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Traditionally, IT applications have been aimed at a particular job function or directly at workers themselves. Social media collaboration, however, such as the type that LinkedIn supports, works in another way. It encourages workers to collaborate with applications and one another in a common framework. But what role does cloud play in that model?
The answer to that question could become more clear through the Microsoft-LinkedIn acquisition, a deal expected to close by the end of 2016.
A new way to look at IT applications
The problem with applications that are built for a specific job function is that they limit the productivity gains that mobility brings. A smartphone accesses a job-focused application anywhere. But no matter where you are or what you're trying to do, that access is the same. Social media, however, can bring the where-I-am-and-what-I'm-doing dimension to applications by broadening the common IT notion of presence.
Skype and traditional SharePoint tools define presence as being online within an app. To support collaboration using a LinkedIn framework, Microsoft has to add other dimensions to presence, such as workers' current relationships, what they're interested in and where they are. By doing this, Microsoft could transform a LinkedIn Group into what can be referred to as a LinkedIn project. A LinkedIn project would be similar to a LinkedIn Group, but offer more specialized features for team collaboration.
It's difficult to see how LinkedIn could add to Microsoft's collaboration arsenal if this development didn't happen. And if a LinkedIn project can have human participants, why couldn't it have application and service participants? Joining these tools to projects could provide access control and audit information exchanges by linking to a worker's project membership. When organizations create a project, it could include a link to a set of services designed to facilitate work on the project. Because projects could span a large company, or only apply to a single worker, you could run all applications as project tools, specific to what a worker is trying to do.
For example, a worker heads out on a service call, and starts that process by linking to the
"Service Call" project. There, the worker would find the tools needed to support the tasks and link team members to the project. Everyone in that project would see the same information and have access to the same services, based on set policies.
You could also have projects that are event-driven rather than human-driven. An event launches a project, runs some tools and notifies members of what's happening under conditions that the project policy defines. You could even launch a human-driven project, such as "Service Call" in the example above, from an event-driven project like "Fault Escalation."
The role of cloud in the Microsoft-LinkedIn acquisition
From a cloud perspective, this potential new approach from the Microsoft-LinkedIn acquisition could be revolutionary. Project-linked tools would be similar to microservices, designed to accomplish a specific task, instead of doing all of a job. Smart-agent functions or artificial intelligence could use the context that drives these projects to move information around and connect people. Instead of writing applications for the cloud, we'd write project descriptions.
One reason this shift would revolutionize cloud is the connection to microservices. Instead of having monolithic applications, or even applications divided into a few components, you'd have task-specific services. Workers could share these services, but many would be instantiated as needed, wherever they're needed, but always close to the workers to improve quality of experience.
Applications linked to projects would also revolutionize the cloud because they favor organizational control and the deployment of many productivity tools. If tools and services were integrated with projects in a standardized and controllable way, and if the project framework itself managed workflows, a department could acquire its own tools to best support its workers. The department would also still be assured of integration and compliance.
To be most useful, the cloud has to direct its benefits at productivity instead of current application models. Contextual models of mobile worker empowerment are one way of doing that, but they introduce an unfamiliar architecture. Social media, on the other hand, is already equipping workers with a new mobile- and online-friendly collaborative model. That model could help build applications in a new way that's more personalized to worker needs and, as a result, more effective.
The obvious argument against the Microsoft-LinkedIn acquisition driving these profound cloud changes is that the vendors haven't officially announced them. However, these developments are driven not only by mergers and acquisitions, but also by mobility. And many other cloud giants, such as Amazon Web Services and Google, have their own initiatives that could lead to a project-collaboration model for application integration. Google's failed Wave project, in fact, had many elements in common with this model. Google Wave largely failed as a framework because Google expected its partners to fill out its capabilities, rather than contributing to it directly -- and Microsoft likely learned from that mistake.
Right now, Microsoft is unique in offering a public cloud service, a public collaboration framework and a data center application and collaboration platform. If it can tap into these benefits quickly, it could take a lead in defining future cloud application architectures.
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