Inside SharePoint

Project GigJam: The Next-Gen Task Collaboration App

The goal will be to provide tools collaborators really want, while making sure data stays safe and secure.

Workflow has long been the dominant productivity solution within SharePoint, enabling customers to automate key business processes within the platform to reduce otherwise manual and time-consuming activities through system-driven tasks and notifications. By moving SharePoint and other productivity solutions to the cloud, however, many customers are beginning to catch a glimpse of what productivity might look like in the future, and the many different options it opens up to automate beyond workflow. In fact, during the vision keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, held in Orlando earlier in the month, partners and customers caught their first glimpse of the cloud's potential through the introduction of Project GigJam.

In the keynote demo, Office GM Julia White demonstrated the new GigJam platform by walking through a scenario that showcased integrations across platforms and product categories. According to Microsoft, GigJam is "a breakthrough way for people to involve others in their business tasks" through the cloud and business productivity solutions you are already using, such as SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, and the Web-based Office suite, among others. A TechNet blog post introducing Project GigJam provides more background to the solution as follows:

  • The summoned information and associated actions come from the business's existing applications and SaaS via REST APIs, with OAuth 1 and 2 authentication.
  • When a user divvies up and sends information to another person, it is in the spirit of screen sharing or casting, with the twist that each person can have a different view, and any field or row or even a UI affordance like a scroll button can be redacted. The recipient gets only the UI the sender intended, with information flown through a cloud proxy for the sender's device.
  • The business's overall process logic and security policies are thus honored.

The blog post, authored by members of Microsoft's Ambient Computing team, includes a video that demonstrates how the platform will work, using Cortana, touch, and the power of solutions within Microsoft's SaaS offerings, including SharePoint Online, Dynamics ERP and CRM Online, and the Office Graph within Office 365 -- all elements that were included in White's keynote demo at WPC.

The concept is straightforward enough: give users the ability to involve others in work activities when needed, and where needed, to get work done. As the Ambient Computing team shares in their blog post, there are numerous examples of where GigJam might provide value, such as:

A physical therapist who previously worked alone to create a rehab protocol now involves the patient and the patient's family (each interacting from their own devices), all the while making sure that sensitive physician's notes and the patient's records are appropriately shielded.

An engineer assigned to inspect an aircraft fuselage can opportunistically accelerate the work by divvying up some of it for a couple of colleagues who happen to be nearby and free, while still maintaining personal responsibility through the ability to review the colleagues' input before committing it.

According to Alan Lepofsky (@alanlepo), an analyst with Constellation Research who focuses on collaboration and productivity solutions, GigJam provides a "collaborative digital canvas" that has the potential to improve both team and individual productivity by connecting otherwise disparate tools needed to complete common tasks, and then pull in the people or additional resources needed to complete that task.

If you have not yet read his review, I highly recommend you take a look ("Has Microsoft Just Redefined Collaboration? Introducing Project GigJam," Constellation Research)

During my long career in information technology, one of the observations I've made is that the more simple the user interface, the more complex the administration. Streamlined authentication alone can be a barrier to connecting disparate tools and services. Back in the dot com era, I was part of several projects tasked with the development of a service bus to translate between various components, developed independently, to help bring them together in a modular fashion to solve more complex business problems. I have some experience in helping to build various modules to improve collaboration within a manufacturing supply chain, and experienced first hand the difficulties in getting these solutions not only to work together, but to achieve a level of productivity beyond the costs of the project, and beyond the efficiencies of the standalone pieces.

Of course, the birth of the mobile app moved this concept of the service bus forward by leaps and bounds.  Strategic use of mobility solutions, in conjunction with on-premises solutions, are moving to the forefront of the information worker's world, driven by two phrases we're all sick of hearing about, but which are very much at play here: "bring your own device," and "the consumerization of IT." People want flexibility and ease of use in an app that is accessed via their personal smartphone,, which is changing the behavior of how we look at enterprise platforms within the corporate world. In years past, we strove to develop massive platforms that solved every possible end user task, yet the app movement seeks to break down these unwieldy platforms into their core workloads, and underneath that, their discrete tasks. Because of this focus on discrete tasks within the app ecosystem, we are beginning to understand the link between these apps and the end user experience: people want personalization, flexibility, and control.

While the app marketplace has not taken off in the way many had expected (certainly not within the SharePoint ecosystem), the reasons why apps have not yet displaced traditional workflow and other desktop-bound productivity solutions in the workplace has less to do with the success or failure of the app model itself, and more to do with an assumed lack of control of activities through mobile platforms, concerns over security, and -- most importantly -- the inability to accomplish through mobile apps what can only be accomplished through rich applications (and most of those on-premises).

GigJam may solve this problem by filling in the gaps between disparate apps, allowing users to connect them in modular fashion -- selecting the apps (or modules) needed to solve their particular business problem. The opportunity for apps is in their simplicity, solving targeted problems -- and combined through the "digital canvas" of GigJam, apps may be able to provide more complex workloads while allowing end users greater control over who can view, edit, and collaborate around these workloads.

Following his WPC vision keynote, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was interviewed by Mary Jo Foley ("CEO Nadella talks Microsoft's mobile ambitions, Windows 10 strategy, HoloLens and more"), where he shared his thoughts on the GigJam announcement:

It is about the core. It's one category. It's about productivity and business process. Think of it as a new module of Office 365. It's not bound to today's definitions of categories. It's not just a creation tool. It's not just a communications tool. It's not just a development tool. It's all of that. And it spans all devices. It's not bound to one device.

The notion is to be able to generate applications on the fly to adjust to the work that you're doing versus sending you off to five different apps, five different devices, and five different communications sessions. We brought all of that. That's a very revolutionary concept. If you think about the first time you saw Outlook, up to that point I had a contact management app, I had e-mail, and I had a calendar. Outlook took those three categories, came up with a new scaffolding, and since then, nobody has thought about these three things as separate on the desktop. So it's fewer, but big bets with growing addressable markets, not looking back.

The hard part of GigJam is not about the cool touch interface, being able to use Cortana to search and parse your data, or your ability to pull team members into a task in real-time to get their help. The underlying problem with this vision of the future of productivity remains in the complexity of the back end. As with the dot com era service bus solutions, the hard part will be in creating the right solutions to be consumed, packaging them up to communicate with the other components and solutions, and figuring out how they will bundle or "mashup" within the digital canvas. Most difficult of all will be demonstrating how this new digital canvas will be managed so that your data remains secure, compliant, and well governed.

GigJam provides a beautifully simplistic front-end experience, but we all need to know the impacts on the back end.

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