In early October 2015, SharePoint migration specialists Sharegate invited a number of MVPs to their offices to, in part, get their strategic thoughts on SharePoint 2016, the next generation of Microsoft’s collaboration platform. Sharegate’s self-proclaimed “SharePoint Geek” and Office 365 MVP Benjamin Niaulin moderated the gathering. The panel included SharePoint and Xamarin MVP Fabian Williams, CollabTalk co-host Marc Anderson, as well as Office 365 Pulse host Jennifer Mason and IT Unity’s lead for Windows and devices, Corey Roth.
You can view Sharegate’s recording of this event on Sharegate’s website. The panelists discussed the release of SharePoint 2016 as an on-premises version, hybrid solutions and some of the change requirements that organizations must consider given that there will be six versions of SharePoint in the market (including older versions) once Microsoft releases SharePoint 2016. I’m sure I speak for the SharePoint community when I say that I appreciate Sharegate’s effort to bring this group together. I enjoyed that these MVPs were able to share their thoughts about the current SharePoint landscape casually. Normally a group like this would get together in a conference setting where there are other demands upon their time. Sharegate’s format provided an open dialog to share thoughts and collaborate.
SharePoint 2016 cloud and on-premises versions
As the first topic in the conversation, the MVPs debated Microsoft’s decision to release SharePoint 2016 as both a cloud and on-premises version. I personally don’t believe this is an item for debate; SharePoint, regardless of the version, is something that should always be made available to enterprise customers on-premises. Many organizations were rightly concerned that Microsoft’s cloud-first, mobile-first mandate would mean that SharePoint releases come to the cloud first. Fabian suggested that there will be a need for on-premises SharePoint “for some time.” He cited regulatory considerations, data and ownership as some of the reasons that customers will keep SharePoint sites on-premises. Data considerations aside, Jennifer made some excellent points about why being in the cloud can be a superior option for businesses. She noted that in the last year alone, Microsoft has pushed about 450 updates to Office 365, none of which has Microsoft guaranteed will be delivered in the on-premises version of either SharePoint 2013 or 2016. Granted, these updates can includes patches and security updates not relevant to the on-premises version, but Microsoft has made no guarantees that even the best and most relevant updates will be pushed on-premises.
Both of the above perspectives are accurate. Companies who are permanently committed to on-premises SharePoint solutions likely won’t be bothered by the fact that other features and options are not available to them. These businesses have more fundamental concerns about putting their information in the cloud such as data vulnerabilities including security breaches, terrorism and a necessity to keep their information within the walls of their organization. Companies that have strict policies on how information moves around the organization won’t be affected by particular new bells and whistles.
What is 2016 all about?
The conversation shifted to hybrid, and that companies will use a blend of on-premises and online SharePoint. Marc’s feeling that hybrid environments give customers “the best of both worlds” resonated best, and is the general feeling of most customers I’ve spoken with. Utilizing this configuration, some workload processing is done internally, and the rest is completed in the cloud. Microsoft says this method allows customers to “keep the crown jewels inside your facility.” Hybrid scenarios allow customers to take advantage of the frequent updates mentioned earlier.
Corey added that the administrative features in SharePoint 2016 should make the administrator’s life easier, particularly in the hybrid scenario. “End users won’t even notice any difference.” Corey felt that the IT Pro’s job will be made easier too in the 2016 version. Administrative features aside, Corey commented that he has seen many organizations that have invested in custom apps; investments that will impede their ability to move to the cloud. Microsoft saying, “get to the add-in or app-model as quickly as you can,” will inhibit some organizations from committing one way or the other, even in a hybrid scenario. Companies who have had SharePoint applications running for 5 – 10 years will take time to develop a workaround. Ultimately, most companies may just decide to leave their systems or applications running as-is, therefore letting SharePoint run on-premises for the near future.
Making a choice
In the end, each of the panelists agreed that organizations and users alike have a choice in their SharePoint future. Benjamin stated, “The business users and organizations have Dropbox, Slack, Yammer,” all enterprise systems that were originally brought into the business by its users, not necessarily by the organization itself. In many ways, users created their own network and support system for what they needed most. It was then up to IT to recognize the demands on the network and say, “Oh, okay, we are going to have to start managing that.” That is today’s reality; users are able to pick up a subscription to a system easily, and many times for a very minimal cost. It works, and the onus is on the business to get up to speed.
“Transform, Think, Reinvent,” the theme of Microsoft Ignite, is what Benjamin, Marc, Corey, Jennifer and Fabian agreed is what is happening in the SharePoint ecosystem today. IT needs to change, and needs to start looking at the business problems, then deciding how they can be solved. Whether that’s with Office 365, Delve, or Groups, customers need to move away from using an upgrade as a platform vehicle. The hybrid story gives organizations the chance to still do what they need to as IT, and have the platform give people or the individuals a choice.
Marc summarized the conversation and situation quite well, saying, “In the grand scheme of things, users must see some reason to go for (the) new functionality (in SharePoint 2016). When IT pushes the product out, without users pulling it back in, it usually doesn’t work. It becomes more complicated. People have to learn more.” Marc continued, “The key here for Microsoft, the key here for us, is that if we believe that SharePoint 2016 and the hybrid model and all the things we’ve just been talking about are actually going to serve our purpose, we need to come up with a way to explain that to user bases so that they can say, ‘I need that because that will make my department or my organization more productive.’”