We are living through the age of digital transformation, where businesses are finding new and novel ways to embrace technology to change processes and gain competitive advantages. This has seen almost all of our once paper based documentation make it’s way into digital form. The core Office product suite of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook remain the critical tools for our users to create and consume this digital content and are some of the most popular business applications on the planet.
With users spending so much time inside of Office products, being able to extend Office with add-ins provides enormous opportunity to deliver productivity saving features directly to users where they need it.
Consider the number of times you are working on an Excel or Word document, or writing an email, and switch to another application to copy/paste data. It’s a lot isn’t it? Whenever our users are having to switch contexts between different application windows it breaks concentration, breaks focus and diminishes productivity. Office add-ins are the opportunity to bring the data users are trying to get to directly to them. Are they trying to look up data in an internal system (CRM, products, stock, orders, addresses, work items, project tasks)? Identifying these common ‘reference data’ systems and integrating through add-ins can make users not only more productive but also results in better accuracy and completeness of data.
Automation of document construction is another common scenario for Office add-ins. This is where the add-in can assist the user in bringing “building blocks” of content together and automating repetitive tasks for key documents types that are created frequently as part of a business process.
Imagine opening up Word to create a document and not having to leave Word to actually get the job done because everything you need is just there, available at your fingertips! Tighter integration between our systems is the promise of add-ins. It’s what users want, it’s what businesses want.
So this begs the question, why do we see so little investment in add-in development?
I believe this has a lot to do with the stigma associated with the old COM/VSTO add-in model:
- Difficult to develop (unmanaged code, prone to memory leaks)
- Difficult to deploy/update
- Could affect performance of the host application (badly written add-ins could easily cause poor startup times and freezing of the host application)
- Could affect stability of the host application (badly written add-ins could make the host application hang or crash completely)
- Locked into using ‘old’ technology to develop in
- Would only work for Windows version of Office (not Mac, or online)
None of this applies to the current add-in model, based on web standards and technologies:
- Any web application developer can be developing Office add-ins very quickly
- Deployment is centralized and add-ins can be acquired from a public or enterprise store. Being web based there is no installation of code.
- Performance and stability of the host application have been protected so badly written add-ins cannot affect the host application.
- Since add-ins are essentially web apps, any web technology can be used for the web front-end of the add-in, and there’s no restriction on your technology choice for back-end and hosting (if your add-in requires back-end services)
- These web based add-ins run everywhere that Office does (Windows, Mac, Online Browser, iOS, Android).
Ultimately, realizing the value and potential of Office add-ins comes down to education and awareness.
So what’s the call to action:
- Start your journey to modern Office add-in development at https://developer.microsoft.com
- Keep an eye out for free Microsoft 365 Developer Bootcamps coming to a city near you in later part of 2019 (Oct-Dec)
- Subscribe to this blog site and follow me on Twitter
- Follow Bill Ayers, and don’t miss the opportunity to hear him speak if he’s at a conference near you. Bill’s a MVP who often talks about Office Add-in development.
I’ll be speaking about Office add-ins at these upcoming conferences and would love to meet and talk add-ins.
The Digital Workplace Conference – Sydney (6-7 August 2019)
The European SharePoint, Office 365 and Azure Conference – Prague (2-5 December 2019)