or eventually be the target of a broad migration.
"Titanium" now blasting over the loudspeakers. I know this because it's a song my 13-year-old daughter enjoys singing -- over and over ... and OVER again!

*     *     *

Dramatic intro. Cue the music and lights ... discover.. manage...  build ...  share... organize... random colored balls on a screen. Then, SPC 2012.. Share More, Do More.  Overheard estimated cost of intro show.. $255,000.

Jared Spataro, senior director of product marketing for SharePoint, kicks things off.


*     *     *
SharePoint more than a product; it's a way of life. (Met with chuckles). Community demonstrates passion, he says. 65 user groups meet monthly around the world. SharePoint MVPs, who represent the best of the industry. MCMs and MCAs at the top of the top. SharePoint Saturdays a phenomenal example of the energy and enthusiasm of the community.  Events around the globe (SPTechCon San Francisco listed). Microsoft is humbled by efforts of community.  This is a pivotal moment for SharePoint, as a product and a business, Spataro said. Microsoft focused on end user, with emphasis on collaboration. Have grown Sharepoint from a startup to a $2 billion/year business. Now, another massive transformation. Cloud has changed economics of computing. Social has changed how we collaborate. Technologies are reshaping business. Now, it's a world of constant change. The name of the game is agility. The old models of setting strategy and executing are giving way to things that make you more nimble and faster on your feet.

*     *     *

SharePoint 2013 pivotal.. a bridge from where Microsoft came from and where it's going. End of three-year release cycles and automatic updates every 90 days. With Yammer, SkyDrive Pro and the new app model, poised for another 10 years of phenomenal growth. Today, taking a whirlwind tour of SharePoint 2013, plus what they were thinking when they designed the product: Experience, Innovation and Ecosystem (updates for developers -- app store and new app model).

*     *     *
Jeff Teper, corporate vice president and "father of SharePoint" at Microsoft, takes the stage.  Talking about pillars. User experience -- easier to work and collaborate than it's ever been. In the context of Office 365, but can run in your own data center if you want.  Shows UI. Calendar, mail all in browser; no ActiveX code. Brings in contacts from Active Directory, can get user profiles from SharePoint, messaging from Lync, all in a consistent experience. SharePoint specific -- documents, sites and social conversations. Personal document feature is SkyDrive Pro (an evolution of MySites). Can follow documents, see recommended documents generated by FAST search, and recent documents opened, edited and read. Roams in the cloud. Turns Office into a Kindle or Netflix experience. It remembers docs I read, or bring me right to slide I left off in in PowerPoint. Skeptical tweet: "SharePoint is the kudzu of the enterprise. It's everywhere, yet no one knows how to keep it from spreading."

*     *     *

SkyDrive Pro for Windows 8.. native apps for Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS coming early next year.

"New Sites" hub .. shows sites user is following, with a newsfeed, document links. Can share, follow, sync. Can change look of the site through styles in site settings. No editing CSS, can preview before commit.  Conversations added to every site by default. Can open Web apps right in line without new window opening. New feature aggregates all tasks from all sites, syncs with personal tasks in Exchange, so in Outlook, you can see all your work in one place. Newsfeed (looks like Facebook and includes Twitter-like hashtags). Can view videos right in line, in context of browser. Only people with access to site can view posts in site newsfeed.

Teper displayed newsfeed app on Windows Phone. It's shipping as of today from Windows Phone marketplace; runs on WP7 and WP8. Working on iPad and iPhone versions for release early next year.


*     *     *

Yammer. A lot of people are curious, Teper said. New SharePoint has a lot of great social features, but acquired Yammer to take social to the next level.  Enterprise social meets enterprise collaboration. Use analytics, data-driven fast cycle approach to updating in cloud. David Sacks, corporate VP from Yammer, takes stage. Had a vision to change the way we work. Lot of skeptics thought this was a toy; couldn't make business productive. But look at IM and email. Just because your kids like to talk on IM doesn't mean it isn't a valuable business tool. 300,000 tweets/sec during election.  Evolution -- phone, email, IM, voice and video, social networking. Participate in communication of broad communities. Think social will have a dramatic impact improving flow of information inside and across companies. Info had been previously trapped in organizational silos -- emails, phone messages, individual IMs.

Social new default in business. 61% of businesses have an enterprise social network. $6.4B social apps market opportunity.

Adam Pisoni, CTO, GM of Yammer talks about business value. We're in a period of unprecedented changes in how business operates. Social connects people. When people connect, they're exposed to new ideas and infos. This changes how they think and act, and their expectations. Social has been catalyst of change, but also solution of how we deal with this new reality. Social connects people to info they need to make more informed decisions. Empowers people closest to problem to find best solutions. Once people are moreinformed, social helps people organize into groups, to work on problems together. Once employees are more connected and empowered, they're more engaged. They now can move beyond their job description, role or rank to help business meet its goals.

*     *     *

Social has to be more than a destination. Has to be seamlessly woven in to all tools and apps we work in today. Needs to be something we can secure and manage. Must be part of a platform that IT can rely on. People spend most of their time in Office, so putting our social enterprise and Microsoft's depth in the enterprise, in best position to fundamentally change how people work forever. Changes will be at intersection of social and all other applications we use.

*     *     *

Goal is to create universal conversation area. Uses technology called Open graph. In SharePoint, new team site. In ribbon, new button: Post to Yammer. Documents shows up in Yammer search, can click on doc, go to page in Yammer for that object. Can even embed social activity associated with that document back into other applications.

Files in SharePoint can be clicked on within Yammer, and you get a full fidelity preview. Can go back to Yammer to see versions, followers, can edit document right in line. Note to readers: This is very slick stuff. Integration of social, document management and work collaboration, on any device you want, in a manner that works best on that device, is the vision of the future workplace that's very close to reality.

Jeff Teper comes back to lay out the roadmap. Integration and packaging. In the cloud, you'll see those connections increased over time. Trying to give you Yammer inside SharePoint, and SharePoint inside Yammer. Three-stage approach: Open graph support. Doing more with Dynamics (CRM), so you can see customer reports in Yammer. Working on integrating feeds, documents and identity to ensure seamless single sign-on. Also, looking beyond SharePoint, to Outlook and Lync.

Packaging: bold on delivery. Want everyone to have access. Will continue to have standalone, free Yammer offering. Will continue to have a paid offering, details online, with lower price point. Will include Yammer in SharePoint Online at NO EXTRA COST.  Yammer will be included as part of all the Office 365 SKUs early next year; access will be part of the Office 365 license.

*     *     *

Second pillar: Innovation. Richard Riley, director of SharePoint, talking abotu ECM, search. Personal re-find links shown in search. Takes you back to results you've searched before when you need to go back. Revamped look and feel. Search will pick out areas within content that it thinks might be relevant to user. From search, to click, to exact slide you want in a PowerPoint in three clicks. Query rules translate plain language into something search engine understands more. Search for "marketing deck" doesn't bring back documents with the words in it, but understands a deck is a PowerPoint and returns marketing PowerPoints. Search plays foundational role in 2013.

Web publishing. Can use any design tool to create websites in SharePoint. Not limited to Designer any longer. Can upload design assets through new Design Manager that converts HTML to a master page that can be rendered. How do you get SharePoint controls into that page? A new snippet gallery in master page. Add a search box to a page. Paste snippet into DreamWeaver. Failed twice. Says problem is DreamWeaver. Works like a charm the second time.

Split page layout from content. Search drives experience on front end. Kind of thing you'd see on Amazon is now available on SharePoint in content search. All content pulled back from SharePoint catalog using a query.

All of the design and personalization capabilities equally at home inside the firewall.

Segue into eDiscovery. Use queries to refine discovery sets. Don't just do eDiscovery across SharePoint in 2013, but across the suite. Run eDiscovery activites from SharePoint, though. In-place hold doesn't make a copy; doesn't change productivity or workflow. Displayed Site Mailbox, which brings together SharePoint and Exchange.

*     *     *

Built from the Cloud Up.  Michal Gideoni, director of product marketing for SharePoint, talking about investment on IT side. Improvements with migration, performance, core infrastructure work.
Upgrade and migration -- completely redefined. IT can move to 2013 infrastructure right away without having to upgrade every single site collection. 40% more efficient use of bandwidth; 50% less server-side latency. Ribbon icons down to 100 KB from 400 KB in 2013 due to optimized compression. Taking experiences from running Office 365 in massive data centers to provide IT efficiencies in SharePoint 2013, both on-premise and in the cloud.

*     *     *

Developing for Microsoft Cloud. The new app model for business solutions and productivity services. How to build and integrate applications from Web part through the new model.
A ton of stuff in this release for web designers and developers. We do lead with out-of-box experience, don't want folks to add cost and complexity, but have a full-fledged app model if needed. Tight relationship with ASP.NET. In on-premise, still supported, but lacks agility in cloud model. New cloud app model, with Visual Studio, Azure, SharePoint teams... millions of apps running in Office 365 and they won't break with updates to Office 365. Azure the underlying platform; SharePoint productivity, Dynamics team for business solutions.

*     *     *
Scott Guthrie -- simplify dev in SharePoint, on-prem or Office 365. Loosely coupled. Using open Web standards. Enables reuse of skills and tools to integration SharePoint in existing Web sites and applications.

Demo: A SharePoint site hosted on Office 365 as a developer team site. Incidents list tasks. Creates new Visual Studio 2012 project, selects from New App for SharePoint 2013 template. Loose coupling lets devs take advantage of .NET capabilities (using Web Forms, Web API and more) to build richer list UI. Register app in SharePoint, creates oAuth relationship, enabling single sign-on but coordinating between both instances -- one in SharePoint, one on dev machine. On SharePoint, trust app, and redirect back to incident list.
 
This is where non-developers start leaving the keynote in droves! Long strings of code on a large screen has a detrimental effect on keynote attention.

Then, can deploy app into cloud, for use beyond local deployment. In auto-hosted mode, system takes a lot of responsibility for build, debug and deployment, easing burden on developers.

KimWestMARTA tweeted: Developers developing directly to production? At least 2 of my infrastructure/platform team will need therapy. #SharePoint

 *     *     *

Running long. Crashing into morning meetings. Will be covering conference all week; look for more coverage of the new features in SharePoint, interviews with Microsoft executives and all the news from third-party vendors from the exhibit hall floor in this week SPTechReport, our weekly SharePoint newsletter. Subscribe at http://www.sdtimes.com/content/sptech_report.aspx

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Behind the Rackspace acquisition of SharePoint911

SharePoint911 -- powered by Rackspace.
Or some branding to that effect, now that Rackspace today announced it has acquired Shane and Nicola Young's SharePoint911 consultancy.
Rackspace, of course, is a leader in hosting and cloud development, and sees continued growth potential in the SharePoint market. "We want to be able to help more people become successful with SharePoint," Bret Piatt, Rackspace director of corporate development and strategy, told me today. "The acquisition helps Rackspace and we help [Shane's team] reach a wider audience."
Shane explained that SharePoint911 was among the partners Rackspace would work with when a customer needed SharePoint services that Rackspace could not provide. "Once they built [a SharePoint installation], they were done. Now, we can do anything and everything SharePoint." That relationship led to the acquisition discussions that started "in earnest" by the end of last year, he added. "Once they built [a SharePoint installation], they were done. Now, we can do anything and everything SharePoint."
To allay fears of customers, Piatt and Shane Young both said SharePoint911 will continue to operate as it has. "From everyone's point of view, we are SharePoint911 for all they know," Shane said. "They're going to run their bsuiness as they always had before the acquisition," Piatt said.
Piatt indicated the SharePoint911 team will help with hosted projects as well as on "products we can turn around and sell into the marketplace." As an example, he noted that "adding Shane, Todd [Klindt] and John [Ross] gives us three amazing sets of eyes to look at our configurations, to make sure we're giving our customers the best of the best" in a hosted solution. He also pointed to the contributions that Randy Drisgill, Laura Rogers and Jennifer Mason will make to the efforts due to their expertise in SharePoint.
Piatt said Rackspace expects to grow its services business over time, but there are now "no specific plans set around growth targets for that business."
Piatt also said the Rackspace-SharePoint911 relationship goes back four years, when Rackspace "brought in Shane and Todd to train OUR guys on SharePoint, when we were getting into that market."
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Making social productivity a snap

There’s social, and then there’s social productivity.

This distinction is at the heart of what SnapWorkSocial – a startup founded by ex-Quest evangelist Mike Watson – is looking to bring to market. “Social is the new way of computing, almost as revolutionary as computing itself,” Watson told SPTechReport in a recent interview. “We’re looking to take ‘social’ to the next level and make it work-ready.”

In the early days of computing, there was a 1-to-1 relationship between a user and a machine. The advent of the Internet allowed many people to connect to many entities. But machines only store data, Watson said; it takes people to decipher it and add context through conversation.

SnapTeam, the company’s free social software (now in beta) for SharePoint 2010 and Office 365, addresses some of the shortcomings extant in other social tools, Watson said. “There are problems with traditional social tools,” he said. “It takes months to implement, then you have the adoption process, and you end up with lost productivity, not increased productivity, because social tools can be a distraction, allowing you to connect to things other than business.”

Most social tools do not allow ownership of issues, while in business, hierarchies of people exist to enforce how business is done, he added. Further, he said, most social tools today are reactive, with items appearing in an activity stream. “But older items just stream off the page, whici is bad for productivity.”

SharePoint 2010 does introduce social features via MySites, but Watson said these are difficult to implement and control, and require big infrastructure to run. “MySite social is not what people expect,” he said. “You quickly run into roadblocks. For instance, you can only share a status; there is no ‘at’ replies, and no hash tagging. The profiles are great, but there’s a lot missing.”

SnapTeam has Microsoft’s TeamSite styling, and users can create tasks for individuals, color-code them as to the status and the approaching due date. Users can communicate back and forth; open documents out of SharePoint for review, revision and comment; and see a maintained thread of discussion that is searchable with metadata. It takes the best of twitter and Facebook and combines those features – along with SharePoint – into a single UI, Watson explained during a demo of the tool.

SnapTeam installs on a single site collection as lives as part of the site infrastructure, but not on the server infrastructure. That’s why in the free version, tags entered into discussions are not associated with SharePoint metatagging. But the free version also has an app store built right in for people who want to add more professional features – some are free; some are not, Watson said. He added that the company will release a professional version in the first quarter of next year.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You THINK you know backup

When Hurricane Irene was taking aim at our Huntington, NY, headquarters in September, we, like many companies, had the chance to review our disaster recovery plans. One thing that became apparent is that while backing up and recovering data and files is a job for IT, there is a business perspective that cannot be ignored.
All users know is that they were working on a PowerPoint that they need to have back to finish in time for an upcoming meeting. IT, on the other hand, takes a global look at the system and might not necessarily know that a particular document is stored in a particular place.
Sean McDonough is an expert in DR, and one additional thing he pointed out is that SharePoint Server presents unique challenges that overall IT plans do not take into account. We had a chance to talk at Microsoft's SharePoint Conference, and he pointed out that in SharePoint, content and configurations are stored across databases, but you can't back up in piecemeal fashion. "It's a real challenge to get to the data and restore it in a way that doesn't break things." SharePoint requires a granular backup that's different from what's involved in backing up a full farm.
He co-wrote a book on the subject that looks at backup and recovery from the business perspective first, and then backs into the IT view. It's an interesting look at a critical topic.
--David

Monday, October 3, 2011

The beauty of records management

When SharePoint first came out, ECM (enterprise content management) was a big driver for adoption. Users were now able to organize emails, PDFs, Word files and all manner of content. SharePoint 2010 introduced metadata, allowing users to tag content so it could be found again from massively growing content lists and libraries.
Now, organizations want to understand WHY they save documents, and HOW LONG should they be kept. Enter the records managers. I had an interesting interview with ARRAY's Mike Miller on the topic, and today I got a chance to speak with Colligo Networks' Barry Jinks on the subject. The company is introducing Colligo Briefcase, for browsing, viewing and storing SharePoint content on tablets (iPads for now, Windows-based tablets down the road, Jinks said), and Colligo Email Manager and Contributor Pro software. You can read about those here.
Jinks was talking about the expanding definition of records, and how everyone in a organization is creating records all the time. About how, in fact, EVERYTHING -- a blog post, a Wiki entry, an email attachment, even a TWEET -- is a record. So in-place records management becomes critical, and users must be empowered and trained to use SharePoint to choose content types, and create metadata tags at the time the document is created. SharePoint, he said, offers centrally managed compliance, but the hard part is getting users to do it. "The value of applying metadata is seen in search," he said, "so they get why they're doing it." And the organization gets the value of retention policies that work.
-- David

Greetings from SharePoint Conference! A live blog

I'm here in Anaheim for Microsoft's SharePoint Conference. Walked past a marching band, cheerleaders and some guys dressed in football uniforms on the way to the keynote, promoting collaboration software called "Huddle." A slideshow in the keynote hall featured a mock Metro interface as a DJ dropped some beats in the background while a crowd estimated at 7,500 attendees by Microsoft's PR legions filed in.
Microsoft senior director of SharePoint product management Jared Spataro opened the event with the theme "Productivity Delivered." He reflected on the 2009 event, which featured Steve Ballmer, Huey Lewis and the News ... and the release of SharePoint 2010. It was the "unveiling of our baby to the world," he said. What happens next is what customers and partners do with the product.
* * *
Some stats: sold more than 125 million licenses of SharePoint. If SharePoint were a standalone business, it would be one of the top 50 software firms in the world. Millions of customers using SharePoint Online and Office 365.

* * *
Spataro introduced a funny video of the Microsoft team going to Hollywood to find a good keynote to discuss SharePoint. It featured "teen heartthrob" Luke Perry, Carmen Electra ("How are computers in the cloud? Won't they just fall through?"), Alan Thicke (who thought it was a reality show where he could discuss his innermost feelings about the girls from 'America's Next Top Model' ) and Florence Henderson (who, yes, sang 'The Brady Bunch' theme). The ultimate passionate SharePoint spokesperson they finally hit on? Microsoft vice president Jeff Teper.

* * *
Teper explained the SharePoint team's guiding principles: redefine collaboration,unleash the ecosystem, build a world-class platform. Self-service business intelligence is one area that Teper said was a critical focus, as part of the self-service experience for rich collaboration. A social fabric that enables people to move from one group to the next, with permissions that carry over, using different communications tools, is another powerful feature that Teper cited.
* * *
Collaboration needs to include customers and partners outside the organization, and this is done via SharePoint for extranets. This breaks down the walls of the organization, Teper said. Office 365 takes this to another level, he added.
* * *
11:59 AM local time. First reference to Bill Gates.

* * *
Teper hinted that SharePoint team is working on the next release, then went on to say he won't be talking about it.

* * *
Second guiding principle: the developer ecosystem. There are 700,000 developers working on SharePoint around the world, and 1,162 books on SharePoint available on Amazon, Teper noted.
Visual Studio integration, binding to external line-of-business or database data with read-write, search and take data offline -- those were breakthroughs in SharePoint 2010, he said. First update of Office 365 will have BCS functionality, including read-write data access for cloud-based applications.

* * *
New certification: Microsoft Certified Architect. More info to be published today on microsoft.com. A credential that shows greatest level of depth in the SharePoint community, Teper said.

* * *
Scale, performance and high availability. Richard Riley, SharePoint director, discussed hardware and deployments. VERY technical, discussing racks and clusters, NEC and EMC2 servers. Check out the configuration on microsoft.com/visio.

* * *
FAST search. More than 107 million items returned on a search in 0.23 seconds. Impressive.
High availability. Riley also demonstrated the failover capabilities of a server farm, with 14+ terabytes of data and 7,500 concurrent users. The SharePoint deployment was restored in about 40 seconds. Very impressive.

* * *
Kurt Del Bene, president of the Microsoft Office division, came on to discuss building businesses on top of SharePoint. He said the Office division is betting on SharePoint. Nature of workforce is changing. More stats: 84 percent of businesses have people working remotely. Sixty-five percent are deploying at least one social software tool. Four MILLION millenials are entering the workforce each year. Seventy percent of IT budgets are spent maintaining inflexible and siloed data center solutions. This, he said, is why moving to the cloud has great appeal.

* * *
Del Bene showed a video of NetHope, a charitable organization that uses SharePoint to collaborate, train, manage funds, data and donations. They are working in Haiti to rebuild lives after the devastating earthquake of a few years back. Microsoft is also providing a site where people can donate to NetHope. Unfortunately, as I was going to their site to get the link for you, dear reader, the network here crashed. It failed over quickly, but Microsoft's SharePoint Conference site was corrupted. Unbelievable!