Inside SharePoint

Will Office 365 Groups Displace Team Sites?

While Microsoft has been a bit cryptic about the future role of Office 365 Groups, it will be up to enterprises and their needs to determine what is best for them.

Next month, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jeff Teper, who owns both SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, will be taking the main stage in Stockholm, Sweden to give the keynote address at the European SharePoint Conference, and is expected to share some of his plans for both technologies. While the past several weeks has seen updates and feature announcements around Office 365, Skype for Business, and OneDrive for Business, the debate among experts and customers over whether Office 365 Groups is displacing Yammer continues to gain steam.

While the official word out of Redmond is that Yammer will continue to be supported and integrated, with plans to make Yammer one of the services accessible through Office 365 Groups, the community continues to speculate about Microsoft's plans. Without a clear integration path, and three and a half years of mostly cosmetic changes to the user interface, it's no wonder that people are openly questioning Yammer's longevity. Unfortunately for Microsoft, if the plan is, in fact, to stick with Yammer, then they will need to do something quickly, as many customers are looking at alternatives to Yammer. And Office 365 Groups may be the latest feature set to draw people away.

But I'm not here to talk about Yammer, which, notwithstanding the negative feedback which stems primarily from the lack of true integration within SharePoint and Office 365, is actually a pretty solid solution for enterprise social networking, community development and some extranet scenarios. Like most collaboration technologies, it is most successful when proper planning is applied and its primary use cases are understood.

But my focus here is around the future of SharePoint Team Sites, and whether Office 365 Groups will fundamentally change the way in which organizations access and utilize SharePoint, whether online or on-prem.

One of the primary ways in which SharePoint is used, aside from its lists and document libraries, workflow and forms, is the use of Team Sites as hubs or landing pages for teams and projects. Organizations will establish a hierarchy of sites and site collections, many using custom content types and metadata taxonomies to provide a rich and performant search experience. But as Office 365 Groups take the center stage and with Microsoft building out its NextGen Portal "experiences" that provides, as Microsoft puts it, "intelligent, social, mobile, and ready-to-go" solutions, the question then becomes: why should I use SharePoint Team Sites?

Office 365 Groups is the realization of a strategy that Microsoft has been talking about for a couple years now, breaking down the various technologies within the platform into their distinct services. So while SharePoint Team Sites may disappear into the background, some of the core services running under the hood in Office 365 Groups is all SharePoint. While the core features were built by the Outlook engineering team, making the underlying collaboration platform e-mail-based (which makes sense, since the majority of Office 365 users initially move to the cloud for hosted Exchange), the creation of a new Group provisions related SharePoint sites in the background to enable some of the Groups features. It also ties into OneDrive for Business (and soon into Yammer as well).

What's confusing to customers and partners is that there are two messages coming out of Redmond: the first is that there are different tools for different preferences. And while there is some overlap, teams should use the tools that they are most comfortable with, whether that preference is collaboration through e-mail (Office 365 Groups), file sharing (OneDrive for Business), document collaboration and workflow (SharePoint), or enterprise social (Yammer). The second message is that customers should turn away from customizations and extensive branding, instead utilizing the out-of-the-box "experiences" being created by Microsoft. These two message don't exactly mesh.

As I wrote in an earlier post , Microsoft has always provided multiple tools and options for solving business productivity problems. In my conversations with the product team, they always insist that their intent is to support customers whether they move to the cloud or remain on-prem, and whether they embrace the latest Office 365 features or make the decision to stick with an older version of the SharePoint platform. SharePoint 2016 includes expanded options and support for hybrid scenarios, which is a case in point that Microsoft is still bringing innovation to those who have not yet fully embraced its cloud vision.

But make no doubt, Microsoft seeks to convince every single customer to move to the cloud -- and while there will never be an open campaign for Office 365 Groups and other cloud and hybrid experiences to replace SharePoint Team Sites, marketing dollars and Microsoft field team guidance will lean heavily toward the cloud.

About the Author

Christian Buckley, founder and CEO of CollabTalk, is a frequent speaker and writer, and a SharePoint and Office 365 MVP. In the past he worked on the SharePoint team at Microsoft and later served as an evangelist at Echo Technology, Axceler, Metalogix and Beezy. Follow him on Twitter: @BuckleyPlanet.

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