Rethinking the SharePoint Assembly Line

Assembly Line

As we approach the end of the year, the conversations within the SharePoint community tend to lean toward forward-thinking topics. Where is the platform heading? What will be the next big transformation? What do customers think about the state of their own environment, and are they planning to stay the course?

If you haven't noticed all of the tweets, I'll be hosting a tweetjam on December 30th to tackle the topic of SharePoint predictions — but I wanted to share a couple thoughts about whether SharePoint in the future will still fit this picture than many of us have of the platform being an "assembly line" for creating business solutions. I wrote about this a couple years back over on AIIM.org:

Everyone knows the story of Henry Ford, the Model T automobile, and the advances made to productivity and mass production by utilizing a revolutionary process called the assembly line, where instead of having workers move from vehicle to vehicle to perform repetitive tasks (which was slow, and introduced unnecessary risks and mistakes), the vehicles were moved down a line of worker stations. This allowed individual specialists to quickly add their part of perform their role, and then repeat the process on the next vehicle in the line as it moved down the factory floor, resulting in a finished product at the far end.

While Ford is credited with making the assembly line a competitive success (and a primary discussion topic for business school programs around the world), the assembly line would not have been successful without a similarly successful standardization — the screw. Back in the day, screws varies widely, with each machinist using their own style or size. One pair of machinists, brothers Job and William Wyatt, wanted to mass produce screws, creating lathe devices that allowed them to eventually generate 16,000 screws per day, and thereby greatly reduced the cost and time involved with any mass production activity…..including later advances in automobiles.

SharePoint as a platform, and with its broad partner ecosystem, is quickly becoming the enterprise application assembly line. You'll often hear MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) and MCMs (Microsoft Certified Masters) openly discuss the limits of even their knowledge or expertise of the platform, given its massive scope and breadth. But what the platform provides is an opportunity for specialization. Many Strategic Integrators (SI's or consulting companies) have established themselves in the space by quickly building out assembly line-type practices revolving around specific solutions, whether it be Business Intelligence, external websites, or team collaboration, or other targeted areas.

Funny how I came across this old post. I was thinking about how SharePoint Online, with the move away from full trust custom solution development toward the app model, is not a move away from the assembly line model — but a complete redesign of the assembly line — and then remembered that I had made that comparison in the past, and came across this old AIIM post. Resources on TechNet outline how developers can transition their activities to develop solutions for SharePoint Online:

  1. Customization using the browser   
    You can use the browser-based settings SharePoint Online to apply simpler customizations like changing title and logo, updating navigation links, applying a new site theme, changing the contents of a page, or changing views for lists and libraries. Browser-based customizations are the easiest customizations to apply, and they require minimal technical expertise.
  2. Customizations using supported tools and applications   
    You can use supported SharePoint tools to perform more extensive customizations. For example, Office applications like Access 2013, Excel 2013, and Visio 2013 help you create highly dynamic, data-rich pages on your site. You can even create a SharePoint app as a no-code solution by using Access 2013.
  3. Customizations using remote provisioning   
    In SharePoint Online, you can use custom CSOM code in apps for SharePoint to provision SharePoint site collections, sites, and sub-sites with branding elements. This site provisioning pattern is called remote provisioning.
  4. Customizations using apps for SharePoint   
    The new Cloud App Model in SharePoint Online enables you to add apps to your sites, and is the recommended replacement for Sandboxed solutions going forward. You can use existing third-party apps or build your own. Add apps to a site when you want to customize it with specific functionality or information. For example, you can add apps that perform general tasks like time and expense tracking. Or you can use apps and remote provisioning to apply branding elements to sites. You can also add apps that display news or information from third-party providers, or that connect to social websites.
    • Third-party apps   
      Third-party apps are found in the SharePoint Store, which is an Office.com-hosted marketplace accessible from SharePoint Online sites. Select the apps that you want to be available in your tenant. Admins can also buy licenses for specific apps for all users in an organization (requires Site Owner permissions or greater).
    • Custom apps   
      Your organization can also develop its own apps for SharePoint Online and make them available to users through the App Catalog site. If you know how to build a web application, then you know how to build an app for SharePoint. You can use any language, such as HTML, JavaScript, PHP, or .NET, and your favorite web development tools, including Microsoft Visual Studio, and "Napa" Office 365 Development Tools.

I'm interested to hear how your views on SharePoint have changed with the push toward Office 365 and the cloud. Even if you have no immediate plans to move from your on premises environment, have you altered how you architect solutions for SharePoint to make moving to the cloud in the future a more streamlined effort? Please join the #CollabTalk tweetjam and our panel of experts on Tuesday, December 30th at 9am Pacific and share your feedback.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.