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 Office;
  • 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 have changed dramatically since their initial release. From 2003, when the question was “What is an application?” to 2007 when 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
possible.

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 functioning. 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 provides a wealth of benefits to any organization’s SharePoint environment and has 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
  • 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
  • Expanded tooling capabilities with Visual Studio

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