Some notes from the Microsoft Office Developer Conference (ODC 2008) in San Jose -
I was most impressed with InfoPath 2007. It allows for simple creation of forms for data entry or lookup without code, while allowing access to workflow and .net object model for coding if required. I also read how designers and developers are using it for prototyping user experience (UX) on new sites, applications and features. This sounds good, given that you can build a page in a couple minutes that accesses and displays real data.
InfoPath and SharePoint, and any custom programming, can use Windows Workflow to automate emails, task or list creation, and follow-up actions. The assignee of an IT Ticket can have a task created and assigned to them, as well as sent follow-up emails including escalation until the ticket is completed. Also, you can publish InfoPath forms to SharePoint to be accessed as webpages. No need for InfoPath on every desktop.
Visual Studio 2008 is geared to leverage SharePoint for .Net developers, both with access to workflow, workflow templates, tools to simplify building and deploying new features. SharePoint Service Pack 1.1 just came out, and it’s loaded – almost a Service Pack 2.0 release.
A new XML standard allows sharing data across the Office applications, and allows customization of the ribbon in those apps. Microsoft recommends keeping office workers in the applications they are familiar with, rather than go to other, separate apps to do parts of their job. Examples include the AdSage add-in, and the Xobni Outlook plug-in (http://www.xobni.com/learnmore/). Lot's of talk of the user experience as "contextual" or "immersed". For example, if most the the information a user (typically an information worker) is doing is in, they shouldn't have to leave Outlook to use another application to get related information or do a related task, such check the status of a task specified in an email or send a fax of a document attached to an email.
SharePoint has been used to build applications for a New Hire Process, a Project Management app for cross-functional (matrix) organization, a network sppt and monitoring solution, and Sales Generator. These rough apps were each built overnight by teams of three .Net developers trained for only one day in SharePoint.
CRM Live, at $60 per user, might be a good option for sales force automation (SFA) needs of most small to medium sized businesses. See http://crm.dynamics.com/ for more information.
Gartner recently announced MS BI Platform is now in the "magic quadrant" of being an industry leader. It is matching up well against big players like IBM/Cognos and Oracle. Microsoft's strong recommendation is to use Excel and Excel Services as the end-users BI tool. Report Services can be difficult to implement due to multiple security layers. For the first BI project, put all software and data on one machine and go for the smallest data domain possible.
Speakers recommended a number of tools, templates and helper applications on CodePlex. CodePlex was likened to SourceForge for Microsoft apps. See http://www.codeplex.com/Project/ProjectDirectory.aspx?ProjectSearchText=moss for an example of user contributions for WSS and MOSS SharePoint development. Most teams should first review what's out there before building any new applications.
What companies can do with these new tools and functionality depends on their company's priorities. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and actions items could be:
1. Increase revenue - Leverage the AdSage\AdCenter Excel Plugin for keyword and campaign analysis. See http://advertising.microsoft.com/advertising/addin-demos .
2. Control spend - Automate and simplify expense reports
3. Gain customers - Flow customer feedback to site and Customer Service into key performance indicators and analytics
4. Retain existing customers - Automate reports on customer email, comments or other Customer Service data capture of feedback
5. Increase productivity for Sales, Operations, SEO, Editorial, Customer Service and IT
6. Streamline 3rd party interaction and interfaces
7. Automate and simplify business reporting with scorecards and key performance indicators
8. Allow drill-down and trend analysis of business data
The 2007/2008 toolset allows a greater ability to deliver on all of these items.