Ignite: Collaboration in a modern workplace transformed

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“To seize this opportunity, it is going to take all of our collective skills and ingenuity, to be able to take all of this technology and innovation and to bridge it to true business transformation and success, this is what Ignite is all about and that is what IT Professionals are all about.” – Satya Nadella

We need to provide the flexibility to empower users and organizations for real world needs.

Kicking off Ignite on a strong keynote to transform the workplace

Ignite is the first time I’ve seen Microsoft’s new “One Microsoft” take form and actually live up to the powerful message those two words have. This conference brought together, for the first time, the core technology products that Microsoft has in our organization. Over 23,000 attendees, or should I say passionate geeks of all kinds, came together to see where it’s all headed.

Ignite Collaboration in a Modern Workplace Transformed

If you listen to Satya Nadella’s keynote again, you’ll hear the word Transformation again and again. More than once, he referred to every organization out there being a software company in this digital workplace day and age. We are in a position to Transform our workplace, by offering mobile experiences through the cloud and with the data we have on-premises.

And boy did they want to make it clear that Mobile does not mean mobile device, but a user experience that allows them to be mobile in their work. To pick up and go wherever they are.

With the Office 365 cloud becoming less and less of a scary thing to go to, there still are many that are worried about security and, of course, value. Throughout the keynote, whether it was with Windows 10, Cortana or the Productivity suite, one thing kept coming up and that was telemetry or “insights”. “It’s about adding intelligence to your experience”, a strong message that sets the stage for many, if not all the sessions I have been to at Ignite. They’re not just changing the way we work, but adding an extra layer of value with insights and dashboards on the signals captured by the Office Graph.

Frankly, it’s been a while now that I have been talking about Rogue IT. And though Satya Nadella often talked about the Millennials, born with devices in their hands almost, arriving in the workplace and disrupting it, we don’t have to wait for them for it to happen.

Ignite Collaboration in a Modern Workplace Transformed

Many times now, whether it’s with customers here in Montreal or talking in conferences around the world, I hear desperation from IT as their business users have moved on with technology for a modern workplace. People aren’t scared of the Internet anymore and it’s filled with easy to use solutions that are either free or on a very affordable subscription.

It’s time for us to step back and acknowledge what’s happening in our industry. No one’s job is in peril, if anything, there’s more to do. Office 365, or the cloud, isn’t your enemy, it’s there so you can keep your users in an ecosystem that you know and can control rather than having them on Dropbox, Slack, Box, WeTransfer, Youtube, GoToMeeting, Wistia and other cloud solutions.

But more importantly, it’s not a war between On-Premises vs Office 365 Cloud. It’s about bringing the most value, flexibility and mobility to our users in our organizations. Whether it’s to shift completely to the cloud or stay On-Premises and leveraging pieces that we could never build ourselves, Microsoft is helping us be a software company in our organization’s new digital workplace.

SharePoint 2016 obviously far from being finished

A few weeks before Ignite, Microsoft told us that they were pushing back the SharePoint 2016 Release Date by a year for Spring 2016. I don’t think I had realized what it meant, they’re still working out the details it seems.

There are two sessions I found interesting at Ignite that covered SharePoint 2016, but frankly, I expected more from the one called “The Evolution of SharePoint: Overview and Roadmap”. If you don’t have time to watch both, then you’ll find a lot more on SharePoint 2016 in “What’s New for IT Professionals in SharePoint Server 2016″.

To sum up what we learned about SharePoint 2016:

The biggest change is in the Infrastructure, learning from building it for Office 365.

  • No migration from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2016 directly
  • New MinRoles to only install and enable the right roles on the servers (Also means if you follow best practices, you start out with 4 or 5 servers)
  • Smaller update footprint and 0 downtime patching
  • Improved Performance
  • Boundaries and Limits increased (removed the 5,000 item view threshold though new number is still unknown if any at all, 10GB files can be uploaded, etc…)
  • Removed Built-in User Profile Sync Engine for solid native AD Import
  • Durable Links, so the link you sent to someone will always work regardless of where the document moved to
  • No SharePoint Foundation 2016 will be released and it’s unclear as to whether you’ll have to choose between Standard and Enterprise
  • No more SharePoint Designer 2016, however they left an obvious hint to a possible “new experience” to solve the Workflow problem. SPD2013 will continue to work.

Then there are a whole lot of improvements in what they call “Cloud Accelerated Experiences”, or “Hybrid” if you want.

  • Unified Search Index with a new Search Service Application that willl work with SP2013 as well
  • A seamless user experience for “Following” and overall UI for users
  • Centralizing the Managed Metadata Service Application
  • And connecting Next-Gen Portals and I do mean connecting as essentially it provides a single sign on experience and nothing more other than previously mentioned updates.

SharePoint 2016 was far from being the star of this show, perhaps next year at Ignite 2016?

It was apparent that they either haven’t started anything or they wanted to keep the spotlight on Office 365. In other words, SharePoint 2016 is still far away and from what we’ve seen at Ignite, its innovation will be in an updated infrastructure and connected Office 365 cloud solutions that slide in nicely for a user’s experience (Though we haven’t seen one screenshot other than an image of what the configuration wizard looks like).

What they shared seemed more of their idea for SharePoint 2016 rather than what they started doing. Granted, at the infrastructure level, it’s easier for them to share since a lot of it they’ve already done for Office 365.

Transformation of collaboration using a new fabric called Groups

Remember all those Team Sites that felt a little overkill and just too heavy for simple collaboration needs of a group of people? The future of Groups for Office 365 shines very bright and is going to transform how our teams work together.

Ignite Collaboration in a Modern Workplace Transformed

As mentioned earlier, people are tired of going through IT to request something like a Team Site and then having to learn what SharePoint is to properly use it (which rarely happens if you ask me). This is especially true if they can just open up a website that offers exactly what they need and often for free.

Groups is a new alternative for our users to work together quickly, easily and from anywhere without having to necessarily go through the IT motions.

I have previously written a detailed article on What are Groups for Office 365 and within it a link to an hour long webinar where I go over the details. But just in case, here is a short summary.

The Groups concept is like a magnet of awesomeness. It takes the best part of different products like Exchange, SharePoint, Yammer, OneNote, etc… and brings them together into a team collaboration experience.

Almost all sessions related to productivity, or essentially for SharePoint people, had Groups in some way or another integrated. It’s the new fabric that brings it all together into a pleasant and mobile experience for our users that want to get stuff done.

Now in its current state, Groups seems still a little immature, but with the updates we saw coming in the next couple of weeks, it’ll become the next-gen collaboration experience. And before you jump to conclusions and try to defend the Team Site, it’s not here to go against the ECM solution that are SharePoint Team Sites. It’s here to provide an alternative solution that our users have been asking for.

Ignite Collaboration in a Modern Workplace Transformed

Just like the update to Delve to show People Profiles in a responsive page as well as the mobile app, they introduced Groups Profiles. And as soon as that arrives to Office 365, it’ll officially start the transformation of collaboration from traditional individual products like Yammer or SharePoint or Emails to an experience that brings it all together.

Not to mention Groups is getting its own mobile app!

Ignite Collaboration in a Modern Workplace Transformed


The new stuff was all in Office 365 and man it looked good

With Office 365 releasing updates and bringing new value constantly, it’s normal for us to see so few new announcements at Ignite. For a while now they’ve introduced Office 365 as the place to consume services through “Experiences”. In other words, they built it so you won’t have to.

Video Portal: I have already detailed out what the Office 365 Video Portal is and how it works, so no big news there. However, they mentioned a few updates.

  • Office Mix will allow you to post to the video portal and so will your device (currently iPhone).
  • Embedding videos is coming in a big way so you can see them and play them in other places than the portal.
  • Skype for Business Broadcast will also post the recording of its broadcast to the Video Portal.

Delve: Delve went from being a cool gadget to possibly my new homepage in the future. The improvements made to the overall experience by adding People and Group Profiles as well as providing suggestions for people to follow and groups to join will undoubtedly prove invaluable. It’s responsive, it’s refreshing and has its own mobile app, but more importantly it works well.

Find out more about Delve in Office 365, but essentially it’s a personal search and discovery experience for everything done both in Office 365 and On-Premises in the future.

Groups: I feel like I can’t talk enough about Groups and with good reasons. I just hope people can see what’s happening here and why something like this is vital in our organization.

Boards, Articles, Microsites and the new Knowledge Management Portal: Wow!

Refreshing! The productivity team for Office 365 has successfully got me excited to get back to my tenant and work. Instead of torturing SharePoint to do yet another thing it wasn’t meant to do, they’ve completely reinvented, or should I say Transformed, how we work.

Not unlike the popular Wiki in the past, the new “Articles” and “Microsites” provide a very simple way to create content viewable as a page in the browser. Probably a close cousin to the new Sway. I invite you to read the fully detailed article I’ve written on how Office 365 is redefining Knowledge Management.

Articles can be created by anyone in their Delve profile or in Groups and, in fact, probably a lot of other places. The flow and experience in creating these pages (formerly blog posts in some way) is simple and effective. Not to mention that it’s already responsive and mobile friendly.

Microsites is a step above Articles and though it’s very similar, it isn’t limited to one individual article, but rather a small site with multiple articles within it so to speak.

Ignite Collaboration in a Modern Workplace Transformed

Finally, you have the new full blown Knowledge Management Portal codenamed “InfoPedia”. This is yet another beauty that is mobile and ready to consume straight off Office 365. It comes with a Table of Contents to organize your pages and easily allows you to create these pages within it.

Again, the beauty of these new “Experiences” and “Portals” in Office 365 is the refreshing new look on our modern and digital workplace, but even more, it hits our businesses needs right on the spot. And what I mean by that, is that many people on SharePoint are tired of hearing “It’s a platform you go build what you want”. They want it working, now.

Ignite Collaboration in a Modern Workplace Transformed

I saw the vision and I admit I was wrong about Yammer going away

Just like everyone, I’m still stuck in the old ways and often think in terms of “Product”. I saw Groups for Office 365 offer features “x, y and z” on paper and noticed that they were similar to Yammer’s features and jumped to conclusions.

Luckily, before I headed back to Montreal where I had planned to write a detailed blog on how Groups for Office 365 was eating away at Yammer, I was caught by someone on the product team.

Christophe Fiessinger, Product Manager at Microsoft working on Groups, explained to me how wrong I was. I kept hearing the word “Transformation”, but I was still looking for a product or a new version of SharePoint or Yammer. I still had not “Transformed” the way I saw what was going on.

Not everyone at the office, even in the same team, works the same way. Where some conversations happen in Yammer, others are by email or chat in Skype for Business. And tomorrow there could be more ways to communicate or share files, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because Groups is the “fabric” that will bring it all together. What’s important is for anyone in the “dynamic team” to use whatever tool works at the time for whatever purpose at the time and for the rest of the team to pick it up and continue it seamlessly. This, is being mobile.

Alright so what’s the feel, what should we do now us SharePoint people

Obviously, Ignite was a lot more than the few things I mentioned. A lot for developers, SQL, Azure, Exchange and much more. In fact, OneDrive for Business had quite a few updates announced, but it feels like it’s still playing catch up and has not yet brought any kind of innovation.

OneDrive for Business will be complete by the end of this calendar year 2015 with a new Sync Engine, Mobile Experiences and boundaries and limits removed. I’m excited to see where they’re going to take it next in 2016.

But with all this news, what does it mean for SharePoint people?

You should know before we discuss this that SharePoint 2010 is coming to end of support in October 2015.

Let me tell you what’s happening to SharePoint with an analogy that may not work at all. You can look at SharePoint as if it were your smartphone from 3 years ago. It still works and does what it does very well. Thing is, the party has moved on and so has the technology in this fast paced and changing industry. And the new smartphones solve a number of other problems like counting your steps, unlock using your fingertips, connect to your watch, etc…

SharePoint is here to stay and there will be future On-Premises releases coming. But at some point it’s good to step back, look at our organizational needs and the solution we have and re-evaluate.

You can continue with SharePoint On-Premises alone and keep doing what you’re doing. Heavy Team Sites and a lot of custom solutions to get what you want, it’s a platform after all.

You can use Office 365 to get SharePoint on the side, but also get the new innovations in Experiences and Portals that allow you to give a refreshing alternative for your users and help them stay in an ecosystem you can manage and control.

Or you can use both in a “Cloud Accelerated Experience” (aka Hybrid).

The real winners are the people in the organization if you opt for Office 365. They can build using the products available like SharePoint, but also consume mobile and ready to go experiences that are both pleasant to use and friction-less. Whether it’s using Groups, Delve or quickly putting together a Video Portal or Microsite.

But those that have the most to gain with Office 365 are actual developers. I see this everywhere, developers not going to Office 365 because it doesn’t have Full Trust Solutions available. “How am I going to build an Intranet with this” or “I’ll learn it when I need to learn it”. And yet they’re sitting next to the largest gold mine for developers in a long time, the Office Graph.

Everything, and I mean everything  done by an individual in Office 365, and potentially On-Premises as well, will very soon be captured as signals by the Office Graph. And developers are able to tap in to this Office Graph and build whatever they want. Look at Delve or Clutter, both examples of apps built using the Office Graph. We even saw this Delve Dashboard in action that leverages it as well:

Ignite Collaboration in a Modern Workplace Transformed

You can literally build anything you want now, the information is gathered and ready to be consumed for developers.

Transformation. Truly, there isn’t a better word to describe Ignite 2015. Microsoft is bringing the opportunity, it’s up to us to grab it and let go from the old ways.

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