Inside SharePoint

Microsoft Affirms SharePoint's Future Beyond 2016

Lead SharePoint exec Jeff Teper reveals there's a renewed focus on Microsoft's flagship collaboration platform by CEO Satya Nadella, who wants it become the center of his vision to meet the needs of the modern workplace.

With SharePoint Server 2016 Beta 2 now available, we're getting a clear view into what the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version will look like when it arrives sometime in the first half of next year. The news came to us on the Office team blog from Microsoft Senior Technical Product Manager Bill Baer. His post is brief, highlighting only what is new within the second beta, rather than a recap of everything available in SharePoint 2016: profile synchronization with Microsoft Identity Manager (MIM), Data Loss Prevention (DLP), the extensible hybrid app launcher and profile redirection. If you're interested in a more detailed overview of everything inside the technical preview of the latest SharePoint Server release, look no further than the blog post that Bill wrote back in August.

November was big for the company, with Microsoft releasing not just SharePoint Server 2016 Beta 2, but also Project Server 2016 Beta 2, the general availability of the Microsoft Graph, support for enforcement of Office 365 identity in Yammer and new third-party archiving options for Office 365. There is a lot happening in Redmond as of late, and don't expect this release cadence to slow down, with more coming on the horizon.

For most organizations, it can be difficult to keep up with this pace of change. Given that this is the "new normal," we all need to stay connected and up to date on Microsoft's roadmap so that we can be prepared for what is coming, and prepare our teams. This is as true for partners and vendors as it is for customers.

So when I heard that Microsoft CVP Jeff Teper, who now is in charge of both SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, was going to keynote the European SharePoint Conference in Stockholm, I was excited to hear what would be made public not about the features that would be included in releases this fall, but Microsoft's strategy for the next 12 to 18 months. I work for a SharePoint independent software vendor (ISV), so of course having insight into where Microsoft will be making investments can make or break our own product roadmap. But customers also want some degree of visibility so that they can plan accordingly.

Joining Teper on stage at ESPC were Bill Baer and Seth Patton, senior director of product management for the SharePoint team.  Patton opened up the roadmap discussion with a review of Microsoft's strategic shift toward a mobile-first, cloud-first focus, and the company's three-pronged set of goals and ambitions: to reinvent productivity and process, to build an intelligent cloud platform and to create more personal computing. He shared that inside Microsoft there is a renewed focus on SharePoint, driven by senior leadership and directly from CEO Satya Nadella, to meet the needs of the modern workplace -- with SharePoint at the center of that vision.

With the audience warmed up, Teper then took the stage with Baer providing demonstrations of some of the newest features. He led with an update on OneDrive for Business, and the need to provide a "rock solid sync" capability for both Windows and iOS, new mobile apps across devices and the three leading platforms, a simplified browser and sharing experience, and extended IT controls, policy creation, auditing and reporting tools. For OneDrive for Business, the discussion was less on the future and more on what was out now and what would be delivered soon to get the platform back on track after major sync issues this past year.

He then moved to SharePoint Online, talking about the faster release cadence, and how new features are being released each quarter. He talked at length about the improved collaboration across Microsoft Office and SharePoint Online, with simplified sharing, external sharing, and coauthoring in real time (beginning with Word 2016, but soon to spread across all productivity applications). Office 365 Groups will be seeing improvements around conversations, with each Group receiving a document library, exposing more and more SharePoint team site capability as Groups are expanded. There will be additional investment in Office 365 Videos, as well as in Delve and the Office Graph. According to Teper, "Groups and the Office Graph are like glue for the Office experience." All of this investment is about making search more intelligent and more collaborative, and more personalized for the individual user.

The most highly anticipated portion of Teper's presentation was the segment on SharePoint Server. He outlined the areas of focus and investment for on-prem as follows:

  • Enhanced user experiences
  • Robust security and compliance
  • Cloud inspired infrastructure
  • Hybrid at the core

Teper made it clear that Microsoft's focus for innovation is still cloud-first, but acknowledged that most customers will go to the cloud in a staged way. He shared that Microsoft's data shows that 80 percent of customers say they will move to the cloud to some degree within the next three years, but did not specify how many of those customers Microsoft believes will be purely in the cloud versus hybrid environments. Some analysts estimate the number of SharePoint customers who will be 100 percent in the cloud within the next four to five years to be only 10 to 20 percent, while estimates for hybrid environments in the same timeframe to be 50 to 70 percent.

Teper went on to briefly discuss his team's continued efforts around developer empowerment, including toolset flexibility, API simplicity for on premises and cloud development, as well as trusted guidance and support. But he then quickly jumped into his future roadmap. He framed the planning efforts still underway around building a modernized content collaboration platform around SharePoint, telling the audience that these were the areas where Microsoft is focusing over the next six to 12 months. While not all details of their plans are finalized, Teper said that he wanted to share a perspective on where the product team is going, breaking their SharePoint investment areas into four primary categories:

Built for people on the go: The intent here is to provide anywhere, anytime file management and sharing, with connected experiences across OneDrive for Business and SharePoint. Plans will include stronger device management and rights management, and making it easier to publish from OneDrive to SharePoint, allowing end users to work on something in draft mode in OneDrive, and then with one click you'll be able to add it to a team site. 

Built for teams and networks: Microsoft plans to "modernize" team sites in how they look and how they function. He talked about the role of Office 365 Groups (or Outlook Groups) versus team sites, and said that it is not about one or the other "but how Groups make team sites better." Teper also talked about reinforcing enterprise content management (ECM), which is still the primary workload for SharePoint. The team wants to make it easier to navigate and optimize massive amounts of content. He said that they were working on a number of things in the labs that should make this easier, including ideas around the modern, mobile intranet. On this point, he stated "SharePoint kind of invented the out-of-the-box intranet, and we want to do it again on the phone."

Built for the enterprise: As we have seen with the beta releases, there is a heavy focus on building out robust security and compliance capability, and additional governance and insights features to make SharePoint more stable, performant, and transparent for administrators. These innovations are happening across the cloud, on premises and in hybrid situations. Teper also stated that there will definitely be another server release after SharePoint 2016, and that the product team is already thinking about what will go into that release.

Built for extensibility: Finally, he talked about making SharePoint a more open and flexible platform, with a faster time to market. He assured the audience that they would continue to support SharePoint as a hardcore development platform, supporting flexibility and extensibility through Web hooks for SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, through a client-side development framework, and by delivering a responsive and high-performing application.

Of course, there was more detail behind each one of these areas, and I encourage everyone to watch the recording, available on the European SharePoint Conference Web site. There's also a great summary with commentary by my friend and fellow MVP Benjamin Niaulin on his company blog.

Walking out of the ESPC keynote, I remarked to someone that this was the most future-focused presentation on SharePoint's roadmap that I could remember -- including the time I was part of the team at Microsoft. I'm genuinely excited about what is happening with the platform over the coming year, and look forward to watching things unfold.


About the Author

Christian Buckley is an independent researcher, technology evangelist and Office Servers & Services MVP with more than 25 years of experience working with collaboration, social and supply chain technology.


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