Microsoft’s Build 2015 conference was last week, and many are still trying to suss out what all these new announcements might mean for their respective industries. HoloLens will be great for health care and engineering professionals, Visual Studio Code will be a huge boon for app developers, and the new Edge browser — well, we’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.
As someone who’s worked primarily in the enterprise and e-commerce software space, one of the most intriguing announcements at Build 2015 was the upcoming release of cross-platform integrations for the upcoming version of Office. Using this new crossover opportunity, developers will be able to tie their app functionalities into Office programs like Outlook. The big example that Microsoft is pushing is the idea that you’ll be able to create a ride reminder for an Uber car pickup directly from a calendar appointment.
But the potential use cases reach much further than Uber: If you can fit your software’s main function into an app, you can probably find a way to integrate it into Outlook. What’s even better is that these add-ins will be available across mobile and desktop devices, making the Office environment more open to outside integration than ever.
Streamlining the Workplace
While it’s more flexible than your average workplace software, Microsoft Office is, at its heart, a suite of enterprise tools. By tying it to outside apps, Microsoft is beginning to blur the line between work and the smaller tools that help us get that work done faster. Filling out an expense report? Maybe someday your Seamless app will let you pull up your order history within Excel for quick and easy reference, in addition to letting you know when a new order is on its way. Planning out a work-related travel itinerary? Maybe we’ll see some Hipmunk or Kayak integration for quick flight price lookups.
Outside of the consumer sphere, Microsoft’s focus on integration will also allow the tying-in of enterprise platforms like CRMs. This, in turn, could lead to some huge usability improvements. How well these integrations will work is yet to be determined, but as of now, big players like SAP and Salesforce are already putting out Office-integrated apps. The point of these apps isn’t necessarily to make Office an ultimate, jack-of-all-trades type of software, but it is a step toward integration, which means less-back-and-forth switching between apps, and more focus on using each program for its core functionality.
By announcing Uber as one of the upcoming Office integrations, it’s clear that add-ins will help to boost the appeal of transaction-based apps. This has huge potential not just in workplace scenarios, but in the e-commerce sphere as well. After all, Uber itself is already kicking off a new UberEats service, which delivers food in local areas. I could easily see this functionality being implemented in Outlook in a way similar to what’s being done with the vanilla Uber service. Between ordering a meal, booking maintenance services, or replenishing office supplies, there’s no real limit to the types of e-commerce apps that might benefit from tying in with Office.
This is actually a fairly fresh approach to integrations within enterprise software. While new apps like Slack already integrate with apps like Basecamp, Trello, Dropbox, and the like, they rarely hold applications for consumers outside of the workplace sphere. But I could see lots of situations in which e-commerce apps could cross over seamlessly for consumers. Writing a grocery list? Type out the products you need, and an integrated app might create a shopping cart to be used in an online store. Although Microsoft Outlook won’t be the only place where people will carry out orders like these, the point isn’t to make Word or Excel a one-stop shop. Instead, the idea is for Office to become a contextual option. People already spend a lot of time in Office, so why not provide a little more convenience through integration? If it gets more people clicking the “Order” button, it’s a win-win situation.