This past week, Atlanta was host to about 25,000 visitors for Microsoft Ignite. During the Day 1 keynote, Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President for OneDrive and SharePoint, took the stage for 15 minutes to introduce the continued investments Microsoft has made in SharePoint that were previewed in San Francisco on May 4, 2016. The SharePoint announcements were only part of an incredible array of announcements across the Office 365 family, including some major infrastructure and security announcements and some awesome features for Office that I can’t wait to try!
The details of the SharePoint announcements can be found in the following Microsoft blog posts:
- Summary of the key SharePoint innovations focused on intelligence and collaboration in Office 365
- Simple and powerful file sharing
- Modern, mobile, intelligent intranet
- Improved “people” experiences
- Security and compliance
- Feature Pack 1 for SharePoint 2016, which brings more innovation from the cloud to SharePoint on premises even sooner than previously expected.
There were great announcements in each of these blog posts and even more great features demonstrated in the many amazing sessions at Ignite. I’ll call out a few that have me particularly excited – and a few places where I’m still hoping for more.
Shared sync experience for OneDrive and SharePoint
This week’s announcements include a capability that many organizations have been waiting for – adding syncing of SharePoint sites to the new and improved OneDrive for Business sync client (available now in preview). The new capability provides a single sync experience for all of the files that you work on the most – and the experience works whether you work on a PC or a Mac. To manage what gets synced to the desktop, you will be able to select the specific SharePoint folders that you want to take offline. The new sync experience allows each user to make intelligent and practical choices to help everyone work the way they want to work – with the content most important to them. Microsoft is promising to make this update easy for users who are already using the legacy SharePoint sync client by providing a seamless upgrade.
Note that there is an information architecture implication with this great new feature: Folders! Folders are important for working with content offline and leveraging the new sync client. As an information architect, I love metadata – but metadata alone is not sufficient for organizing document libraries that you want to sync offline. As you plan for how to organize content, think about combinations of folders and metadata for libraries where users might want to work with content offline.
One place to find all of my files
Along with the new SharePoint sync experience, there’s another great feature announced this week – an update to the OneDrive browser and mobile experience that enables you to access, edit and share all files and folders in Office 365 that you own or follow, whether they are in your OneDrive or SharePoint team sites. This is going to roll out to all customers by Q1 2017. Regardless of which device you work on, OneDrive becomes the center of gravity for all your Office 365 files. If you are a part of many teams working on multiple documents like I am, this gives you a single place from which you can see and work on all the documents for which you are responsible. I really love this feature. As I shared in a panel discussion with other MVPs this week – it’s great that Microsoft recognizes that my world revolves around me! Creating a “me-centric” view of my work is something that I think will make each one of us more productive (not just me!).
Simple file movement from personal to shared locations
In the May 4 SharePoint update, Microsoft announced that we would soon be able to move content from OneDrive to SharePoint seamlessly – first with “copy” and later with “move.” This is an important innovation that is now getting closer to becoming a reality. In the typical life of a document, you might save the initial draft in OneDrive – before you are ready to share it with anyone else. Once you are finished editing, the goal is to move the document from OneDrive to a team or publishing site in SharePoint. Today, this can involve multiple steps – download the document from OneDrive to the desktop and upload to SharePoint. This can leave three copies of the document – one in OneDrive, one on the desktop, and one in SharePoint – with multiple opportunities for search and update conflicts a clear case of “versionitis.” This week, Microsoft showcased demos where you can move a document from OneDrive to SharePoint without leaving OneDrive. This is an important capability that will minimize governance issues and make it far easier for users to comply with the “one copy of a document” best practice for SharePoint.
Rich and engaging people experiences
Locating expertise is a key knowledge management objective for many organizations. One of my favorite features highlighted in many demos this week is the new “people card.” Here’s how it works: when you hover over a person’s name or image, the “people card” expands to show contact information, organizational relationships, and recent documents for the person.
You can expand the people card to see more information about the person, including any information they have shared in their profile. Today, you only see basic contact information. With the new people experience, you see something more visually appealing and much more valuable – not just contact information but also recent items the person has worked on – right in the context of your work. Initially, the hover experience will be available inside lists, document libraries and OneDrive. I think this is coming, but where I’d also love to see the people card available is from search results – to be able to look at the “credentials,” organization location, and recent activity of document authors. Imagine this scenario: you search for a topic and search returns a list of document and pages relevant to your search. Without leaving search results, you can hover over the name of the person associated with the document to learn more about who they are, what they are working on, and where they fit in the organization. This information helps you locate and “qualify” relevant experts – even if those experts have not completed a profile. Of course we want users to complete a profile and update their skills and interests because this adds even more value to expertise location – but it often extremely challenging to get people to keep their profile information up-to-date. With the new people card, even if people don’t update their profiles, the context of their expertise is still easily discoverable when you find content with which they are associated.
As a bonus, it’s actually going to be much easier to keep your profile up-to-date in Delve with a new simple, immersive interface exposed in the context of your Delve profile page. Making the update experience easier may help encourage people to keep the information current. Combining better explicit profile information with contextual discovery of people information wherever you see a person’s name is an even better way to create better “people” experiences that will help organizations discover and leverage the knowledge and expertise of their staff.
Still more to come
As excited as I am about the new features discussed and demonstrated at Ignite, there is still more work to be done to “modernize” SharePoint. The first wave focus has clearly been on team collaboration – as it should have been. But we still don’t have a great modern experience for publishing. In a session on Thursday morning, Andy Haon and Dave Cohen shared some of the vision and roadmap for content publishing. The timeline for delivery is in 2017 but they didn’t share a lot of details. I hope we get more clarification in the coming months. While we still have content type publishing in place, the roadmap for this capability still seems pretty blurry. As interesting as Team News is, I know that most of my clients, who are building large corporate intranets, are more interested in the roadmap for corporate news, which will need all the scheduling and approval features appropriate in a more controlled publishing environment. I’m also hoping for a really good framework for global navigation that doesn’t have to be created as a custom solution every time. Global navigation isn’t on the roadmap slide that Dave and Andy shared, but I know it’s something the team is thinking about – hopefully soon!
While there is much to love and look forward to, there are some “features” that haven’t landed very well for me, most especially the notion in modern document libraries that required metadata is not really required. I understand the problem very well. I’d prefer a feature that prompts the user to enter the metadata, no matter how they upload or drag the document or documents into the library. I know I’m not the only information architect not quite satisfied with the current user experience. It’s better in some scenarios for sure, but it’s not in others – especially when you have a business process dependent on required metadata. I think one part of the problem is with how people design their libraries – just because you think having metadata is a good thing doesn’t mean all attributes should be required. That’s not Microsoft’s issue. However, there is a difference between “important” metadata (nice to have but no kittens are harmed if it’s not completed) and “required” (which should mean business critical and must be filled in). These are not easy trade-offs for a development team that gets hit from both sides of this scenario – and you can see from what is shared in the roadmap that Microsoft is listening and understands the concern.
Microsoft wants our feedback
It is crystal clear to me that the SharePoint team relies on our feedback to make decisions. I truly feel an enormous sea change in the way that the SharePoint and OneDrive team listens to the voice of the customer in the Office 365 and SharePoint Tech Communities, in SharePoint UserVoice, in OneDrive UserVoice, and based on actual aggregate usage data from Office 365 (i.e. what we do, not just what we say). In every session I attended, the Microsoft presenters listened attentively and with an incredible amount of empathy to the concerns expressed by customers, partners, and the very vocal MVP community. Microsoft welcomed all of us to Atlanta as part of the family – but just like any family taking a road trip together, we don’t all share the same enthusiasm about the route we’re taking, the stops along the way, and the timing of when we’ll arrive. Nevertheless, I think this week left our SharePoint family looking forward to the journey and really excited about the vision for the destination – and the opportunity to influence where we go and how we get there.