From July 22-15, the Microsoft SharePoint community will gather in Boston, MA for SPTechCon 2012. The largest independent SharePoint conference in the world for IT professionals, business managers, analysts, and developers, the event boasts four days chock full of shared best practices, technical workshops, vendor exhibitions, networking opportunities, and more.
SPTechCon features three keynote presentations:
· SharePoint in the World of Microsoft’s Cloud OS by Microsoft Director, MCS Steve Fox at 8:45am on Monday, July 23
· SharePoint Psychology by SharePoint MVP Robert Bogue at 10:00am on Tuesday, July 24
· Presenting SharePoint as a Service Back to Your Organization by AvePoint Vice President of Product Marketing Mary Leigh Mackie and Chief Architect and SharePoint MVP Jeremy Thake at 10:00am on Wednesday, July 25
We caught up with all four keynote speakers to learn more about the impetus behind their presentations, what they’re looking forward to most at the event, and their top recommendations for what to do while in Boston.
Could you each tell us what your keynote is about and why you chose it for SPTechCon Boston 2012?
Steve: My keynote is going to be about SharePoint and Microsoft’s “Cloud OS.” The reason I’m talking about this now is because we’re at this inflection point where the cloud is factoring quite a bit into a lot of what we do as an IT community. It cuts across Office productivity and SharePoint and certainly other areas of the company such as virtualization, app development and management and consumerization of IT. What I’ve seen is some movement of the SharePoint community toward the cloud, but there is still room to grow here. Given that we’re at a fairly serious inflection point, I thought it was timely to take some of the things we’ve talked about over the last month or two, such as new releases like Windows Azure and other cloud productivity solutions available or coming soon, and then cast those in the context of SharePoint.
You mention that you’ve seen some hesitation from the SharePoint community in moving toward the cloud. Why do you think that is?
Steve: I don’t think it’s “hesitation” as in “I don’t care about this” as it is that the cloud represents a significant shift so you need to design, develop, and manage with other things in mind. When we think about cloud, it’s a significant paradigm shift. Gartner characterizes it as “disruptive.” If you think of that from an IT perspective, we think, “Wow, we’re moving in a new direction.” There’s a lot to think about and learn, and everything probably hasn’t distilled down to the average SharePoint developer yet. There’s a lot out there trying to play around in the space, but companies are still understanding this new direction called the cloud and what it means to them and their future. So it’s not so much hesitation from the community. It’s an overall movement that is going to take some time. But it is the future.
Robert, could you tell us what your keynote is about and why you chose it for SPTechCon?
Robert: Mine is about SharePoint Psychology, and it’s about getting people to take advantage and make use of and get value out of SharePoint. We’re getting pretty good at the mechanics of deployment now. We know how to turn the servers on and get the services set up, but one of the things that organizations struggle with is how to get value out of SharePoint. What do they need to do beyond turning on the light switch to really be able to get value? My session will talk about motivation, organizational change, and really just what you need to know beyond the bits.
The folks that I run into at SPTechCon are really the people who are struggling with these problems. They tend to be folks that are in IT in a business analyst type of role, or maybe it’s the CIO, or someone who’s really concerned with how to deliver business value. A lot of times you’ve got internal change agents in the organization that are coming to something like SPTechCon and they see the value for their world, but they don’t know how to make that get bigger and don’t know how to leverage other people using SharePoint. So I just think it’s the right audience to send this message to.
How about you, Mary Leigh and Jeremy?
Mary Leigh: Jeremy and I discussed a lot and decided to do a joint presentation about essentially what we see a lot of times in organizations that we work with at AvePoint. Often, when we talk about SharePoint with our customers and different organizations, there’s always something you want to get out of it and the guidance around the hot topics for today, such as governance or Big Data management. Ultimately, what we wanted to showcase for attendees at SPTechCon is how to provide SharePoint as a service back to your organization. Ultimately, for anybody to get value out of SharePoint, users have to want it. They want to understand when to use it, how to use it, and how to interact with IT to make sure that their expectations are met while ultimately meeting business goals are for SharePoint. Our goal was to try to break it down and make it a little bit easier to give people real life scenarios, talk about return on investment, and provide some guidance around information architecture. Then we will explain how to go about presenting SharePoint to the business in a way that’s consumable and valuable for users.
Jeremy: What Mary Leigh said sums our presentation up. I look forward to sharing the things we’re seeing in the industry that people are doing to make life easier from a process perspective.
Have any of you given these keynotes before or are they brand new?
Steve: From my perspective it’s new because I haven’t done it before. Of course, the cloud is a transformation that has been evolving more rapidly over the last 18 months, so it will build on that and hopefully share new insights as well.
Robert: My deck is a little less new because it’s actually written, but this is the first time it will be delivered at a conference, so I’m looking forward to that.
Jeremy: This will be the first time Mary Leigh and I have presented this keynote.
What is one key takeaway you want attendees to walk away with after your keynote?
Steve: One key thing I would love for them to walk away with is that the cloud is a major shift, and SharePoint is going to play in and factor pretty heavily into it, and vice versa.
Robert: You can do it! That’s what I want them to take away. This big organizational monster that they’ve got is movable. It may take you a little bit to get it started, but once you get it started it will move and you can really start taking advantage of SharePoint. You won’t have to fight the organization to do the right thing.
Jeremy: Backing on what Rob said…you can do it! We hope to give attendees the confidence that there is a way of taking control of SharePoint in a way that…
Mary Leigh: You can still provide a ton of value for your organization. Anytime you can leave someone with tangible best practices, guidance, and examples of how someone has done it before it gives them a boost of confidence. It makes it easier to keep them going and continuing to do cool stuff with SharePoint.
How do you feel an event like SPTechCon benefits the SharePoint community?
Steve: Any opportunity where you get a chance to get the SharePoint community together in a formal way is a good thing. It’s a very lively and active community. SPTechCon offers a good forum with high quality speakers with lots of experience. I think any time you get the people together with good speakers, it’s a recipe for positive learning and good face time.
Robert: There’s a really awesome online community for SharePoint. There’s tons and tons of content. Having been in SharePoint for more than a few years now, I can remember a time when you could do a search and you wouldn’t find anything. Now, if you search on something related to SharePoint, you’re absolutely going to find some kind of answer. It may be wrong, but you’ll find an answer. I think the face-to-face events are different, and certainly there’s a spectacular line-up of speakers, great people sharing great information. Also, the ability to sit and talk with each other and have those conversations that are not structured around the specific problem, but are more about, “This is how my organization is using SharePoint. Is your organization using it differently?” I think that all comes together to be a really powerful thing in helping us all get better at using SharePoint in our organizations.
Mary Leigh: I think it creates a level of accessibility of all this knowledge that seems far away when you’re reading people’s blogs and not being able to create, facilitate, and maintain a personal relationship with the SharePoint community. I think the value in getting smart people to share ideas is never a bad thing, and that’s something we look forward to at these conferences. Of course, I’m sure plenty of people will get blackmail-worthy photos from the after hours events.
Robert: I don’t think that should be our goal!
Mary Leigh: I think that’s what some people will get out of it, though! I’m just being honest.
Robert: I like bringing my family to these events.
Your family is attending SPTechCon?
Robert: They’re going to be with me in Boston. I’m going to bring my son and make him a part of the keynote. I’ve been talking to him about it. I think he’s going to be up for it, so that’ll be fun.
How does your son feel about SharePoint?
Robert: He thinks it’s a great thing! He thinks that anything his dad can make money with and buy him video games is an awesome thing.
How about you, Jeremy. How do you feel an event like SPTechCon benefits the SharePoint community?
Jeremy: As everyone said, the social aspect is really important. I think a lot of the time people in the sessions are in the same boat. They get a chance to compare war wounds with people who are also in the room. It’s not only about knowing you’re not the only one in the same situation, but building a network of people you can reach out to. What I also find as well is that speakers sometimes seem unapproachable because they’re just seen in books or blogs or heard on webcasts. These events make the speakers more approachable.
Outside of your keynote, what is one thing each of you is looking forward to most at SPTechCon?
Mary Leigh: Boston is a great city. I mean, the Yankees are better than the Red Sox, obviously… But, besides that, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with different people. There’s always that “good to see old friends” aspect, but I’m also looking forward to learning. I think any chance you get to learn from other attendees and speakers is something to look forward to. There’s always something I learn when I come to these shows, so I’m excited to take advantage of all the opportunities they offer.
Robert: I look forward to the interaction during the sessions I’m presenting. Technically they’re presentations and I stand in front of the room, but I have so much fun having conversations with folks about topics like information architecture and building engagement.
Do you feel that SPTechCon lends itself well to having that kind of interaction with the audiences?
Robert: Yeah, one of the challenges is that I’m presenting on several different topics, but I think it’s really a lot about the people who show up and the topics on which I’m presenting. They will share things they struggle with and are worried about, which will encourage them to open themselves to deeper and better conversations. I’m really looking forward to that.
How about you, Steve and Jeremy? What are you looking forward to most at SPTechCon?
Steve: I look forward to face time with people. Any time you get a chance to join a SharePoint-centric group of people, which SPTechCon and other conferences like it offer, you get some great opportunities for face time with that community.
Jeremy: I’m always interested in seeing what other people are talking about. I’m Looking forward to Robert’s keynote to see what he’s doing since he’s been in the space a long time. Also, from Steve’s perspective, I look forward to hearing about Microsoft’s positioning is around the cloud.
Steve: That puts the pressure on!
Jeremy: That’s right! I want to see some Office 365 logos in your deck.
Mary Leigh: Throw in a logo slide at the end just for Jeremy.
Steve: I’ll put your photo right at the end, Jeremy, decorated with Office 365 logos.
What are some of your favorite aspects of the city of Boston? What do you recommend conference attendees see and do when they’re not at the event?
Steve: The one thing that I’ve always wanted to do whenever I go to Boston but never had the chance to do is the Freedom Trail. I’m hoping to get a chance to walk it for a couple of hours. That and, of course, take in a Red Sox game.
Mary Leigh: I’ve been to Fenway Park, which is great. The park has a lot of history to it. I’d go again in a heartbeat. The food’s good, the beer is good, and the baseball is pretty awesome, too. When I was little, I did the Boston Duck Tour. That’s always a fun and cheesy thing to do. I like the whole history of Boston, and anything that has to do with that is worth checking out.
Robert: Last year, Robert Curtin, who works for Microsoft as the Chief Applications Officer for US Education, was kind enough to take me on a walking tour of Harvard University. It was very interesting to get somebody who’s from the area give you all the history that isn’t the tourist history. It’s all about what happened where, how the neighborhood grew up, and showing where all the professors lived. You get to learn the character of the city, not just, “Here’s the Cheers bar…everyone go in and have a drink and whenever someone comes in they’re going to yell ‘Norm!’” That was the thing I really enjoyed the most last time. The park is good. I’m sure my family will be on the duck boats at some point. Microsoft has a really nice office there called the New England Research & Development Center, which is a really cool thing. It’s located at the edge of the MIT campus.
Jeremy: Fenway Park is amazing. I’m not a big baseball fan, but that was good. There are some pretty great bars there as well.
What is one thing you feel the global SharePoint community needs most at this time?
Jeremy: One thing that is missing is a decent “101” for getting started, because SharePoint is so big and so broad. If I’m a SharePoint designer and I want to get started, how do I get in? I think we do the Visual Studio “101” a bit better than others. But I don’t think we do the SharePoint “how-to for the user” very well. Something around that would be great. I know there’s paid training available that does a great job.
Steve: A couple of things. I think the first thing is to upgrade from SharePoint 2003.
Mary Leigh: But Steve, we have migration tools for that!
Steve: The other one, more seriously, is to embrace the cloud.
Robert: How about I change the topic. For me, the problem is focus. We’ve got a lot of noise happening right now. There is tons of noise in the SharePoint space. I think it’s getting harder and harder for people to even know where to go and what questions to ask. I think we’re getting so much noise in the market that we’re having trouble figuring out what’s valuable.
Mary Leigh: And what’s going to stick. I think there is a lot of information out there. I think a lot of people have made good attempts at consolidating that information. The thing that the SharePoint community needs most at this time is for people to attend different shows where they can argue viewpoints and hopefully come out more knowledgeable at the end. Any time we can make it easier to find step-by-step guidance for whatever you want to do for SharePoint, that’s very valid. I think that, as we move forward, the community matures and topics mature. Many of us have been around a long time. One thing we have to understand is that there are people who are just now getting into SharePoint. Let’s not forget about those people and expect that everyone is an expert. Let’s make sure we’re speaking to those whose deployments and expertise may not be as mature and help them out as well.
Steve: In other words, embrace the cloud! One thing that I find with SharePoint is that, because it’s so broad, it can be hard to get clarity. More and more I find that when I go to conferences that are SharePoint-centric, I get the most out of listening to people who have worked through all the bumps and bruises, because really the learning experience with SharePoint is going up against the wall and then you find the answers. That’s how you know SharePoint. Of course there’s a lot of good content and documentation out there, but oftentimes it’s when you test the car that you really know how to drive it. So getting clarity from a real world perspective is important, and maybe that’s what you all are saying in just a different way.
Robert: Drink more SharePoint!
Jeremy: I’m going to come to your keynote dressed as a cloud and float around the stage, Steve.
Robert: How about we just use a fog machine?
Mary Leigh: I like that idea!