Then came Microsoft Office from 1993 and on. It conquered the world and that was good. The same is true for Visual Basic, Visual C++, Visual J++ (yes, a lot of things were possible with this card of the pack) and VBA (Visual Basic for applications). The world became a bright place. A lot of things on the Office Business Application front could be done which couldn't be done before this pack of cards from Microsoft; at least, not in the same RAD (Rapid Application Development) way. I don't want to start the discussion here as if RAD was always great. It wasn't and a lot of bad coders made a mess of it. But that doesn't make the pack of cards bad. People who play bad poker even make a gold pack of cards dirty. The same was true for Visual Basic and VBA. Buying cheap means ending up expensive. Organizations bought the bad coders themselves out of greed. Don't blame Microsoft for that.
Let's move on. A great era began and there were tools to make great Office Business applications where the front-end consisted out of the Office Applications Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. The backend could be everything, from archives, document management systems, financial systems and what not. It all could be unlocked through a similar and for everyone well known interface. The fact that there was VBA made it possible to program everything in the Office Suite and make it talk to whatever you want; if you knew what you was doing of course. Lots of organizations. began to develop house styles with macro's and VBA code and it all looked great. Imagine that you can access all the data in your organization, in the legacy systems, in email, in your database, in the financial systems, from customers and business partners from out your Word interface, Excel or Outlook. This was mind blowing!
But still a lot had to be done. You had the Office pack of cards from Microsoft but at the back end there still was everything you could find. This meant that you still had to program against dozens of interfaces and all with their own characteristics. Times were better than before but still big time tooth hand string programming and putting it all together. Till the end of the nineties and the beginning of the new millennia this was what we had and we did great things with it. Thanks to Microsoft, let us not forget that. If this pack of cards wouldn't have been there, then a lot of great office business applications could not have been programmed and certainly not for that price and not with that efficiency.
After that came Microsoft.Net and some server products like Sharepoint, Biztalk, content management server and some others. All had the goal of being open interfaced and easy to program at. The new line of coding languages made it possible to integrate the office products more easy than before. The Office products could talk to .NET code and with .NET code you could do everything. Sharepoint could be used for collaboration and document management, Biztalk for the business processes and content management server for content management. Let us not forget Outlook which became a lot easier to program against (true, in the beginning of the new millennium still a bit rusty and difficult) and the new SQL server line was more mature then the versions before.
All in all Microsoft offered a more attractive pack of cards than it had in the nineties. With this pack we were able to make very attractive and usable office business applications where Word, Outlook, Excel and Powerpoint were the king entrance to whatever laid behind it. Later in time a new member kicked in called Infopath with which we could make really great forms with some intelligence in and around it. These forms could be used as simple data getters, transformers and pushers to the backend and all done with ease. Still, bad coders are everywhere and if you don't know what you are doing and why you are doing it, than you can make even a mess with lego. Again, don't blame Microsoft for your own resource management problem: buy better coders, architects and consultant and you get what you want.
The world became a better place to be in. Microsoft had what it takes to do what was needed: making great office business applications that could deliver. The Visual Studio pack of cards became mature, the Software Development Life Cycle Management tools became more mature in the form of Team Foundation Server and all kinds of language additions and smarties were added to the .NET pack of cards. Later on we could even program in .NET C# inside the Office pack and a Word or Excel document became things like the Windows Forms entities, with the same characteristics, control and possibilities. With all these additions and development, also the ongoing development of Sharepoint, Biztalk, Team Foundation Server, Visual Studio, Infopath and the Office Suite the world of Office Business Applications became mature and words with starting capitals.
This is where we are now and this is what I shall write about. Not the past things that were done and could be done, but the things that can be done now, with Office, Sharepoint, Biztalk, Visual Studio, Team Foundation Server and SQL Server. What are the possibilities of Office Business Applications in relation with Sharepoint? Because that will be my main focus. I also want to relate this to change management issues and what Office Business Applications in combination with Sharepoint can trigger in the world of change. How do OBA's change the organization? How do OBA's change the way people work in the organization? How do OBA's change the way people work together in the organization and how do OBA's change the way organizations will work with other organizations? Not only shall I make clear what OBA's are and how the pieces in it are related to each other but I want to embed this in the changes it will cause within organizations.
It is a bit strange to create such a 'hard' blog on a 'soft' site going about change management around Sharepoint implementations. You will not see code when dealing with Office Business Applications on this site. It will all be on a conceptual level. With doing this I shall try to make it easy to get a grip on it. The reason why I want to write about OBA's on a conceptual level on this site is because I want to make the strategic brains more aware what can be done with the combination Office and Sharepoint and what the changes are that must be analyzed when implementing Office Business Applications. The power of this combination, Sharepoint and Office (and Biztalk) is so immense powerfull and usefull, that it would be a missed change not talking about it and not making the strategic minds aware of this great oppertunity. It is important that those strategic minds have enough knowledge about the Office Business Applications opportunities with the Microsoft pack of cards to place it where it belongs when making strategic decisions for their organizations: in the front seat of the car of progression and innovation.
Last but not least I want to present a picture of the compilation I'm talking about. Don't panic, after the blogs that come I promise that this picture will be as easy to interpreted for the strategic minds as it is for the operationals among us:
The people working with this overall Office Business Applications are also working with Sharepoint without knowing it if their standard applications are the interface, like word, Excel, Outlook and Powerpoint. Infopath can be used to develop intelligent forms to create access to Sharepoint, Biztalk, SAP, Oracle, SQL or what not. If needed, application pages or server pages could be made in Sharepoint to add and combine a specific Sharepoint interface to the interface of the Office Applications. We can also create smart panes, menu's and panels into the Office Applications themselves which could form jet another way of accessing Sharepoint, Biztalk, SAP, Oracle or other legacy systems. With Sharepoint Business Connectivity Services we can integrate many other external sources into the overall Office Business Application and this all can communicate with other organizations having the same integrated solution. Sky is the limit. The pack of cards is ready to shuffle and with the good players, great Office Business Applications can be made.
Let us start!