Success in the business world increasingly depends on distributed teams of people working together. People need to collaborate, communicate, and interact with partners, vendors, customers, and internal team members, and organizations are embracing collaboration technologies such as Microsoft SharePoint to do so. I recently spoke with CorasWorks (www.corasworks.net) founder and chief workplace architect William Rogers to get his thoughts on trends in the industry and what the future holds. Rogers happened to be attending Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2008 when I got hold of him and I thought it was interesting that he said most of the attendees were new to SharePoint.

"SharePoint is exploding, and a lot of people are just starting out or at what we call the first level or the first mile," he said. "What Microsoft has done brilliantly is made that first mile incredibly easy. People get Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), which is basically free, and start to use it. Average business people with no technical skills can create sites and start sharing information, and it starts to spread virally. So you get this massively growing group of people that have gone the first mile in SharePoint."

But as the companies that have succeeded in the first mile of SharePoint implementation begin to realize its potential, they want to do more with it. These companies can hire people with SharePoint expertise--developers, programmers, administrators--or, according to Rogers, they can use CorasWorks.

"With CorasWorks Workplace Suite for MOSS 2007 modular software, the people that use SharePoint can change it to meet their needs themselves. Our product takes them to level 2, 3, and 4 and lets them develop office management solutions, sales force automation solutions, and Help desk solutions, and tie all these solutions together without requiring any custom development."

According to Rogers, from an end user perspective, there's really only four things that are in every business application:
1. Navigation
2. Information display
3. Data connections
4. Tasks that users can do (e.g., add or change information)

"So what CorasWorks has done," he said, "is make all these components easy to drag and drop, configure, and snap together. We're like the Legos of software. Our whole mantra for the future of software is that the people who use the software, should be able to design, build, and modify it to meet their needs."

When I asked Rogers about Microsoft's recent announcement about its SharePoint Online hosted service, he responded that he thinks it'll very good for a very mass audience, who want to go that first mile in SharePoint. He added, "The challenge Microsoft must overcome with the service is how to allow customers of third-party software vendors, such as ourselves, or custom developers to install modular components on their servers." He believes Microsoft will be very successful and will eventually commoditize the price point so that there's little financial incentive for companies to offer a bland native SharePoint server.

"CorasWorks has started talking with SharePoint services vendors about adding our software to their systems because they have to move up the stack in adding more business value. I expect in a few months there will be a number of vendors in the hosted-SharePoint space announcing that they are launching a service that leverages SharePoint and CorasWorks, enabling customers to move up that value stack."