SPTechCon 2014: Jason Himmelstein Demystifies Apps for Office

As we here at Bamboo continue to increase our SharePoint app offerings with the Calendar Plus SharePoint app and Quick
Add App for SharePoint Lists, it seemed only natural, when given the
opportunity, to learn a thing or two from one of the experts.  In his session Achieving Better Business
Productivity Through Apps for Office
, Jason Himmelstein, Microsoft MVP
and Senior Technical Director for Atrion, gave attendees an
overview of Apps for Office, as well
as how they could be leveraged to increase efficiencies to:

  • Understand the real world value of Apps for
  • Learn about the Cloud App model & its ROI;
  • Unlock the power of your investment; and
  • Drive company productivity to new heights.

Jason began his discussion with an overview of the evolution
of applications.  While applications have
been around since SharePoint 2003, their purpose and usage has changed
dramatically since their initial release.
From 2003, where the question was “What is an application?” to 2007
where Microsoft shouted from the hills “Everything is an application!” the
state of applications, or apps, has definitely changed.  Now that we’re in SharePoint 2013, the goal has
transitioned to wanting to redefine the application as an app.

To understand the evolution of the app, it is perhaps important to first look at the improvements to
Microsoft Office that make apps
possible.  According to Jason, these
improvements include:

  • Ribbon accessibility;
  • Backstage;
  • Account integration;
  • Sync to SharePoint;
  • Co-Authoring; and
  • Apps for Office.

To take a step back, let’s define what exactly is an app for Office?  In the simplest terms possible, an app is a webpage that is hosted inside
an Office client application that is inserted from the ribbon.  By embracing this model, apps make it
possible to do everything we need to do executable from a single location.  By centralizing our day-to-day operations,
apps make it possible to make getting work done as swift and easy as

Before one jumps ship and blindly adopts the app model, it’s
important to know the downside to apps.  For one, when you utilize apps, you are
relying on the publisher to maintain and repair their app.  If they decide to no
longer support an app, for example,
you’re pretty much SOL, as the app
will discontinue to function.
Additionally, since apps are housed in the cloud, unlike .exe. files,
which admins  can disallow you to install
on your computer, most anyone with a valid, personal credit card can add an app
to their Office environment.

All negatives aside, Apps
for Office
provide a wealth of benefits to any organization’s SharePoint environment
and have a quantifiable value-add.  That
stated, in the event that your organization decides to implement Office apps, according to Jason, make
sure that you do the following:

  • Analyze your business and existing applications;
  • Create a web service layer;
  • Create an app for Office;
  • Train your users; and
  • Track productivity.

To end his session, Jason presented a personal case study
that illustrated the benefits of embracing Apps for Office.  By showing how a close friend (who bought him
dinner for his services no less!) was able to utilize apps for Office to
increase efficiencies :

    • Expanding Office 365 API;
    • Office 365 UX API capabilities;
    • Better integration with Azure; and
    • Expanded tooling capabilities with Visual Studio.

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