SharePoint 2016 – What’s new for intranets?
SharePoint 2016 headlines
SharePoint 2016 will largely be about easing technology delivery rather than new features. Bitten by a corporate reluctance to move wholesale to the cloud, SharePoint will be more flexible about mixing on-premises and cloud services. Not very exciting to non-techies, but the good news is that it may help intranet managers and internal communicators get beyond the “IT Says No” that currently roadblock intranet evolution in many companies.
Planned enhancements include:
- A cleaner, clearer interface for content authoring
- Delve working even for SharePoint 2013
- Enhancements to the video portal introduced on Office 365 recently, such as embedding
- A new knowledge portal codenamed ‘Infopedia’.
This post is mostly based on my initial reactions to The Evolution of SharePoint: Overview and Roadmap given at this weeks’ Microsoft Ignite conference by SharePoint Senior Product Manager Bill Baer and Seth Patton, Senior Director SharePoint and OneDrive. I’ll post a more rounded view once I’ve had chance to go through the other presentations.
SharePoint and the cloud
Cloud is front of mind for Microsoft. They are more accepting of the position many companies take that they prefer to have SharePoint on-premises. However, it seems there will be little new functionality without at least a willingness to use a hybrid approach (for example, Yammer only works in the cloud).
- 80% of Fortune 500 companies use SharePoint on premises.
- 35% SharePoint seats are on Office 365 (but probably many of these are small to medium businesses).
In the talk it wasn’t always clear what was O365 and what as SharePoint, so some of the features may require a hybrid approach.
New features in SharePoint 2016
There will be a new content editor (not that Microsoft could call it simply that, instead it’s an ‘authoring canvas’). It was demo’d for blogs and looks much simpler and friendlier for user-generated content (an example I’ve often used as a poster child for SharePoint ugliness). Baer typed a title over an image and people actually applauded like this was cutting edge! At least it is an improvement, and notably the content syncs as you type. Let’s hope this indicates wider UX improvements to come.
A phrase introduced with the Office 365 Video Portal. The Video portal will include much needed abilities to embed videos elsewhere, and the hybrid option of having SP 2016 on premises, but videos on Microsoft’s Azure cloud. This could really help global organizations where bandwidth on the internal network struggles with video streaming.
A Knowledge Portal is coming – ‘Infopedia’. The goal is to collate knowledge and information, make it actionable and available to people at the right time. It’s a useful abstraction of something that is commonly tackled with SharePoint (but really information management, not knowledge management).
Being a portal, it sits at the more managed end of the scale, with things like boards (in Delve – think Pinterest) being more bottom-up. In the middle sits another new piece ‘microsites’. These are content collections around a single topic such as one event, or one product. It’s the kind of thing people do already with team sites that are actually more publishing than collaboration. One feature that will go down well is the automatic suggestion of ‘related documents’, Amazon-style.
Knowledge portals let you pull together boards and microsites into a single experience with a ‘table of contents’ style navigation. I can see it working well for communicating corporate initiatives such as strategy and values, or any large project where there may be presentations, videos and other collateral that needs pulling together with some introductory context. A portal per customer or per brand would also work well. “About Department X” pages may benefit too.
Delve continues to enthral Microsoft, despite few real-world examples to prove the concept. They see it as “signals from people to find the right people, and signals from people to find the right content”.
Profiles have been co-opted into Delve [Screenshot below], showing contact details, org chart, blog link and activity. In the example shown it is not so different to SharePoint 2010, but a recent blog post on profiles shows a richer – and much more attractive – example. Integration with Delve makes sense, but given many orgs are so far reluctant to switch it on, I wonder if this then cripples the basic profile features?
Provoked by Dropbox’s success, MS are keen to make OneDrive for Business (OD4B) a viable alternative, describing it as the number one priority for the team. To their credit, they acknowledge that One Drive consumer works well, but OD4B falls short. They didn’t spell out what, but corrupted sync files are common and destroy user’s trust that their content is safe in my experience. Improved Outlook integration and offline support are coming later in the year.
Evolution of the fittest intranet
The long term vision and strategy for SharePoint is partly reassuring – “Renewed focus on our core: Files, Content Management, Sites and Portals”. Hybrid is clearly the “third way” for Microsoft now. Whereas last year Cloud was king, they seem to have got the message that big companies need much more time to make this shift, so their tactic now is to nudge them to the cloud rather than flip them wholesale. Most significant for this is that search will work across on-premises and cloud content. Previously this was a real barrier to an integrated digital workplace and is what will be enabling Delve for SharePoint too, as Delve used to be cloud-only.
Charting SharePoint’s history, it’s interesting to note the roots in core collaboration, and the tacit acknowledgement that SharePoint 2010 missed the burgeoning shift to Enterprise social that was happening at the time, needing SharePoint 2013 to patch things up. Describing SharePoint 2016 as “could-inspired experiences” has all the hallmarks of insipid marketing speak and not very inspiring at all. I’d rather see something inspired by how people work than the technology that delivers it. “Synth-inspired music anyone?”.
At least Microsoft are talking about ‘Improved user experiences’ and give hope that the next SharePoint will be mobile-friendly.
What’s missing from the SharePoint vision?
Stepping back to consider what wasn’t mentioned (and it’s always possible they just didn’t have time), from a business and intranet point of view I’d pick:
- A clear demonstration that publishing sites will be fully mobile and touch-friendly. The mobile demonstration at the end of the presentation was so bad my stomach knotted. It still looks like the 2007 site, with no preservation of user context. Who wants to see “site Assets” as a navigation option? [see screenshot]. Microsoft have got a whole lot better at developing feature specific apps (e.g. the iPhone Office, Delve and Video Portal apps are done well), but these keep stands of the digital workplace in islands, sometimes we want the context that comes with a more web-like experience.
- Full integration of social. Yammer swamped SharePoint 2014. This year it has hardly been mentioned, but full integration is still a long way off. The Yammer team did say integration with Office 365 was continuing, but there are still – still – no firm dates.
- Integrated activity streams. SharePoint is ideally placed to be the aggregation point of activity across documents and information, aggregating from Salesforce, SAP, Dropbox etc. but there is no sign of innovation in this space. It seems an obvious extension to Delve.
- Content publishing – everyone building a substantial intranet on SharePoint has to custom build a news centre. Microsoft just doesn’t seem to get this use case
- Analytics. They got worse in 2013 and look set to stay that way.
Should we rush to SharePoint 2016?
If you’re still working on your SharePoint 2013 upgrade, relax, it will have plenty of mileage in the SharePoint world. Especially as Delve will be coming to 2013 too.
Patton emphasised that the new features are not there to replace what SharePoint does well, but are meant to be ‘additive’. However, adding new features isn’t always helpful without knowing the game plan. Adding a football to a basketball game doesn’t improve ‘productivity’, it grinds everything to a halt in confusion. Right now the conceptual overlap between SharePoint team sites and Office 365 Groups is considerable, and they are not merely adding functionality but replicating some parts without sufficiently coping with existing use cases. Given most users already struggle with “what to use when”, I’m unconvinced by Microsoft’s position on this.
SharePoint 2016 is due mid-2016 and will certainly improve over SharePoint 2013. The question is, how fresh will it look compared to the non-SharePoint alternatives?