Seattle-area software maker Vizit has a long history on SharePoint, Microsoft’s widely used platform for corporate collaboration and communication. Vizit’s search and document preview technologies for SharePoint have been around since 2007, and Vizit says hundreds of thousands of people use its technologies worldwide.
Vizit CEO Paul Yantus says the company made the decision after becoming frustrated with what it sees as Microsoft’s limitations on third-party apps for SharePoint and the Office 365 app store.
The core issue: Vizit wanted end users to be able to install and use Clipsi without going through the process of getting approval from their IT administrators. The issue highlights a divide between IT administrators who want to maintain network security and control, and the business users who are increasingly going around those controls by using consumer-style apps.
“It’s not ours to argue what’s right or wrong here,” said Yantus via phone this week. “This is what’s happening, and as an entrepreneur our job is to capitalize on it — to give the users what they want.”
Also shaping Vizit’s decision was its earlier attempt to build a different Office 365 app, a thumbnail preview tool for documents. Vizit discovered that the specific functionality — changing the preview behavior inside Office 365 — wouldn’t be possible because it required more rights than Microsoft provided to third-party app developers.
Richard Riley, director of product marketing for SharePoint, acknowledged this morning that Microsoft doesn’t offer that specific type of functionality to app makers, but he didn’t rule it out. “We’re working hard to enable these extensibility points across the platform as quickly as we possibly can,” he said, noting that Microsoft is shipping updates every three months, much faster than in the past.
However, in the bigger picture, he said the flexibility that the company gives IT administrators to control these types of apps is actually one of the biggest selling points for companies that use its technologies. “One of their biggest complaints is the lack of security and compliance (in tools such as Dropbox) and they do everything they can to switch it off,” he explained.
Riley said Microsoft has put in a deliberate set of controls for IT administrators, including an option for users to start a procurement process when they see an app they want to install. IT administrators can also set up their own curated version of the app store that includes company-approved apps in high-demand among their end users.
The idea is to empower users but keep some “bumper bars” around the experience, he said.
“We’ve had a ton of very positive feedback from customers who have deployed the store because we’ve put these controls in place,” Riley said, noting that otherwise many of them would have switched off access to the applications altogether.
Riley said he’d like to speak with Vizit and learn from their experience.
From his perspective, Vizit’s Yantus says he believes Microsoft is being too restrictive, and he hopes the company will adapt. If not, he says, Microsoft risks being left behind as business users lead the push to the cloud. As it is now, he said, “you can’t put a meaningful app into the app store.” He described many of the existing Office 365 apps as merely marketing apps that promote services from the particular vendor.
Vizit plans to continue offering its existing solutions for SharePoint, but the company has been encouraged with the response to its Clipsi beta on Dropbox so far, and plans to expand the Clipsi app to other cloud storage platforms in the future.