All hail, SharePoint 2016!

2016-05-06

Being based in Australia, I decided not get up at 2.30am and watch the Future of SharePoint event streamed live from San Francisco. Besides, part of the fun of any big announcement from Microsoft is to watch the analysis that follows once the dust settles and people have a chance to reflect on what they have heard (plus, Microsoft are pretty efficient at posting recordings anyway).

Much of the excitement with the 2016 version comes from the many obvious user experience improvements it delivers, including the new SharePoint mobile app. And changing from "Sites" to "SharePoint" in Office 365 is a clear indication that Microsoft is not going to let the platform fade into the background for the immediate future.

But rather than repeat what has already been well covered, I am going zero on some interesting implications.

Under the hood the big change that will have an impact on both development and the user experience is a shift from server-side development to providing a modern client-side framework. What this means is that SharePoint will give developers a native capacity to customise and integrate in the same way that is already taken for granted on modern websites and apps.

Of course, you may be aware that I am particularly interested in turnkey intranet solutions at the moment. What are the implications for these vendors?

I actually think the future for the intranet-in-a-box providers is going remain quite healthy. Even if the vanilla implementations I complained about in my recent CMSWire post get an improved out of the box experience it will still only be an entry point for some organisations.

In fact, the real challenge for SharePoint 2016 may lie in the new client-side development approach. The skills required for a successful custom SharePoint 2016 intranet will become broader because neither a SharePoint developer or front-end developer alone will have all the necessary skills, knowledge or experience alone (although we can easily see the rise of the "SharePoint Front-End Developer" as a real speciality). Incidentally, this is not entirely unanticipated if you have been watching this shift in other areas of the Microsoft suite - I remember hearing a developer at a SharePoint conference a few years ago warning that the skill set required in the Microsoft world was changing.

I am also still a little unclear about the future of Yammer in SharePoint 2016, particularly with an apparent stronger focus on Office 365 Groups (for an overview, see Dion Hinchcliffe’s recent column). This may still leave a lot of room for turnkey intranet and other add-on vendors to provide alternative social collaboration experiences in SharePoint and Office 365.

The final challenge is that on-premise customers also still need to actually get onto SharePoint 2016 to take advantage of the opportunities it offers. Typically, there has been quite a lag time between a new release of SharePoint and actual upgrades, because of the necessary time and effort needed to deal with the transition and redesign so they can take advantage of the new features. I am still coming into contact with clients who have SharePoint 2010 and 2007 instances operating. Reflecting that complexity, AvePoint describe four different upgrade paths for SharePoint 2016. Of course, life is going to be much easier for those already using SharePoint Online.

Overall, SharePoint 2016 is undeniably a leap forward for Microsoft and breaths new life and confidence into the platform. But it will not be panacea for the age-old challenges of time, quality and cost that building tailored solutions on top of a sophisticated platform brings.

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