Apportals: The organizational power of Windows 8.1’s ‘killer app’

It began with a simple question.

Judson Althoff joined Microsoft to lead the company’s North American sales and marketing staff. It’s a lot to keep track of, to put it mildly, so he asked for regular reports from all of his teams.

The sales reports that arrived presented information in a variety of views, with metrics varying from one report to the next. It wasn’t clear how marketing made an impact on sales, and Althoff couldn’t get a clear picture of what was happening across his organization.

So he gathered up his leadership team last spring and asked a question: Why isn’t there one experience that lets me see every element of the business?

His question ultimately led to the creation of Windows Apportals, a set of mini Start screens that let users pin essential data and apps and access them in one place. Their organizational power comes from Windows 8.1’s nested file directory structure—a feature that no other mobile operating system (OS) has, says Grad Conn, U.S. Central Marketing and Operations lead at Microsoft.

Windows 8.1 provides the organizational power behind Apportals, a set of mini Start screens that are helping businesses fight app fatigue.

Windows 8.1 provides the organizational power behind Apportals, a set of mini Start screens that are helping businesses fight app fatigue.

Althoff’s challenge—to find clarity amidst a sea of data and apps—is shared by people around the globe, no matter what their role, Conn says. The ongoing app explosion has led to app fatigue. The info we need is squirreled away somewhere within that endless scrolling tide of apps; finding it can be frustrating.

Windows 8.1 provides the key to the answer. In a madcap, six-week “sprint,” the taskforce that answered Althoff’s challenge discovered that Windows 8.1’s architecture could help businesses organize critical apps and information for virtually any role. They built an Apportal called the Sales Productivity Solution (SPS). It let Althoff quickly drill down and see everything happening across his org in one place. He demoed SPS just a few weeks later at a company event, which got people excited.

It’s not hard to see why, says Praveen Palepu, program manager lead for Marketing Operations and one of the employees who helped drive the sprint. He calls Apportals the best showcase around for Windows 8. “This is the killer app for Windows 8,” he says. “No other mobile OS can do this.”

The power of Apportals stems from their simplicity. Apportals are made up of Tile Groupings, similar to the main Windows 8 Start screen. The Tile Groupings in an Apportal are composed of “Grid Tiles.” They’re similar to Live Tiles in that they can display streaming information, but they are not repositionable by the user.

As a result, organizations can create line-of-business apps and consumer apps that are composed of collections of apps, applications, pinned links and embedded apps—all within a single Apportal. And there are no restrictions on what you can add. If it can run in Windows 8.1, it can run in an Apportal.

Telling the One Microsoft story

Apportals showcase more than the power of Windows, Conn says. They help tell the ultimate One Microsoft story.

Sales teams at Microsoft have historically highlighted the value of the company’s devices and services for their customers, rather than just listing off individual features and products. They talked about how Microsoft could help customers run their business more efficiently.

Apportals are now driving many of those conversations, since they can pull together Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Lync, Outlook and all of Microsoft’s devices to help businesses get stuff done.

And it’s not just a tool for sales and marketers. Apportals can be shaped to fit just about any role, which is why businesses in industries as diverse as shipping, healthcare and education are deploying them.

For instance, The Toro Company, which builds lawnmowers, snow blowers, golf equipment and other products, recently used their Apportal in front of thousands of NASCAR fans. Two years ago, Toro set up shop at a NASCAR race in Talladega, Alabama. The manufacturer was there to talk with interested fans about their lawn maintenance and snow-removal products. Their hardware setup: two laptops.

“It looked and felt very antiquated,” says Lisa Howard, communications manager for Toro. “There was zero entertainment value to engage people.”

When they returned to Talladega this year, the team showed up with a whole new look. A Windows Apportal (built by Microsoft partner Inviso) powered a fun and informative experience on two 55-inch PPI touchscreens and several Surface tablets. Visitors could browse NASCAR info, enter a contest, and learn about Toro’s history and products.

At a NASCAR race this year, The Toro Company engaged customers with a Windows Apportal, which powered a fun and informative experience on two 55-inch PPI touchscreens and several Surface tablets. Visitors could browse NASCAR info, enter a contest, and learn about Toro’s history and products.

At a NASCAR race this year, The Toro Company engaged customers with a Windows Apportal, which powered a fun and informative experience on two 55-inch PPI touchscreens and several Surface tablets. Visitors could browse NASCAR info, enter a contest, and learn about Toro’s history and products.

At the end of the event, the Toro team walked away with 50 percent more leads than the previous year.

The updated hardware definitely brought them into the 21st century, Howard says. But it was the Apportal—and its ability to bring so many apps and info into one intuitive experience—that sparked interest. “It created such a richer, more engaging experience that gave people a reason to stay in the tent,” she says. “We combined entertainment and a lot of information into one selling space.”

Expect to see Apportals pop up in other places. Inviso, which also built Microsoft’s SPS Apportal, has been busy building Apportals for dozens of customers. Martin Wolfram, president of Inviso, says Apportals are the biggest driver of revenue growth for his company right now, and he doesn’t expect that to change.

“There hasn’t been a CIO or IT leader we’ve shown this to that hasn’t been impressed by the simplicity and the power of Apportals,” he says. “Once you dig deeper, they’re equally impressed by how a lightweight implementation drives value. You don’t need to do a lot to make big gains in productivity.”

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Jake Siegel
Microsoft News Center Staff