This year has been abuzz with the newest Microsoft product releases, from the much anticipated Surface, Windows 8 phones and a new version of Office, there really is a whole new wave of products that are available to the masses. SharePoint 2013 is a huge component of the story, but it is important to see that it is still only a piece of the story. 

When you step back and look from the outside in, it becomes clear that SharePoint, which is part of the Office family, is just another piece of the puzzle that is bringing the consumerization of IT to the organization.

The newest release of SharePoint is focused on the end user -- how they work and why they work. The natural elements of SharePoint allow for users to easily work together without having to think about the tools they are using or why they are using that specific tool. This is especially evident with the new social features in SharePoint.

Items -- that in previous releases of the product were hard to configure and manage -- are now integrated directly within the product. Users can easily access from their "My Sites" information that is very specific and targeted to the user -- including all of their assigned tasks anywhere in SharePoint. From one central location users can manage the content that directly applies to them. This approach aligns strongly to the same types of features that are available in the other products released this year.

Transition from the Internet to Work

In a conversation with Richard Reilly about the larger ecosystem at the SharePoint Conference, we discussed how important it is for Microsoft to fully understand how users transition from the Internet to work.

Technology surrounds us and we have become expectant of how things should be, mostly based on how we work with technology outside of work. We come to the office expecting that we should be able to utilize technology to improve our day to day tasks. In many cases, we have these expectations without really giving a second thought to the tool we are using or why. We just expect to find what we need and to be able to do it, without hassle, red tape or extensive training.

Take the example of the grocery list. You go shopping 1-2 times a week -- if you are a typical family you likely follow a similar path or pattern to how you shop. You have a common list of items that are staples and purchased on a regular basis and you have a process for shopping, which, in most cases, likely includes a tool. The tools can vary and can depend on many factors, but two common things that you could use in this case would be a tool to manage a grocery list or a tool to help you know what is on sale and where so that you can get the most for your money. While it's true that both of these examples can be done the old fashioned way -- through newspaper ads and a grocery list -- it is also highly likely that technology plays a part in how you shop. If you still need convincing, just hop on over to Bing and see the results that are returned when you search on “grocery app”.

As a consumer, I have a need, I look for an App, I install the app and then I use it. The cost of the app may vary, and so will my willingness to pay based on the value it brings to me. Now, flip this around and think about the work environment. You have needs and you will likely recognize that technology can help, but what options do you have to install what you need and keep moving? You may know that technology could improve the situation, and if your current tools are easy, effective and quick to implement -- such as email -- why wouldn't you just use them?

Here is the sweet spot of SharePoint 2013 and how it can truly change how organizations are able to make this transition of bringing day to day technology into the day to day operations of an organization.

Low Cost, Low Barrier to Empowerment

This in fact can become a reality within the organization with the development of the SharePoint App Store. As applications are released, users will have access to a collection of appsthat can easily be installed and used within a SharePoint site. Imagine if you were on a team that was responsible for planning a customer event. Imagine that you could go to the SharePoint App store and download an app that would guide you through the process.

Learning Opportunities

You give the app a few pieces of information and it helps you through the process. You can add a zip code for the event and the app could return information about all of the available venues. It could be pre-loaded with all the templates you may need for invites and marketing. The possibilities are almost endless.

This app doesn't exist today and I am speaking in theory, but I think this example can really help you see how this new app store can be used to transform how we work. Because it is following a model that is now part of our culture, it brings a low cost, low barrier solution that can help empower users to be self-sufficient in applying technology to their business needs.

Understanding the Change

How custom solutions are developed in SharePoint 2013 isn't a big change from 2010, but it is an exciting change. The journey is just starting and apps are just now being released from Vendors and Partners that really help take things to the next level. Over time, the app store is going to grow into a foundational element of SharePoint.

The app store isn't only an external component. Internally, developers can build and publish apps to a private location that can be accessed by their organization. This allows for organizations to have a high level of control for what is available within their environments. The app store also carries over to the other platform elements -- apps can exist in Office applications or can be installed on your Windows 8 devices. The concept of an app is really the same across all the platforms -- this is partly what makes it so powerful. Users have expectations for how things should work and now they have a consistent approach that spans the majority of the tools that they use.

Counting the Cost

Organizations are looking forward and wondering what the next steps are as we navigate this new path. Do you go to the cloud, do you stay on premise? Do you upgrade devices and operating systems or do you start with Office and SharePoint? So many questions, and endless options. The beauty of this -- ultimately, you can pick and choose what elements impact your environment and customize a plan that best aligns with your needs. However, in order to build a plan, it is important to see the big picture, to accept the change and to try to align to those changes. It will require us to think about things differently.

So, the next time you hear that the SharePoint Developer story has changed once again, be reminded to explore new options with an open mind and be willing to step outside the box and think about things differently. There is always a cost to change, but the return on the investment has great potential.