Monday, February 13, 2006

Bill Simser has blogged recently about the often ignored idea of SharePoint as an application development framework. I’m not sure why this perspective hasn’t received more focus. This might sound passé to the experienced SharePoint developer, but occasionally I build something or read about someone’s work in SPS, and this whole area strikes me again as being one of the most compelling aspects of the MS Office Productivity stack.

This type of modular, 'drag and drop' declarative authoring is such an incredibly powerful paradigm, and it’s something that SharePoint really excels at. One of the key benefits for a small enterprise team is that SharePoint enables you to focus on business analysis, change management and handover, instead of worrying about security, permissions, presentation widgets, etc.

And if you add InfoPath and BizTalk into the mix, well, there's very little you can't do. I recently built a demo for a local government organisation. It was a simple expense claim app, focused on mileage claims. I built it using SPS, InfoPath and BizTalk. Usual stuff – easy-to-use InfoPath form, SPS form library, some simple workflow using views, then into BizTalk, break the form up, workflow through some approval stuff, and then merge all the claims into one big xml file for backoffice integration.

This took me a couple of hours to build. And most of that time was spent discussing and white-boarding business process issues. The actual “coding” took around an hour. So that’s an incredible productivity story. The application I created was simple and cheap to create. And yet it solved a problem which would have traditionally costs quite a lot to solve using technology. And since my solution simply re-used existing modules, I’m confident it’s stable and reliable. (Obviously if I were building it for release I’d factor in lots of testing.)

Looking at SharePoint, InfoPath and BizTalk as a development environment is a fascinating idea, I think. It's hard to imagine what you can't do!

[I've done some work recently on building a ROI/EVA model for a SharePoint installation for a client. It's quite tricky to know how to factor in this development potential into a traditional ROI-type financial calculation. I'll post some ideas about this soon.]


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