Here is what I think will happen in the world of SharePoint and Office 365 in the next 12 months.
Building on the Modern Foundations
SharePoint has been held back by legacy back-ends for some time and these have often limited what could be changed, coupled with many organisations building solutions that had requirements on keeping the services the same. However, with modern pages, this has changed. There has now been the chance to rework the SharePoint front-end and this has led to the opportunity to start again. New, modern, responsive web-parts; a new development framework using modern web techniques; cross-platform apps; with PowerApps and Flow to link it all together. It has taken some time to get to this point but now the foundation is ready, the chance will really be there to see what can be done with it. This year will see more built on that foundation, with Hub Sites likely to be just the start. Some of the new features have felt a little half finished (e.g. news not available to be aggregated) but I think that this will quickly accelerate. I am hugely looking forward to what gets announced at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas (22 – 23 May) and also how others make more use of these foundations.
More Intelligence Powered Services
With tools like the designer in PowerPoint and the automatic CV creator in Word, there is a lot of growth of services building on Microsoft’s Azure Intelligence services and helping people be more productive. Many of these will be simple and possibly used by a small percentage of users, but all of these together will grow, and grow the ease of use for all. I already find the ability to add questions from an email as a task with one click essential to my day to day life and look forward to see what else will come. One area that will definitely improve is search…
Search and Governance
Another huge area of growth that was signposted by Microsoft is in Search, where I think that the ability to surface content relevant to the current user and powered by the growing expertise in machine learning will open up a much better basic search experience. There will always be the chance to create greater search experiences and tailored content with delicately set metadata. However, there has often been an issue with the amount of work needed to not only set this up but to keep it this way. For personalised content, this has led to a large amount of governance to ensure that metadata is set correctly and consistently.
Due to this, governance will re-emerge as a massive topic. I know, I know, many of you reading this are saying that it never went away which is true. However, the focus has been on getting content, regardless of how and where. Creating new pages, new teams, Yammer groups – all of these are more focused on ease of creation than management. Great for the end user but not for those administering content. Even with all the intelligence behind what content to show when, there will come a point where distinguishing the useful content from the duplicates, and what remains relevant even when it is old becomes too hard with the current solutions. This will lead to either greater governance capabilities as a core service or vendors to quickly fill that gap. Having the right content will be key and vendors like Hyperfish make it easier to get the right content in the right place.
A new challenger?
I think Microsoft has done a great job in keeping Office 365 as a key challenger in many different areas. However, I think that there is a chance of something new disrupting the space. Salesforce acquired Quip last year as a disruptor to collaborative services, and Slack has shown what is possible as well. I think that some time this year there will be a challenge across a wider spectrum of the Office capabilities.
At the same time, the excitement and hype around Microsoft Teams will become grounded in some reality, though it will certainly continue to have a lot of attention and remain a focal point. People in the enterprise will be moving off Skype for Business and starting to adopt and accept Teams as the new way of working.
New Ways of Inputting Will Finally Make Ways in the Enterprise
Amazon made the first big jump ahead of Microsoft with their Alexa for Business at the end of 2017. This will finally see people accepting the ease with which some services can be improved with voice. Taking actions and notes from a meeting, organising leave and other consistent processes, coupled with search to find the right content. Will it become something that people all grumble about? Oh, certainly it will. It will become an easy target for how “these bots will never take over,” but it will gradually take hold and acceptance will grow in the way that SharePoint has taken hold.
The voice input will also be backed up by the bots explosion, where developers realise the ease of use of giving access to their services and users realise that not clicking and typing can be much easier. More and more people in the modern workplace travelling around will open up the need for faster access without keyboards, as I often find the need to take notes and reply to emails while in the car. Hopefully this year, this will finally be rounded off as a complete service.
In the Development World
More new stuff coming to SharePoint and Office 365, with the old stuff staying around but looking shinier than ever, AKA the same as most years recently! I am looking forward to it and it feels full of opportunity for all.
By Kevin McDonnell, Senior Technical Architect at Ballard Chalmers
Kevin McDonnell is a respected Senior Technical Architect with a Master of Engineering (MEng), Engineering Science degree from the University of Oxford. Specialising in .NET, Azure and the Office 365 development suite as well as a broad understanding of the wider Microsoft stack, he listens to what clients are looking to achieve and helps identify the best platform and solution to deliver on that.