Cloud

4 Things I Learned at SharePoint Conference 2012

All the new changes in SharePoint 2013 pretty much boil down to two things: Search and the App model

If you look at all the marketing material for SharePoint 2013, accessible pretty much everywhere, such as the Microsoft website, you’ll see a lot talking about the SharePoint "pillars:" SHARE, ORGANIZE, DISCOVER, BUILD, MANAGE. Ultimately though, most of the newest and coolest features of 2013 stem from improvements in Search and the new App model for development.

The big news in Search is that FAST (a powerful search offering, previously offered on top of SharePoint) is now included as part of all SharePoint 2013 licenses. First and foremost, this will provide users with a search experience that more closely resembles what they will see in Bing and Google, including document previews, search result templates, and configurable query rules (ex. Searching for "marketing deck" will look specifically for PowerPoint presentations). More importantly, this same search is being used to power a whole host of new features, including the Content Search Web Part (a new, beefed-up version of the Content Query Web Part) to the new eDiscovery site template used for searching for documents, placing them on hold, and exporting them.

The other big story is the new App model for development and delivery. For site owners and site collection administrators, this provides a new way to purchase 3rd party solutions and deploy them to sites. Rather than all solutions having to be deployed through a farm or server administrator, site owners and administrators can purchase or install products from the Microsoft App store. (Before admins panic, there is also the option to block this option or to create a "private" app store that only offers organization-approved applications.)

On the backend, though, is where this gets more interesting (and sounding less like an iOS-knockoff). In order to make this feature possible, Microsoft had to completely revamp the way that SharePoint solutions are developed. In a nutshell, SharePoint 2013 now provides a development framework that is not only more powerful and less limiting than the 2010 sandbox solutions were, but also opens up development to non-.NET development languages, including Java and HTML5. This is big news for the SharePoint development community because the doors have now been opened to do "SharePoint development" even if you have never even touched Visual Studio .NET.

SharePoint BA’s and devs are both either stoked or terrified, for different reasons

Another one of the big goals, it seemed, that Microsoft was shooting for was to get more of the out-of-the-box experience for SharePoint. Historically, in terms of out-of-the-box team sites and publishing sites, what you see is what you get. Any time you wanted to do any real changes to the look-and-feel or configure the display of a content query web part, you had to enlist the help of a SharePoint developer.

With SharePoint 2013, a SharePoint non-developer IT Pro such as a Business Analyst (at least one with decent SharePoint Designer skills) can do everything from create a custom master page to customize the display template of a content search web part without cracking any code. This is exciting news in terms of how self-sufficient non-developers can be now in SharePoint, but perhaps scary with the new amount of responsibility it affords. Likewise, it may either be a relief or a threat to job security for developers to not have to make these low-complexity changes.

Microsoft is all-in on the cloud

Ok, this is something we all kind of knew before SPC. But I promise you this wasn’t just thrown in as a bad Vegas reference.

A large percentage of the sessions — and in my opinion, many of the best demos — were specifically around SharePoint 2013 in Office 365. One of the biggest stories seemed to be how well SharePoint 2013 now plays with the other Microsoft pieces, such as the 2013 versions of Exchange and Lync. In other words, in order to get the most out of your SharePoint 2013 investment, you’re going to want to upgrade all those other products as well, if you’re even using them in the first place. All those upgrades and implementations take time and resources, and not to mention farm admins to manage the servers and apply patches.

Meanwhile, the SharePoint Online version of 2013 is a lot closer to the on-premise version in terms of flexibility and functionality, which will knock down a lot of the barriers that were previously keeping customers from moving to Office 365.

Overall, I thought Microsoft is doing a wonderful job leading their customers to a super product offering, Office 365, while not alienating anyone who is not ready to make the switch yet. Companies such as Netflix and even Apple should take notice.

We’re still waiting on a true "social" value proposition

One of the running jokes of SPC was "drink every time you hear the word ‘social.’" Microsoft is fully aware of the impact that Facebook and Twitter have had on individual lives, and for years we have all been waiting to see how that will transfer to the enterprise. The new version of SharePoint provides a whole host of social features that, in my opinion, are as good as any attempt to integrate with the collaboration platform SharePoint has historically been known for. For instance, you can now "follow" sites, libraries, and documents and receive all changes made in a newsfeed. There is also a new community site template that tracks discussions and assigns points for "likes" and the responses deemed as the "best answer" by the original poster.

In addition, Microsoft recently and famously doubled-down on this (sorry, another bad Vegas pun somehow slipped in), by acquiring Yammer, one of the leading enterprise social platforms on the market. And so all throughout the conference, there were several sessions on, of course, the new social features of SP2013, what Yammer is and how it works, as well as a few customer stories on how large organizations were able to leverage value out of these features.

But in almost all cases (caveat: I did not attend ALL social sessions) any real benefits were at worst hypothetical, or at best an online capture of "water cooler" discussions or a tool to build morale. Even more confusing was the fact that Yammer and the SharePoint 2013 social features seemed to overlap in a lot of places, and it was never really explained how the two would really merge down the line.

The point is, there is still much to learn. A good friend reminded me that these exact same conversations were being held about collaboration when it first came around as a "thing" and now it’s pretty much widely accepted across all businesses.

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