The Bright Future of SharePoint

Microsoft have announced The Future of SharePoint and the future looks bright.​

At the recent Future of​ SharePoint event Jeff Teper, Corporate VP for OneDrive and SharePoint, unveiled the Microsoft vision and road-map for SharePoint. This blog highlights some of our key takeaways and thoughts on the exciting innovations coming our way.

On Prem is here to stay!

The event was opened by Seth Patton, General Manager for Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint, who began proceedings by announcing the general availability of SharePoint Server 2016, following the initial Preview release last year. Though the Microsoft vision for the SharePoint road-map is certainly focused around cloud-first innovations, they’ve recognised it’s not always easy to move businesses and workloads to the cloud. It is clear, however, that Microsoft also want all SharePoint customers to benefit from the product’s new innovations whether in Office 365 or on-premise. Therefore, with the release of SharePoint Server 2016, which includes new hybrid features, Microsoft have invested in an on-premise version of SharePoint that gives users access to many of the innovations made in Office 365.

New features and innovations will be made available to Software Assurance customers via Feature Packs delivered through Microsoft’s Public Update channel. Once new innovations are made available, these customers will be notified and given the option to select and enable which new features they want activated on their environment.

Though Architect 365 are proud advocates of Office 365, it’s fantastic to ​see that Microsoft remain committed to their on-premise customers by releasing a version of SharePoint Server that really leverages the important and exciting innovations we’re seeing in Office 365, some of which I’ll explore in the subsequent sections.

File Sharing and Collaboration

For many customers sharing and collaborating on files continues to be the mainstay of their SharePoint usage, working with document libraries that offer a secure location to create, share and organise a team’s files. Those of us who are on First Release Office 365 tenants have already had access to Office 365’s new and improved modern document library experience. Following up on customer feedback, Microsoft have worked to deliver a clean new user experience, very similar to that found in OneDrive, that aims to provide users with easy access to their most relevant files.

As before, the new document library experience allows users to quickly find documents by filtering and sorting columns but supplemented by simple inline metadata management. Improvements have also been made to search with the addition of real-time text search with results that appear directly in the library.

Although search in SharePoint is a powerful weapon in SharePoint’s arsenal, Microsoft have been working hard to build an experience to enable relevant files to find you: “Files find you, instead of you having to find files”. With a similar experience to Delve, a new Discover view will be introduced to document libraries which suggests relevant files for each user. The view, which is powered by the Office Graph (the intelligent fabric to Office 365 data), intuitively suggests content that is relevant to you based on the work you are doing and who you are doing it with.

Other new features include the ability to add links directly in a document library, ensuring that relevant external resources can be accessed from the same location as your SharePoint files, as well as “Pin to top”, which allows users to increase the visibility of important files across the team by promoting them to the top of the document library.

For many of us at Architect 365, travelling to and from our clients’ offices is part of our day-to-day job, therefore quick and easy access to our important documents on the move is paramount. Whether we are writing lengthy documents on the train or quickly reviewing key documents on our mobile before a meeting, we’ve found that the new document library experience provides quick and intuitive access to the files we need.

Team Sites get a revamp and the SharePoint mobile app

Referencing a recent Nielsen Norman report which found that 90% of the top company intranets were built on SharePoint, Jeff Teper announced his team’s dedication to innovation within the three main areas of the model Microsoft have adopted for SharePoint and intranets: collaboration, publishing and custom application.

Team Collaboration sites (Team sites), the heart of many of SharePoint’s collaborative experience, are being modernised and revitalised. As well as updates to the user experience and content management within libraries and lists, pages within Team sites are being brought into the modern age. Adam Harmetz, Principal Group Program Manager, SharePoint and OneDrive, explained that this ​was his “favourite new page in the product”, and walked us through a step-by-step demonstration of the new page authoring and publishing experience. It was clear that with the new streamlined Team site page, which has been inspired by other modern web content management systems, users will be able to quickly and easily create engaging and useful pages that will look good on any device.

As part of Microsoft’s vision for offering an “intranet in your pocket”, Microsoft has also announced the upcoming release of the new SharePoint mobile app intended to provide Windows, iOS and Android users with further enhanced mobile access to SharePoint content, including support of 2013 and 2016 on-premise versions.

Adam also took the opportunity to mention a few of the new web parts that are currently in development. In particular, he demonstrated the new Content Roll-up Web Part, which, based upon Office Graph or a search query, delivers relevant content from elsewhere in the SharePoint or Office 365.

Chris Myhill, our Director of User Experience, gave us his thoughts on the revamped Team Sites:

“The new Team sites look really impressive. The user interface has been tidied up considerably, and appears much easier to understand and use. This is especially so on mobile devices. The updates should bring SharePoint’s Team site UI up to date with Microsoft’s more recent products, giving users the experience they now come to expect.”

The demonstration of the new site creation and authoring experience was confined to the Team sites. Though a tantalising button for creating a new Publishing Content site (Publishing site) was shown, we were told only that Microsoft is looking to provide innovations and updates to this area as well. During the Team site demo, Adam also mentioned that the exciting new authoring experience will eventually power all intranet page creation. It is not yet clear how Microsoft intend on facilitating customers to create fully-branded corporate intranets and portals which, managed centrally by an internal corporate comms team, allow companies to really engage a ​global audience.

However, it is clear from the next announced update that Microsoft have recognised that SharePoint has been the preferred content and collaboration platform in part due to its extensibility. Microsoft have therefore expanded on that extensibility by opening up new opportunities for fully supported client-side development, with a new page and part model that is explored in the following section.

The SharePoint Framework

At Architect 365 we pride ourselves on pioneering client-side development techniques to enhance the powerful features and functionality of SharePoint. With our privileged position as part of Golin’s wider digital team we are always influenced by the cutting-edge work produced by our colleagues and inspired to create ways of leveraging the latest technologies and frameworks within SharePoint. So, when we learned that Microsoft would be rewarding SharePoint’s rich solutions ecosystem with a new client-side development framework, we were obviously thrilled. We also feel that these improvements support the stance we’ve taken on SharePoint development for many years now.

The SharePoint Framework is a client-side development framework that easily integrates with the Microsoft Graph and will allow developers to use modern JavaScript and web templating frameworks with SharePoint, including on-premise. With this evolutionary step in SharePoint’s history, SharePoint will really embrace the tools, frameworks and open-source initiatives that developers rely on today, and this offers new possibilities for solutions that can be built on SharePoint, critically both in the cloud and on-premise. The SharePoint Framework will allow developers to leverage the latest JavaScript frameworks, like React and Angular, to deliver on customer requirements and build features with dramatically better experiences, performance and mobile support. We also hope that the introduction of the SharePoint Framework will broaden SharePoint’s developer ecosystem. Davide Ranchetti, a Solution Architect and Senior Developer at Architect 365, commented:

“The new SharePoint framework is going to be a massive game changer for all those developers that are now struggling every day to create SharePoint solutions empowered by the latest web technologies.

Hopefully the new toolchain will make the project setup more automated and much easier to integrate with all the most popular frameworks. Also the web part development is going to change. It will finally be possible to develop reusable, configurable, client-side custom web parts. Testing these web parts should be straightforward thanks to the WorkBench, that will provide a quick testing environment.”

One of the key areas powered by the SharePoint Framework is the new, modern SharePoint Page experience. Using the SharePoint Framework new SharePoint page structures be constructed using any client-side JavaScript and templating framework. This new page structure provides a number of new opportunities to host custom web parts and components also created using the SharePoint Framework. Crucially for many customers, Microsoft have also outlined that web parts built using the SharePoint Framework will work seamlessly with existing pages as well as the modern updated pages.

We’re excited to begin innovating in this space and we can’t wait to see what is possible through the SharePoint Framework, which will be available to First Release Office 365 customers this summer.

Microsoft PowerApps and Flow

Back in April, Microsoft announced the introduction of Microsoft Flow and the public preview of Microsoft PowerApps. Realising that business needs cannot entirely be met by off-the-shelf solutions, both PowerApps and Microsoft Flow provide users with the ability to create simple custom solutions but without the time, cost and complexity associated with traditional custom software development.

PowerApps is a service that aims to fundamentally transform and accelerate how analysts and specialists build applications to suit their specific needs. Without the need to write code or struggle with integration issues, users will be able to create engaging business applications via a new visual designer. Microsoft Flow is a new offering, available now in preview, that automates workflows across an increasing number of business applications and services. Users will be able to create their own workflows in a new visual designer that works in any browser or on any device.

During the event, Jeff Teper announced deep integration of SharePoint and Microsoft Flow, which allows you to create and publish workflows directly from a SharePoint list or library. It was further announced that PowerApps are also being integrated directly into the new Team sites, so you can create cross-platform PowerApps that use SharePoint lists and libraries as a data source to drive rich new experiences.

In conclusion

We are thrilled and excited to see the new innovations that are coming to SharePoint, both in Office 365 and on-premise. We believe that with these new announcements Microsoft have shown a real commitment to SharePoint’s customers and partners. By taking on-board input from SharePoint’s community of customers, developers, partners and enthusiasts Microsoft are making great strides towards improving SharePoint and aligning it with users’ needs and expectations. Graham Beedie, one of our Digital Directors, gave his opinion on the new innovations and vision:

“Working on SharePoint sites, we’ve often found a disconnect when switching between crafted and polished published sites (which have been designed and built firmly with the user in mind) and the more functional team sites. Why can’t team sites be responsive? Why do they look so clunky? So it’s great to hear that team sites are being given a refresh and revamp. It’s early days, but the focus on improving the UI to provide quick and easy access to the docs you need most, from anywhere and on any device really will help our clients boost levels of staff engagement and collaboration.”

Excited and inspired by the new vision for SharePoint, the team here at Architect 365 will continue to use our experience and expertise to work with you to make the very best use of the latest advancements to realise our ultimate goal: to create SharePoint sites and user experiences that truly engage.