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Office Addins and the Digital Workplace

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Office Addins and the Digital Workplace

From Pete: Here is a link to the Office Addins post I did (and link to the pptx) for Global Azure Bootcamp –  https://peteskelly.com/atlanta-global-office-365-developer-bootcamp/

Danny Ryan:Hello, and welcome to the Two Bald Brother’s and a Microphone podcast. This is your host, Danny Ryan. I’m here with Pete Skelly, how are you doing Pete?

 

Pete Skelly:I’m doing well.

 

Danny Ryan:Wanted to have a conversation with you about a recent podcast that I did with Bruce Harpell. We were talking about Excel, and I think our conversation that we just had, where a lot of customers ask us to help out with the provisioning process. Often with the applications that we create, a lot of customers start off with, like it or not, prototyping something on Excel, and then using that as sort of the initial requirements.

 

I’ll call it an MVP, but just something that gets them started out in the right direction, and then what I talked with Bruce about was sort of where do we go from there? What are the next steps, and how does this initial, call it a prototype, of an application start off in Excel, and then grow into something that you might start moving some of the content into a SharePoint list, and then you might start looking at a different UI where you might put a different front end on it, and then you might start thinking about well, do I wanna have this more of a mobile app, and then the different directions that you can go into.

 

This is really about line of business applications that people create, and that’s what we talked about it, and Bruce, I think he picked the idea up from you, which was the different levels of a type of app, the different maturity levels that we often see, and how can we pick up with something that were you might of outgrown Excel, and then where do you go from there, and not just the technology, but also the process that we might have for helping a client out in that certain situation. Does that make sense? Do you see this on projects a lot? Any other comments you might have about that?

 

Pete Skelly:Yeah, absolutely. Bruce and I, we had a brief conversation about it, and there’s two components to it, one, in mid-September, late September time frame. I think it was September, maybe later than that. I can’t even remember.

 

We did the Atlanta version of the office developer boot camp, and that global office developer boot camp focused on office technologies from developer perspectives, so giving folks a free day of training from MVP, and community members, sort of a free day of training, and things like SharePoint framework, and teams, and all the new cutting edge development capabilities and options, and Office 365 is a suite if you wanna call it that.

 

One of the things that I did, I presented on office add-ins, and what’s new in office add-ins, and what’s available, and to bring it back to Bruce’s discussion, one of the things, that we’re doing with customers these days is talking about digital workplace. The progression. Where you are in, are you a beginner? Are you at a basic level? Are you advanced? Where are you in a capability, or a maturity model, so beginner or basic, advanced, strategic, or visionary, and Bruce and I had a conversation about we see a lot of customers taking something like a process built in Excel, and reaching a point where working within Excel, reaches some threshold, whether that’s shipping that thing around in email. It just becomes unwieldy.

 

Maybe customers reach a point where “Well, you know what, we’re actually using co-authoring enough for 365, but we have some complex things that we wanna do, and we don’t wanna step on each other’s toes, or we want additional functionality, or we wanna pull in data from other sources, and that’s a frequent occurrence. It’s one of the things that if you have an Excel process, but then you wanna put it in to SharePoint, as a SharePoint app, or a Team’s app.

 

One of the logical places is to go to an office add-in, and so the talk that I did was more about office add-ins in general, but office add-ins are available in Word and PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, etc, and they really have 3 main components. They really benefit developers, users, and administrators.

 

I can kinda go into each of those areas, maybe a few bullet points for each if you wanna do that?

 

Danny Ryan:That sound great. Yeah, absolutely.

 

Pete Skelly:Okay, so Bruce probably mentioned progressing, starting with an Excel app, and if you look and think broad terms for any office add-in. The benefits to a developer are really writing once, and running across multiple platforms.

 

An Office add-in, out of the box, once you create an Office add-in, is gonna run in an Office Client, so if I create a Word add-in, for example, it’s gonna run on Word for a Mac. It’ll run on Windows, it’ll run on an iOS device, a phone, or a tablet.

 

It’ll even run on Android, and it’ll run just in a web browser, in Office web apps. I get great coverage if I create one of these as a developer. I have the ability to kind of impact a huge number of users. Office is used by a billion people, so I mean, if you can build an app that addresses just your business, or even a big customer, it’s a huge number of potential users.

 

They’re very quick to experiment, and iterate with, so it’s a very familiar model. They’re now web applications in effect, so there’s a Java Script API that lets you interact with most Office applications. There’s a common API surface that lets you do common things, like insert text, and read text from Outlook from a mail message, for example, but then there’s also specific things, like in Excel, you have access to creating tables and ranges, and charts, and a whole bunch of things, but in the end, the developer experience is a very familiar, open, web technology, and reusing your current technical skills.

 

Danny Ryan:Okay.

 

Pete Skelly:Especially for Office developers. Folks familiar with SharePoint framework development for example, it’s an easy on road to developing Office add-ins, and then also from a developer perspective, you get to access all the goodness of Office 365, etc, by graph API’s.

 

In the end, if you wanna look at a SharePoint list, or you wanna integrate with Teams, or say you wanted to write a report, you can do all of those things from inside an Office add-in, and then from a user perspective, this is the biggest benefit to me, is it allows a user to work in the context of an Office app that they’re used to working in.

 

You’re not trying to say, hey go use another application, you’re actually giving them, functionality inside of the application that they use to do their job everyday. If I use PowerPoint, and I’m a marketing person, and I make marketing slides, and I’m working on sales presentations, why not just let me stay in there, but give me access to common things that I’m gonna need to do my job.

 

Maybe a common repository for assets, so if I have somebody working in Adobe in Design, and giving me designs, and I wanna store those and retrieve those very quickly, I could create an add-in for PowerPoint that actually looks at the in Design location, grabs me all those files, and pulls in those images, right into PowerPoint where I am, so really from a user perspective, it’s a great way to say, I actually wanna be in the application. I don’t wanna leave. I wanna keep the context I have, but I want everything to come to me, and then you have the cross platform in safe installation. There’s no MSI installer, this a website, so effectively once you add an add-in, it’s there.

 

You’re not gonna reinstall anything. If the website quote “updates” if your add-in has an update, it’s just gonna update. It’s gonna be auto-updated behind the scenes, from a developer and a user perspective, they’re great as far as being able to say, hey once I have this add-in, I’m gonna get features, and functionality added, just along the way, and then one of the big knocks in the old world of add-ins, we’ve written a few for customers in the past, and the biggest issue was from an administration perspective.

 

Administering these, deploying these, worrying about well do I do click once, do I have an MSI installer? What am I gonna do when the administrators have locked down laptops, and I don’t have administrative privileges. All that kinda disappears, but from an administrator perspective you don’t lose control. You can centrally deploy these from an Office 365 tenant.

 

You also have the ability to update these on the fly. You can deploy and assign those add-ins to individuals, groups, specific users, so say you want the marketing team to have that PowerPoint add-in, you can restrict that add-in to just those users, and then you get the ability to monitor usage, and deployment inside. This is coming. It’s not fully released yet, but inside of the Office portal, so the office admin portal, being able to look at what you have deployed, and how it’s deployed. How it’s being used etc, so really powerful stuff.

 

Danny Ryan:Awesome, and I assume, I know from add-ins in the past. It sounds like number one, it addresses a lot of the issues that we’ve run into in add-ins with the past, because I think the idea of it, both you and I as Mac users, that we can use them on Macs, and also just the issues around the good ole days when you were relying on things on the client, and it not always being there, and all that sort of headache that you have to deal with.

 

Sounds like this is definitely working around a lot of those issues, but when I hear add-ons, or add-ins I think of Outlook, and it’s add-ins, and some of the frustration that I’ve run through those in the years, but then also I think recently, is this also applied to Microsoft Teams, or does Teams have an add-in type of thing, or how does that play into this?

 

Pete Skelly:That’s a very interesting question. The development model is very similar. The concepts behind loading apps and teams, SharePoint framework add-ins, and extensions, and Office add-ins. That development model is very similar, and you’ll probably see Microsoft move towards that in even more areas, so while they’re not exactly the same, much of the tooling is very similar for example, SharePoint framework, has a Yeomen Generator to generate a web part, or an application extension project for a SharePoint framework for example.

 

Well, Teams has a very Yeoman Generator. It uses very similar client development technologies, and now you can use a SharePoint framework web part inside of teams with some very minor modifications, so very similar model.

 

Office is exactly the same. You have a Yeoman Generator, client side. You basically run a node Yeoman Generator, that stubs out your project, similar JavaScript type script style development.

 

While not exactly one to one, that’s a very similar model. There’s certain things that have to be done in iFrames, because your in kind of a web world, authentication, authorization, so if you’re trying to authenticate to an Office 365 tenant, very similar, across those tools, so yeah, great question, because it’s very similar.

 

Danny Ryan:It seems like, and I have to deal with this, because you hear me sort of grappling with where we are from a collaboration standpoint inside of organizations, and for many years, we’ve talked about intranets, and SharePoint, and now we’re starting we’re talking about some new products coming into play, like Teams for getting work done within small teams, and there’s this aspect of extending, where we’re not talking about a website on SharePoint, where we’re talking about extending out the Office suite itself.

 

It just reminds me why we’re starting to get our arms around, and really trying to describe these as digital workplaces, that overused trendy term, because it’s not an intranet, it’s not just the Office suit, it’s using all these things together to get work done, and how that’s evolving over time, and I think what’s interesting with this as well, is that how we’re using a lot of the web technologies, whereas before we would use a lot more of client-side type of things, and how it’s going in that direction, and help address a lot of what the web technologies can address. It’s interesting to see this evolve over time.

 

Pete Skelly:Yeah, it’s been really fascinating to have some conversations with customers recently about switching from just an intranet conversation to talking about well, and I get it, it’s a marketing term, but it is an apt term. It’s a very relevant way to say it. It’s a digital work place, because that helps people kinda define, well what’s the outcome I’m looking for.

 

It’s not just about building an intranet, and having a bunch of web pages.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah.

 

Pete Skelly:It’s about trying to find out, well I wanna communicate to certain audiences, and I wanna target that communication. I wanna make sure it shows up that I wanna track the effectiveness of that communication. That’s one way, but then you might have a very specific business process that you just wanna streamline, and you wanna make sure you have very efficient process, and a lot of data is captured through it, so it moves, again back to that, well where are you on that maturity level?

 

Are you basic, advanced, strategic, or visionary, and sometimes the Office add-ins pushes into that strategic and visionary category of well, I have very specific business outcomes that I wanna achieve, and I have processes that are already and used specific applications like Word, or Excel or whatever, and so I wanna make sure that I don’t pull people out of what their comfortable in, for example, Excel, and keep them there, but add functionality, and get even more value out of what their dealing. Great stuff.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah, and when we talk about building line of business applications, and really to me, it’s trying to figure out, and you can address it from the point of what key business apps can we create for you, and this is another way that we could.

 

Earlier you were giving an example of maybe I need to pull in some information from different systems. I really think for us where, I think building these add-ins will be for their line of business. What’s the unique things that your business does? We’re having an application where you can keep people in Excel, and provide additional information, or additional functionality that gives them the capability to do their job better, and the capability for the organization to make more money, or whatever you’re trying to address from a business standpoint.

 

Pete Skelly:Yeah, I think it goes back to what Microsoft’s trying to do across the board. If you at the four areas they’re focusing on collaboration, security, compliance, intelligence, and analytics, and mobility.

 

This kinda covers all of them.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah.

 

Pete Skelly:To me, and Office add-in says, well I can be collaborative, because I do co-authoring, but inside of the add-in, you could actually have things like, okay, let me pull the conversations from Teams, or let me pull other information from inside of OneNote for example.

 

It’s secure, right? You’re gonna use that Office 365 backing as your active directory to make sure that you’re compliant that you’re securing what you’re doing, but I could have these things on my phone. If I’m a manager, I can keep track of all the stats. I can look at everything, even if it’s an approval mechanism inside of Word, or I can have feedback inside of Word.

 

The big thing to me is intelligence and analytics, because now as you’re inside of an application, now you can bring additional intelligence, adding things like cognitive services, doing sentiment analysis from inside of Word for example on the fly, offering different alternatives, building documents on the fly if you’re in Word or in PowerPoint that are based on other templates.

 

It’s about how can I make people faster, and not necessarily keep them in a typical, well, I’ve gotta go hunt down some images from a standard image library. Bring them to them. Put it right in the task pane, on their left hand side of the screen. Make people even that much more efficient.

 

Nobody wants to work harder. Right? These things make people work much smarter.

 

Danny Ryan:That’s great. Well thank you for covering this topic with me, and thank you everybody for listening, and have a wonderful day. Thanks, Pete.

 

Pete Skelly:Great thanks. Bye bye.

 

Additional Credits

Intro/Outro Music – Daniel Bassett

Danny RyanOffice Addins and the Digital Workplace

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