Microsoft Office 365

Thoughts About The Future of SharePoint

Some 12 hours ago (4.30am New Zealand time) I joined Microsoft’s live broadcast of its Future of SharePoint event. A few select people were actually in San Francisco for the event, and apparently 16,999 people joined me in watching the live online feed of the event. There are a bunch of blog posts from Microsoft on Office Blogs; they are worth checking out. Here’s the lead one specifically: The Future of SharePoint.

Here’s my reflections on what was announced, discussed, and presented:

1. SharePoint has become an important platform for many of my advisory clients, and has been the conduit for making many friends around the world. It was good to see Microsoft’s incremental innovations in the offering.

2. Microsoft announced some nice user interface / user experience touches. The extension of the OneDrive for Business look-and-feel to SharePoint document libraries was good. I also liked the way team members in a site are displayed as small circular photos at the top right of a SharePoint team site. That’s a nice touch; I’ve seen it in other products, but it’s a good way of doing it in SharePoint nonetheless.

3. Microsoft said it will re-label the “Sites” tile in Office 365 as “SharePoint.” Talk about taking the bull by the horns. In terms of re-asserting the value of SharePoint as an offering, that makes a lot of sense to me, but very much flies in the face of how some people recommend de-branding SharePoint for internal use. e.g., “call it anything but SharePoint” and “don’t make it look like SharePoint.” I’ve never had a big problem with the historical UI constructs, but clearly others have. Go Microsoft! Go SharePoint!

4. I worry that the use of a single tile called “SharePoint” to cover all of its capability underplays what it can do. In terms of UI real estate on the app launcher in Office 365, the “SharePoint” tile will have the same visual real-estate as “Tasks,” but the volume of capability for the former is significantly greater than the latter.

5. I worry about the proliferation of product-aligned sub-navigation home page experiences in Office 365, as it will drive confusion and overwhelm for people using Office 365. Microsoft recently announced a new home page experience for Office 365 itself. The new SharePoint home page displaying sites as content cards is beautiful, as are the triple highlights for the activity stream for each content card. But there’s a separate home page experience for Office 365 Planner (displaying an individual’s plans). There’s also a separate home page experience for Yammer. What I would prefer from a user-experience perspective in Office 365 is the elevation of customer projects and initiatives above that of Microsoft’s products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Sway, Planner, etc).

5(a). I’d like to a see a much higher emphasis on innovations that take the differential product names and capabilities out of the equation, to be replaced by deep / deep / deep integration across all of Office 365. The new SharePoint mobile app has a tab to show people you work with frequently. Delve displays content from people you work with frequently. Yammer allows you to follow people and see their recent updates. Where is the single place to go to check out the people I should engage with (and those I should stop engaging with), across of all that which is Office 365, and powered by the Office Graph? That. I want that experience for my advisory clients, not a siloed set of product-aligned ones.

6. Microsoft announced today some of the collaboration concepts I’ve dreamed about for a long time – which is great to see. A mobile app for access to SharePoint (2005). The way the Office Graph will bring documents and connections to you, based on your activity and interests (2005). The ability to easily move or copy a document out of a controlled content creation location to a location that’s more generally accessible by other people (2008). I’m pretty sure I’ve written about classifying site contents above the level of individual documents too, but I can’t remember exactly where / when.

7. Microsoft announced the pending integration of Office 365 Groups and SharePoint team sites, clearing up a point of confusion I’ve been wrestling with as I’ve been writing my latest book. That’s a good change, and perhaps the use of Outlook for conversations / discussions instead of the discussion list in SharePoint will address some of the shortcomings of the latter. It will depend on what it looks like.

8. Microsoft said that it has delivered “rock solid sync” in OneDrive for Business. I’m not hearing that from my advisory clients. Even with the new OneDrive client, it’s a hit-and-miss affair. It’s a directionally correct statement, but not yet a code-ready reality.

9. Security with cloud services should be a due diligence issue for all clients evaluating Office 365, and the regulatory compliance capabilities are important for many customers too. The Customer Lockbox is a fantastic innovation, and I love what it stands for. The fact Microsoft is adding new data centres in Europe will help a lot with organisations facing regulatory mandates and data sovereignty issues. I love the idea of using machine learning in ediscovery to identify the content organisations should be keeping, and that which it can safely dispose of.

10. I liked what I heard today, but overall I’d say the event would have been better called “the catchup of SharePoint” rather than “the future of SharePoint” (clearly I’d never get a job in marketing). It’s nice to know SharePoint has a future, and it was good to see what’s coming, but a lot of what was profiled addressed long-standing issues with SharePoint, rather than announcing revolutionary innovations to drive the offering forward as one component of the much greater picture that is Office 365.

5 replies »

  1. It’s always been a bug bear with me about the user experience for the Office 365 home page and the number of apps available. It will be interesting to see the new home page experience for O365 and how customisable it will be (not a lot!). As for SharePoint the changes to the UI are most welcome as we have spent a lot of time ‘polishing’ SharePoint to make it less intimadating and confusing to end users. Interesting times ahead!!

  2. Thanks Michael. I agree with you about 4 being confusing. Imagine if the Waffle was launched in 2007 – we would have had tiles for Portal, Team Site, Workspace, Document Center, BI, Workflow etc.

    A saw a demo this week where a vendor replaced the whole navigation with one that was more app-like and blended in non-O365 tools such as Salesforce and Workday into the same mega-menu. Although you might argue about the use of product name over purpose, the concept made much more sense to me.