Following the announcements at the Future of SharePoint event earlier this month, we were thrilled to be invited to attend a Briefing and QA session with Jeff Teper, Corporate VP for OneDrive and SharePoint, at the Microsoft offices in Paddington last week.
A reasonably intimate affair, the event offered a select group of 30 or so invitees from FTEs and Partners further insight into the exciting innovations coming to SharePoint. The event also offered a forum to ask Jeff and his team some frank questions on the future of SharePoint and how it should and shouldn't be leveraged going forward.
This blog outlines some of our key questions and the answers received during the event!
What are the options for branding the new Team sites?
When it comes to the building custom user interface designs or branding for the Team sites, Jeff was clear that the new updates will limit the options previously made available through custom master pages. Though it was not announced on May 4th, because it is not yet available, in the summer Jeff will be outlining a new branding approach for the Team sites. Though very much "on rails", this approach will allow customers to lightly brand and customise the design of their Team sites.
The new approach is intended to answer the branding and UI requirements of customers that traditionally turn to custom master pages, for instance providing the ability to add and customise both headers and footers.
…and how about Publishing sites?
During the event on May 4th the future of the Publishing Site was only passingly alluded to when it was suggested that publishing pages would also eventually adopt the same authoring framework as the new Team site pages.
Though no detail was provided at the Q&A, Jeff suggested that with Publishing sites it is envisaged that customers will be able to choose and customise from a set of themes to brand and customise the design of their sites. "Kind of like the Squarespace or Wordpress" customers will be provided with a range of available themes, some of which will be provided by Microsoft out-of-the-box as well as options for partners and customers to build additional themes.
Like the event on May 4th the future of the Publishing site was not made entirely clear, and though we were provided with a little more detail and insight, we were told we would have to wait until the Microsoft Ignite event in September for complete clarity.
What is going to happen to the existing Office 365 publishing sites after the rollout?
Many customers will be concerned as to what is going to happen to their sites that rely on customized master pages and page layouts once the rollup will be completed.
After the event we asked this question directly to Jeff Teper. He reassured us that all existing sites will be able to keep their custom master pages and page layouts unaltered and exactly as they are now. In addition, it will be possible for old Publishing sites to use the new pages leveraging the new features as well. Furthermore, customers will have the option to add the new web parts to the old Publishing pages.
Can additional governance or customisation be applied to the new site creation experience?
It was emphasised that Microsoft are keen not to allow customisation of the site creation experience and hoped to keep this process clean, simple and able to meet the majority of customer requirements. That being said, and though no detail was provided around this, Jeff mentioned that methods for custom site creation would be made possible but that this would be distinguished from the process they demonstrated on May 4th.
How will the new SharePoint App render existing SharePoint sites and functionality?
Jeff outlined that all upcoming UI developments in SharePoint would be developed mobile-first to deliver truly optimal experience on mobile devices. Therefore, the new Team site UI should be perfectly rendered and optimised for mobile access and access through the SharePoint App, but what about existing sites? Jeff, using his personal phone, demonstrated how SharePoint sites that use both the old 2013 and customised UIs would appear through the App.
Out-of-the-box Team sites that have not yet adopted the new UI will be rendered as they appear on the desktop or through the SharePoint 2013 mobile view if enabled. Existing sites that have been customised to be responsive, will display in the App as they normally would through the browser on a mobile device. The Microsoft corporate intranet (MSW), built on SharePoint in Office 365 and customised to be responsive, was demonstrated as an example of this last instance.
Jeff exclaimed that the fact existing customised SharePoint sites will be displayed normally "is good, not great". Good that users will still be able to navigate the custom sites their businesses have previously created for them, but not great as they won't be making the most of the new mobile features and optimisations available through the new UI.
Is there a successor for InfoPath?
Back in January 2014, it was announced that InfoPath would be discontinued and though it would be supported until 2023 Microsoft would be investing in new technologies to allow users to easily design, deploy, and use intelligent, integrated forms. With the introduction of both PowerApps and Microsoft Flow, designed to provide users with a rapid and simple application development solution, and then the recent announcement of their integration into SharePoint, could we now have a replacement service for creating custom forms?
Jeff was clear that he does not want to oversell on "day one" that both PowerApps and Flow as successors to InfoPath. He was careful to mention that these tools would not at first be able to answer all the possibilities InfoPath currently provides. However, though Microsoft have offered a number of forms and orchestration technologies over the years the vision is to simplify this and identify PowerApps and Flow as the technology to supersede all these, integrating across not only SharePoint but also Dynamics, Azure etc.
So though PowerApps and Flow will not from the onset be able to do everything that InfoPath can do, it is where, Jeff announced, Microsoft's 'bet is' and that they would continue to build upon these products to eventually replace InfoPath.
Microsoft Graph & SharePoint?
The Microsoft Graph, which was announced back in November, provides a unified API endpoint for accessing aggregated data from multiple Microsoft cloud services. Currently the Graph only supports files, contacts and calendars within SharePoint, but Jeff confirmed that by the end of 2016 all SharePoint APIs will have a version in the Graph, incorporating all elements currently supported by the CSOM and web services including support for sites and lists.
What about Yammer?
Ever since Microsoft's announcements, much has been made in the subsequent blog posts and articles of the rather conspicuous omission of any mention of Yammer. At the event Jeff outlined that the 3Gs, Groups, Graphs and Governance, would be the driving force behind SharePoint's future and its upcoming innovations. The core idea behind Groups is to boost collaboration between people in a teams by providing them with a Team site and all the resources in Office 365. Therefore, with Groups being one of the pillars of the 3Gs, the fact that further integration between SharePoint and Office 365's primary offering in enterprise social networking service was not discussed in any detail was surprising.
Again Yammer did not receive a mentioned during the debrief and Q&A session, however we learnt that in the coming months Yammer will be staging it's own event during which we will learn the Future of Yammer, which is likely to include further integration with SharePoint.
With more clarity and understanding around Microsoft's vision for SharePoint, we left the event with a real sense of optimism and excitement for the future of SharePoint. It is clear that Jeff and his team are working hard to deliver a product that meets the majority of their users' modern requirements out-of-the-box. A vision of SharePoint that offers those features expected by the modern web user out-of-the-box, which in the past partners and developers have had to provide. However, Jeff was also clear that his team still "love people customising and building tailored applications" and are excited to be able to provide a greatly enhanced development framework that will better enable forward thinking partners to continue creating business specific solutions and to build upon the greatly enhanced SharePoint.
Hopefully this will ultimately mean that customer budgets can be spent on creating scalable, tailored solutions that can focus on their business and user requirements rather than bridging the gap between SharePoint out-of-the-box and average modern web users' expectations.
With this month's Future of SharePoint announcement, as well the briefing and Q&A event we were fortunate enough to attend, Jeff and his team have shown an encouraging commitment to SharePoint's dedicated partners and advocates. It is clear to me that the innovations being made to SharePoint are being driven by the feedback and engagement with the rich ecosystem of SharePoint users and fans.