Thoughts on the Future of SharePoint

In a recent event, Microsoft outlined their plans for the future of SharePoint, mostly as part of the office 365 family. It was exciting to see SharePoint coming back to the forefront. After a few years in which Microsoft plans for the product were not very clear (No on-prem future. Oh, sorry, Yes on-prem future but with Hybrid focus. Let’s call it Sites, let’s stop supporting external sites, etc.) the fog is starting to clear.

SharePoint is now being smartly positioned as the place where your office 365 experience should start. It was long positioned as such for company Intranets and users default homepage. It is a portal platform after all. It has a new responsive look and the content highlights sites you’ve recently visited or interacted with, benefits of the office Graph.

SharePoint16NewHomePage

Speaking of the Office Graph, love it or hate being tracked, it is the foundation over which all new office 365 applications are built and new API’s will allow developers to take advantage of it in building applications and should extend in the future into Dynamics 365 as well.

The new homepage is also responsive and using a new overall look and an underlying technology called the SharePoint framework. I’ll touch on all these later but let me just say it about time. Nothing made SharePoint look older and out of pace than the clunky experience on mobile. Now all spiffed up, it will offer a modern and mobile first approach throughout.

The full 2 hour presentation + demos

New Features to get excited about:

As I’ve said, it looks like all of a sudden, the flood gates are opening and after a relatively long time of minor updates, we are to expect a deluge of new things in the next few months. Here are the ones we are eagerly awaiting:

First class mobile experience + apps: some of it, like the new SharePoint homepage and iOS app, are already available. Apps for Android and Windows Mobile are coming soon.

SharePointMobileApp

As part of the new mobile first user experience overhaul, a more modern and responsive look is coming to SharePoint sites, list and libraries

Teamsite

To enable these new interfaces (which until not, required using an external JS framework like Bootstrap) Microsoft is introducing a new SharePoint framework. Built in JS and HTML5, it will support responsive design and allow for the creation of richer user experience and apps that run in the browser. Details are yet to be full released but expect it to be the MS version of the popular Angular.JS framework.

SPFramework

Office 365 Groups will be extended into SharePoint. It has long been a source of confusion as to the different types of groups and where they appear. Microsoft is working to extend the office 365 groups into Yammer and now into SharePoint, so that an office 365 group will have a team site and vice versa. IMO, it is a much better solution for storing files and collaboration than doing it though OneDrive as it is currently done. For more on groups: https://sway.com/G_yV0w-GadIB1aA2

Intelligence and analytics. A new analytics dashboard is available in central admin with much broader and visually appealing interface. Now if only this can be available to every site owner..

SPnewanalytics

https://blogs.office.com/2016/03/15/new-reporting-portal-in-the-office-365-admin-center/

Feature-packs: for on-prem customers, Microsoft will be issuing regular feature packs that will add functionality previously released for office 365.

One more thing we are excited about is the upcoming release of Dynamics 365 and the promised common data model and services across all 365 environments. That will allow new levels of integration and automation of processes across the o365 platform from end to end.

Can’t wait!

5 Highlights from SharePoint Conference 2014

SharePoint Conference 2014 wrapped up last week. Microsoft used the big stage to announce some exciting new capabilities and paint a clear picture as to how they see the future of SharePoint.

It starts with their view of the future of work. Not farm labor but information work of course. That future is networked. It consists of individuals and groups collaborating using documents, discussions, chat and video in a fluid setting. People may be working from their office, home, on the road or all of the above and using a variety of devices. They need access and an ability to interact. They need to be productive.

I have to subscribe to this vision as this is exactly how we work at Edgewater today. The future is here.

Microsoft’s vision for the technology that should empower this future of work is a natural extension of their mission of supporting information workers, and with Office 365 it all comes together rather nicely. Your office apps and files, email, chat, video, meetings, groups, calendars, people, social interactions all available and integrated. Available from anywhere and on any device.

It’s not all there yet and as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are quite a few gaps to fill but they are rapidly working on closing it and the speed of cloud deployments will allow them to make it a reality pretty quickly. Unless they find a way to derail things again.

A few things that were introduced this week build on and extend these concepts.

officegraphThe Office Graph: Not a new concept in social networks and a core capability of Yammer, extended to the full Office 365 suite, this is at once exciting and scary. All my activities, connections, interactions are tracked and put into a graph format that allows applications to use this data for a more relevant and personalized experience. It has some great potential applications, some we’ll talk about next with the Oslo interface. On the other hand, not that there is any real privacy in the workplace but any semblance of it will be officially gone. “Did you read my memo from last week”? well, no more white lies as your manager can easily get a report of who exactly read the memo.

OsloOslo: a new tool / interface concept from the FAST search team combines search and the social graph to give you a FlipBoard like experience, bubbling up things you should know. If your close colleagues are all reading the same document, maybe you should too? If a specific blog post is generating a lot of comments, what discussions are very active? Natural language search across multiple data sources. Can definitely be very useful.

GroupsGroups: yes, interesting to think of groups as a new concept. In this incarnation (lovers of public folders rejoice) groups are a cross application construct for discussions. Integrated across Yammer, SharePoint, Outlook and office, the idea is that in many instances, group discussions are a better way to interact than email. The only concern I would have is the proliferation of groups. It may be good for people who are only part of a handful of groups and teams but many of us are part of dozens if not more groups and teams and the interface I’ve seen only included about 6. I hope it scales.

inlinesocialInline social experiences: in short, this recreates a way to have a Yammer conversation on files and other Office, SharePoint and even Dynamics entities. I love this feature. It is such a natural way to interact instead of emailing and allows all people with access to see the discussion.

Cloud Only? Finally, I think the big question on everyone’s mind was what will happen to the on-premise version of SharePoint. With so much focus on the integrative aspect of Office 365 and rolling new features on a weekly basis, will the local server be phased out? The official answer is that the on prem version will continue to be important and get a new version in 2015 and beyond. With such a huge existing installed base they have to. But the future is clear and it is definitely in the cloud.

Why Cloud?

Why CloudIT leaders:

It’s time to take an honest look at the business and business goals of your organization. How does IT drive BUSINESS objectives? Can you honestly say that your IT infrastructure contributes to your company’s bottom line? Or are you still a “cost center?” What you will find is that there are big areas of opportunities to enhance business strategy, free up real dollars in hard savings, and free up soft costs. Although out-of-pocket savings is the current focus of the benefits of the Cloud, it’s the soft costs that may provide the biggest business impact.

Freeing up “facilities”

Moving systems to the Cloud will allow key essential resources to focus on those projects that directly impact the business. Your IT group will better serve the organization as a whole by providing the foundation to grow and expand. So what do I mean by facilities? Think on a broader scale. I am not talking about a couple of racks, I’m talking ALL of your physical facilities. Just think of the benefits of not being tied to a physical space:

  • Production and/or Disaster Recovery: you don’t have to house the majority of your hardware onsite. The Cloud can potentially house both primary production AND disaster recovery. Two different locations in the Cloud, nothing in your building.
  • Utilities: Electricity, phone, wireless connectivity, every square foot has associated costs, and much of it can be Cloud based. No more need for the long term contracts and responsibilities a company’s physical space carries. Your utilities don’t have to change when your address does.

The goal of the Cloud is to provide efficiencies to the businesses, both from a cost and support prospective. So why wouldn’t you want:

  • Quicker turns on IT projects
  • Stability across the application base
  • More efficient use of skilled resources
  • Mobility

Shifting applications and functions only makes sense. Consider Microsoft Office 365 as a starting point. Even if you only use Outlook and not the other applications included – SharePoint, CRM, SkyDrive — consider what you WON’T have to worry about:

  • Licensing
  • Version control
  • Hardware life cycles
  • Facility space and costs

And look at the benefits:

  • Ease of access regardless of location
  • Plays right into  Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans
  • Latest and greatest versioning / functionality

The bottom line is that the Cloud does provide significant benefits to any business.  It’s time to take a hard look at how your IT footprint can contribute to your company’s success.

Happy Birthday Office 365, what’s next?

It sure looks like it’s been around for a lot longer, but office 365 is officially celebrating its 1 year anniversary this week.

It’s true that some aspects of earlier MS cloud effort have been around for 4-5 years under different names like BPOS but the new branding and consumer side were introduced last year and SharePoint online took a huge step forward. So how is it doing?

Not bad according to different reports. 3.5 million Consumers have signed up and 15% of exchange users are in the cloud (6% increase over the last year). Microsoft is clearly betting the farm on cloud and the recent choice of its cloud chief Nadella to be the next CEO is a telling sign.

A recent technical summary at ZDNet and a financial analysis at Seeking Alpha both look very positively on the stability and profitability of this model.

We’ve been using the Microsoft office 365 email for a number of years and SharePoint for the last few months and our experience has been very positive. Our customers have been reporting similar satisfaction levels with the reliability and performance. The main advantages we see are:

  • Reduced IT costs: No need to allocate server or VM’s. No need for redundancy and backups. No need for regular installation of patches and updates and all the testing involved.
  • We invested in putting provisioning processes in place that dramatically reduced the timeframe for creating new sites and reduced administrative effort.
  • Mobile and iPad access through Office Web Apps.
  • Social: the new newsfeed, Yammer integration and Communities bring out of the box enhanced collaboration and social interaction.

Looking ahead, there are definitely some concerns and wish list items I’d like to see Microsoft address for office 365 and SharePoint online:

  • Stronger security and privacy commitments. Not that the NSA would have a problem getting to most information anyway but knowing that all corporate secrets are basically available to them upon request is disquieting. Multinationals may not be willing or legally able to make the jump and trust Microsoft with their data. This can be the biggest obstacle for mass adoption for larger companies. Small to midsize companies may care less.
  • More control. From an IT point of view this is scary. An inhouse server you can test, tweak, add memory to, reboot when needed, and install 3rd party add-ons. You now, control. Giving away the ability to jump in and intervene is hard. Even when Microsoft does deliver reliability and reasonable performance our natural impulse is to try and make it better, tweak, optimize. Not much you can do here. I do hope that Microsoft expands the controls given to customers. It will get a lot of untrusting IT guys a level of comfort that is not there now.
  • Support for Web Content Management. If we are giving up a local SharePoint environment, why force users to have one if they want to take full advantage of SharePoint as a content management tool for public website?
  • Add native migration tools. Not that I have anything against our partners the migration tool makers but releasing a platform with no out of the box method of upgrading to it was very odd and the fact no support has been offered since is disappointing. Makes the natural audience of smaller to mid-size businesses with an additional expense to migrate.
  • Cleaner social toolset. I wrote about it earlier in the year, that the Yammer acquisition created some confusion among users. The promised SSO is still outstanding and the small incremental steps like the one released this week are a little confusing.