For the last while now, when anyone would ask me the question "What's happening with SharePoint?" I would have to respond with a politically inspired answer along the lines of "The whole digital workplace is evolving right now, what the end will look like, only time will tell…". With Microsoft's The Future of SharePoint event, things became a lot clearer for the SharePoint community.
The “Future of SharePoint” event unveiled Microsoft’s vision for SharePoint and introduced copious amounts of updates and new features. This wasn't just a small announcement, this event answered many questions and solidified direction for the SharePoint platform. Here are a few items that got us excited:
The M Word: Metadata
We heard something in this event which hasn't been talked about in a while: metadata. With the introduction of several new tools: Office Videos, Office Groups and OneDrive, metadata has always been put on the back-burner. Yes, with the continued focus on machine learning, and with powerful tools like Delve, a lot of the power of metadata has been automated. . However, different people work in different ways. It would be naive to assume that users no longer use metadata to filter, sort, categorize and search. Thus, it was a thrill to hear Microsoft give metadata its well-deserved attention, announcing features like a renewed interface for updating metadata, the ability to add columns to a list or library in a simplified way and the ability to drag documents into categories to automatically change the associated metadata.
Unification of Tools
Microsoft has done great work at creating increasingly powerful Office 365 tools, releasing Office Groups, Planner, OneDrive, and Sway within the last while. However, rapid innovation comes at its own price. Rather than harnessing a unified digital workplace ecosystem, the lack of connections between these tools were increasing silos of information. For example, Office Groups acted as their own container of information – resulting in a non-user-friendly way of saving a document onto a team site or SharePoint site.
Luckily for us, these walls seem to be coming down. The integration has started, Office Groups now automatically have a corresponding team site, users now have the ability to save from OneDrive to SharePoint and eventually from SharePoint into OneDrive and just a couple of months ago, Office 365 now allows embedding videos from Office Videos directly into a SharePoint site from the ribbon. This is an exciting direction for SharePoint end-users! The unification of these tools means a much better user experience, where your end-users can use these tools in a more fluid way with fewer technical boundaries and limitations.
Supporting the Document Lifecycle
Documents typically go through various stages during their lifetime. From being initially created to maybe collaborated on by a team, to sharing a finished/published copy with a larger audience or sending to an external party. In the past, this has meant clunky methods of moving documents around. With the unification of tools and the growing power of the compliance features in Office 365, being able to centrally manage, move and share content is now easier than ever. Why does this matter? It matters because each one of the tools in Office 365 are intended for specific scenarios. Being able to use any tool when it makes sense for your scenario without being bound to a singular tool allows for better usability.
Enhanced Methods of Business Process Automation
With Microsoft PowerApps and Flow on the horizon, we are seeing a major upgrade in tackling business process automation. Before, users relied heavily on third-party vendors to provide easy to use, robust methods of building apps or workflows. With today’s Office 365 tools, we are now seeing a world where power users can do a lot more with out-of-the-box features. One of those being, Flow, a brand new way of creating automated workflows to do things such as collect data or send notifications. The real power with Flow is in the way you create these workflows, with a similar interface to a drag and drop wizard. PowerApps, another enhancement for business process automation, is a method of rapidly building apps that are platform agnostic and giving power users the ability to create them. These simplified descriptions of PowerApps and Flow may not give the power of these tools the justice they deserve, but as these tools mature, I am excited to see how these new solutions address real business problems in less time.
This is an evolution. Evolution of a solution that helps people connect and work together. A growing number of effective non-Microsoft tools out there means Microsoft is constantly looking at ways to improve and innovate, and that’s a great thing for everyone. We got a great glimpse of innovation at this event, and both implementers and consumers of Office 365/SharePoint have a lot to be excited about!