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SharePoint of the Future – Tales from the SharePoint Conference


April 7, 2014

Whether you’re in Venice or Las Vegas – or both – 10,000+ people is a lot.  The number is staggering, particularly when you walk into the keynote hall and can’t see anything but a sea of chairs from wall to wall and wall to wall.  The keynote stage seemed like it was in a different zip code than the back of the room.  That might have been a good thing for one of the ad-hoc communities that sprung up around the conference who were trying to get their steps in to report their progress via FitBit.

The SharePoint community seems like one large community but at 10,000 people it’s more like a collection of communities than a single group.  With folks running, walking, doing fitness, and doing drinks, there weren’t many places in the Venetian that you couldn’t find a few people connected to SharePoint – and talking about the new things that Microsoft announced at the conference.

State of the Industry and State of the Art

There is a great deal of focus on state of the art at any vendor conference.  The goal is to help pull forward customers, consultants, and vendors into the absolute best the product has to offer.  This year’s SharePoint show was no exception.  New announcements around a search-based experience in Microsoft Oslo and the social network behind it in Office Graph are exciting, but at the same time, feel beyond the reach of many organizations.

Most organizations are, by definition, at the state of the industry.  That is, they are aware of and use some portion of the features that are available in the product.  Their processes for governance, user engagement, and innovation are sufficient, but aren’t the best practice.  Instead, most organizations are desperately trying to integrate best practices, but are often having trouble identifying what the best practice even is.

In industries that move slowly, the gap between state of the art and state of the industry is relatively small.  Consider aviation as an industry.  Today nearly all commercial planes have GPSs to guide them.  The previous technology, VHF omnidirectional range (VOR), has been in use since 1946 with its decline just now occurring due to GPS technology.  It’s not hard to realize that when you have more than 50 years between innovations it’s easy to keep caught up. 

However, in technology, we’re looking at innovations happening every few years.  In 2010, Apple released the first iPad.  In the third quarter of 2013, it’s believed that tablet sales exceeded sales of PCs.  It’s expected that by 2015 tablet sales – for the entire year – will be greater than PC sales.  By this measure, the technology industry moves at roughly 10 times the rate of the aviation industry.  In the presence of this high speed change, it’s much harder to maintain state of the art status.  For instance, what percentage of the readers of this article have a tablet?

Closing the Gap

It’s not a surprise that Microsoft didn’t have a big focus on closing the gap between the state of the art and the state of the industry, however, there was a bigger focus on the issues of adoption and utilization of the technologies than there has been in previous years.  There were more sessions and more materials released on adoption of SharePoint than at any time in the past.

The Office 365 Fast Track program was made public for the first time.  This program provides content for enabling customers to start to see the features and benefits of the platform and trains them to use those features.  The availability of this content is important since one in five users of SharePoint has no training what-so-ever.

Less Cloud and More Hybrid

The SharePoint Conference in 2012 was all cloud.  While there’s no doubt that this is still Microsoft’s focus, the announcement that there will be a release of both SharePoint and Exchange in 2015 are exciting for organizations that have large on-premises installations.  The confirmation that Microsoft is working to make hybrid – on premises + on cloud – deployments easier and richer was encouraging news as well.  Service Pack 1 even includes specific features and options to make the integration easier for these environments.

This is welcome news for organizations that were looking to get the efficiencies of scale for their commodity offerings by moving them to Office 365, but knew that they needed the flexibility of customization provided by on-premises solutions.  Now, organizations can continue to develop solutions based on full-trust code, like they have since 2003, and can simultaneously not worry about disturbing the core workloads of collaboration.

The introduction of new APIs for site collection creation in Office 365 means that organizations can begin to automate their governance processes and allow for site lifecycle in the Office 365 platform.  That means that another one of the barriers to moving to Office 365 is being removed and more organizations can make it a part of their overall solution.

Cloud Climbing

Many of the third party vendors who have historically offered on-premises solutions have released their Office 365 equivalents.  Because of API limitations they don’t all have the same functionality of their on-premises solutions but it’s clear that the independent software vendor (ISV) community is moving in the direction of supporting the cloud in a real way.

More applications are going into the SharePoint app store on Office 365 – including a burst of applications which were added as a part of a contest to get apps in the store.

Between You and Me

There’s still a great deal of disruption and uncertainty left in the market, based on Microsoft’s 2012 announcement that it’s “all in” to the cloud.  However, this year’s conference helped to reassure Microsoft’s core clients that there will be solutions for them tomorrow and in the future.  While Microsoft is committed to the new path, they’ve got a greater compassion for the customers who know that they’ll still be implementing solutions on-premises for a while.

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