Impressions from the SharePoint Conference

The SharePoint Conference 2014 took place in Las Vegas March 2-6 2014. The conferences showed that SharePoint is alive and kicking with a vibrant ecosystem around it with more than 10000 attendees from 85 countries and more than 200 exhibitors at the conference.

SPC 2014 is an in-between-SPC between SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint 2015 and there were few new announcements. The most significant announcements I picked up were

The conference was a strong re-enforcement of Microsoft's push to the cloud and Office 365. Microsoft still has a strong commitment to on-prem. However, their development investments are on Office 365 with a subset of new features coming on-prem after being released in Office 365. Office 365 is now at 1.5 billion USD revenue per year and is the fastest growing product in Microsoft history with double-digit revenue growth.

Another realization is that Office 365 is more than a branding effort and umbrella on the combined portfolio of hosted Office, Exchange, Lync, SharePoint and Yammer. The lines between these products are blurring. Where there now are very loose couplings between the products, new features are crosscutting and merging. Microsoft is increasing the velocity of rolling out new features. Being a SharePoint powerhouse also means that we need to know how to get business values from Office 365 as a whole.

Codename Oslo and Office Video

As a Norwegian, it was cool to see the strong position the FAST team has in Microsoft. SharePoint overlord Jeff Teper in the Monday morning keynote referred to the Norwegian connection:

Norwegians write code like they win olympic medals, more per person than anyone else

Of all the acquisitions of Norwegian tech companies by software giants, it seems to me the FAST integration with Microsoft has been one the most successful. FAST has managed to build a strong position in the Office team and have at the same time managed to maintain culture and identity. I got to have a talk with FAST boss Bjørn Olstad around this topic and the direction they are taking. Olstad emphasized the strong push to Office 365.

Codename Oslo is a culmination of efforts in the different teams in FAST. It combines a new Office Graph (social graph) with the search index and presents information in an attractive user interface. The fast team has built a flip-board like user interface showing information that is relevant to you based on the people you are connected in various ways.

Another new feature coming to Office 365 is Office Video. Office Video brings Azure Media Services for streaming and an enterprise video portal to Office 365. Having worked the first half of my life around video and video conferencing (Tandberg, Cisco) and the other half of my life with Microsoft technologies (.NET and SharePoint), I was particularly keen to see this development. What they are doing is very similar to the architecture we suggested for a customer integrating Cisco Show and Share with SharePoint and Yammer.

Both Oslo and the Office Video portal manifest themselves in the top navigation of Office 365. Microsoft has some internal competition here on what should be the default landing page with both Yammer, Oslo and Office Video having landing page experiences. Enterprises probably want to control this and combine these dynamic experiences with curated content.

Direction on Forms in SharePoint

InfoPath is sun-setting. This was announced earlier this year. During the first day, there was a funeral procession for InfoPath headed up by Joel Olson. The first sessions on Tuesday was "Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms". According to the info on the conference, the future of forms is from the Access Team.

One of the elements of this offering is App Forms (or Access App). The use of the name Access is a bit of a misnomer as there is no Access database. Access can be used to design the App. You design an app that contains tables and relationships between these tables. The tables are created as normal SQL Server tables. You can design pages on top of these tables in the designer to liste all items, view and edit items etc.

Some of the solutions we create today use SharePoint lists to implement the data structure for a line of business application. The Apps Forms technology could be an interesting alternative as you can create a stronger relational structure with the power of SQL Server behind it. The challenge is that the App Forms today are stand alone and not really integrated into SharePoint (document libraries, workflows etc).

Talking to an Access engineer over beer, it seemed they had gotten this feedback a lot. We talked about the scenario of our Hired app concept where you have a combination of lists, libraries, pages and workflows. According to the Access developer, this scenario is on their road map.

An upcoming technology is FoSL– Forms on SharePoint lists. This uses the Access Services Forms technology to design custom view/edit forms on top of a SharePoint list with a browser based design experience. Microsoft is investing in this technology as their forms technology going forward.

Microsoft admitted that they do not have all the answers yet. They are eager to get feedback and were quite open about where they are, what scenarios they are looking into and their current roadmap. Is this is a technology we will use in our projects and apps? The jury is still out on this one.

Business Apps Vendors

The exhibit hall at the SharePoint Conference in Vegas has over 200 exhibitors. The big names dominate the floor such as K2, Metalogix, Nintex, Microsoft, Dell.

Most of the exhibitors fall into two categories:

  • Platform enhancers such as workflow engines, security, backup, migration, PDF converters.
  • Services companies delivering services on SharePoint from pure consulting services and hosting companies to companies providing specialized branding services.

Puzzlepart is building a portfolio of business apps for SharePoint, all with immediate business-value and engaging user experience. I crawled the floor until my feet ached looking for vendors of apps targeting business users. Here is the ones I found who in some way can be loosely defined as 'business app vendors'

SP Marketplace

SP Marketplace provides ready-made templates for HR, IT, Projects, Facilities etc. and deliver on-prem and in Office 365. They are getting a lot of interest from Office 365 customers because when customers see Office 365 for the first time it is empty. One week ago, they released an Employee Onboarding app in the SharePoint Marketplace. The app is a SharePoint hosted app and costs $350. Will try it out for our employee onboarding!

Bamboo Solutions

Bamboo is an old-timer in the SharePoint space with lots of web parts etc. They had three Bamboo Solutions on their booth; Project Management Central, Knowledge Base and Time Tracking and Management. Their solutions today are SharePoint 2007, 2010 and 2013 on-prem and they have spent a lot of time moving their stuff to SP 2013.For Office 365 they need to rewrite everything and are probably going to deliver other solutions than the ones they have on-prem today.

Qorus Breeze

Breeze is an application for automating the process of creating proposals, e.g. sales proposals. Is a native SharePoint application consisting of lists and libraries. Breeze has a custom web front-end optimized for sales users who are not too comfortable using SharePoint. The solution is hosted on-prem on customer's infrastructure or on Qorus SharePoint farm. They also have a beta of DocGeneration for Office 365.

Pervasent Board Papers

Board Papers is an application for board members to handle board meetings and board documents. It is delivered on-prem or on their SharePoint servers. One license gives you 10 'boards' or groupings. Users typically use an iPad app to access documents.

BPA Solutions

BPA Solutions provide a suite of solutions on SharePoint built on their xRM platform; CRM, Quality, Risk, Project and Recruiting. They support SharePoint 2010. SharePoint 2013 and Office 365.

Lanteria Effective staff

Effective Staff is a HR solution with functionality for onboarding, application tacking, time and attendance, learning management, performance appraisal and more. The solution can be installed on-prem or hosted by them.

Other Notes

  • The limit on site collection data base will increase to 1 terabyte.
  • I was at one point a little confused by the distinction between OneDrive for Business and My Site with people saying that OneDrive for Business was replacing My Site. Technically, the OneDrive that shows up in Office 365 top navigation is really the document library from your MySite. The MySite is still there even if there is no menu entry to go the MySite.
  • There are no plans to make the top navigation in Office 365 editable. In an upcoming update you will be able to hide Yammer and OneDrive menu items. I also have some thoughts around this topic and how it relates to governance and IA, more on this later.
  • I really need to learn more about the Power BI functionality in Office 365.

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