Amit Gandhi has (at the time of this writing) created a series of three blog posts that explain:
- Why Apps are Needed for SharePoint 2013
- An Introduction to the SharePoint 2013 App Model
- App Hosting and Branding
In my opinion, there are two key strategic elements to the creation of the App Model on SharePoint. The second is a consequence of the first.
- Content Storage versus Delivery: Data and functionality are no longer contained within or limited by the SharePoint platform architecture.
- Unique Content Delivery Arrangement: SharePoint, with the advent of the App Model, has evolved into a delivery mechanism by which companies can uniquely brand and deliver sets of web-based data and functionality. For some companies (primarily where data and/or functionality are commodities) SharePoint will be the mechanism for developing a competitive advantage. That is, to the extent it cannot be copied, the unique arrangement of data and functionality is the competitive advantage for companies that deal in commodity data and functionality.
SharePoint will, for the foreseeable future continue to store content. Increasingly, however, the storage and maintenance of content is being abstracted away from the SharePoint platform. Instead, SharePoint is evolving into an increasingly more flexible content delivery platform.
In SharePoint 2003, content was created primarily via lists and stored in SQL Server. SharePoint 2007 introduced the BDC and the ability to work with data from enterprise applications and third party systems. In SharePoint 2010, the BDC became BCS and the flexibility increased.
From SharePoint 2003 all the way through SharePoint 2010, however, data was either imported into SharePoint or it was mapped to SharePoint through the BDC and later the BCS. SharePoint 2013 and the App Model introduces a key evolution of the concept of data flexibility, however. Complex data structures no longer have to be stored in SharePoint or mapped to SharePoint to be integrated with SharePoint. Data could live in the cloud, a third party system, or anywhere, really. Ultimately, the app hosting architecture determines the limitations imposed on the sourcing and processing of the data.
The app sits inside SharePoint. It can communicate real-time with SharePoint data, authenticated user information, etc... For most practical purposes, it is fully integrated with SharePoint. However, the app infrastructure, data sourcing, and component architecture could be completely (or partly) hosted in cloud services. The app could theoretically be running and utilizing a .Net 5.0 Framework (while SharePoint 2013 runs on .Net 4.5) that leverages data from multiple third party sources, compiles and analyzes the data in a unique way, and then presents it in a SharePoint corporate intranet based on unique corporate user groupings.
The app model is an evolution in the disaggregation of the logical architectural components of the SharePoint platform. In essence, SharePoint is fine tuning its specialty (content delivery) by further abstracting its secondary purpose (content storage) through the creation of the App Model.
Unique Content Delivery Arrangement
SharePoint, as a content delivery platform, must continuously evolve to increase flexibility and foster creativity in the delivery of data and functionality. To this end, SharePoint is allowing companies that deal in commodity content to foster a competitive advantage simply by creating a unique content delivery arrangement that cannot be easily copied. In some cases, this is merely a brand. In other cases, the competitive advantage may actually reside in the precise placement of functional components. In even other cases, competitive advantage may stem from complex data analysis presented in a uniquely unified way.
In all cases, however, through the advent of the App Model, SharePoint is furthering the goal of maximum flexibility and creativity in the delivery of content.
I expect the exact strategic implications of the SharePoint App Model to play out in the marketplace for many years to come. It seems clear, however, that with SharePoint 2013 and the App Model, Microsoft hardened SharePoint's position as a content delivery platform.