Microsoft has been pressing the concept of Citizen Developers over the past few years; power users with the ability to build low-code or no-code solutions using their Power Platform in Office 365. While I’ve always been an advocate of spreading knowledge and skills to a broader audience especially within the business, the power of the Power Platform does raise concerns and considerations that must be addressed to avoid a chaos scenario of solutions.
The term is loaded but the phrase “best practices” can make a huge difference when it comes to creating long term supportable solutions vs. short term throwaway solutions. There are a number of professionals out there (Laura Rogers, Shane Young, and others) who can easily educate you on how to build Power Platform based solutions but are you educating within your organization and developing internal best practices to follow?
Documenting the construction of Power Platform based applications is not the easiest task because of how the applications themselves are configured and built. For a Citizen Developer to build a long term solution they need to be cognizant of the fact they may not be the developer who supports their application a year from now. Even more common, if they’re a skilled citizen developer, they may be called to task to support someone else’s application. Dedicating time and process to proper documentation can make the difference between spending an hour troubleshooting a problem and spending a day.
By it’s very nature, the Power Platform pushes a developer into certain design standards to allow for scalable and responsive design. Organizationally, coordinating your citizen developers around design standards for solution types, business branding, and usability helps mitigate the chaos and encourages a shorter learning curve when users are working with solutions built by different developers.
Nothing new under the sun
These are not new concepts; they have been around the developer community from the beginning days of computing. Where this is new is that non-developers have to learn the value of this effort and adopt it as part of their everyday methodology. It is in this that seasoned developers can be advocates of good development habits and procedures as citizen developers become more mainstream.
Microsoft has been making some major pivots over the past few years to expand their reach and “playing well with others” when it comes to cloud based services. One of the biggest, and honestly most surprising, changes has been altering the rendering engine for Edge to the Chromium engine. There’s lots of speculation as to what this will mean for Edge in the future but I think it will have a greater impact on Chromebooks when it comes to working with Office 365.
With the primary browser platforms all running under one common engine, the developers on the Office 365 will have a much easier time writing applications that work across multiple machines, be it Edge on Windows 10 or Chrome on a Chromebook. As a Microsoft user who counts on his Chromebook I couldn’t be happier. While G Suite (Google’s office platform) has some strengths, it still doesn’t compare one-to-one with Microsoft’s offering.
You’ll hear the argument made that Microsoft’s pursuit of “Windows Lite” or “Lite” or whatever they’re calling it will take a chunk out of the Chromebook market but honestly that’s not the play for the long game. Microsoft is about the cloud now and hardware is just a way to get there. It doesn’t matter the tool, what matters is what you do with it. Personally I like the thin client approach of a Chromebook coupled with the power of Office 365 and Azure. You’d be hard pressed to find a combination that offers the same level of flexibility, power, and accessibility.
I’d wager we will see more and more changes in Office 365 over the coming months that work equally as well on Chromebooks as they do Windows 10 machines. It’s to Microsoft’s benefit to do this because if you can run Office 365 equally well on both hardware platforms, why wouldn’t you get a subscription?
Wisebread.com provided a great summary of some of the perks you can get as a college student (and with the price of college today students can take all the perks they can get.) My favorite one on the list though is something that is a big money saver – Free Office 365 for college students with a valid student ID. This can be a huge savings and very convenient for new as well as current college students. If you have a valid college student ID or know someone who does, make sure they know about this perk. Now, what are you waiting for?
Microsoft is rolling out SharePoint Sites as part of their Groups offering in Office 365 beginning this month. The premise is when a Microsoft Group is set up, not only will the group get common notebooks and a Yammer site, but they will also get a SharePoint Team Site as part of the deployment.
Making sense of Office 365 and SharePoint Team Sites
Sounds confusing, right? Well it starts to clear up the confusion when you look at it from a different perspective. No longer do you have to choose which is a better fit for your group. Now if you focus on Groups, you can be confident the collaborative space you are using will scale up as needed into a SharePoint Team Site should it be required.
As Office 365 continues to grow in enterprise and business deployments the development of a comprehensive and cohesive strategy becomes critical for long term success. The strategy needs to include what collaboration tools to use when and how. Integration of this functionality by Microsoft makes the decisions easier but does not change the need for analysis and planning.
Looking over the operation of an organization, specifically around how team members collaborate and coordinate their work, and applying the features from Office 365 to optimize that operation can make all the difference in the success of the cloud based solution. Three key questions you want to ask your team prior to rolling out Office 365 collaboration features are:
- How do you communicate most frequently between team members?
- What are you communicating?
- What is not working as part of those communications?
A better understanding of the natural communications processes between your team members helps you determine what will benefit from new tools and what should remain with the current ones. Office 365 Groups and SharePoint are a powerful combination. Offering features and functions to help your teams work together the most important thing they leave up to you is to come up with a plan.