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Reflecting Back on SharePoint Conference 2012

​With an officially announced 10,000 attendees from 85 countries at SharePoint Conference (SPC) 2012 in Las Vegas this year, more than 7,000 watching live on the webcast, and the #SPC12 hash tag trending even with extremely poor Wi-Fi access during the week…this year’s SPC 2012 was a major hit!

The conference was sponsored by more than 200 companies, and if the 250+ sessions over four days wasn’t enough, the expo hall was packed the brim full of vendors ready to pitch their latest add-ons to SharePoint.

The keynote focused heavily on the cloud throughout. I do understand the Microsoft marketing team’s need to push the future…but a quick straw poll as we drew the winning ticket for the Ducati we gave away at the AvePoint booth on Thursday afternoon proved that a good 95% weren’t even considering it out of the 1,000+ individuals waiting to see whether they were going to win the bike.

Cloud

The biggest push in the whole keynote in my opinion came from the announcement of three-month “service updates” for Office 365 SharePoint Online tenants. There was no announcement of any changes to the on-premises three-year release cycles with two service packs. This will obviously be the way to tempt organizations to Office 365 from on-premises, which won’t be getting the new features for a LONG time after.

Microsoft wanted to make a big point by having all demonstrations on Office 365 from the Amsterdam datacenter to try and prove that geographically dispersed organizations can use one central tenancy.

The other key themes or “disruptive technologies” related to SharePoint that Microsoft covered were mobile, social, and user experience.

Mobile

SharePoint’s mobile story to date has been very poor with a micro-browser rendering system best left to the deceased Blackberry platform. Comparing SharePoint collaboration workload competitors who have a strong mobile story such as Google Docs, Alfresco, and Box.net, Microsoft were really having to make a splash in this round. The announcement of a Windows Phone 8 client, which I am already using with AvePoint’s own internal intranet from a social perspective, is great! The information around an iOS and Android equivalent is also great news, although expect not all functionality to be on those devices as per Microsoft’s mandate to encourage Windows Phone adoption. The existing Office app for Windows Phone has proved extremely handy, and the SkyDrive Pro integration will be a big hit for offline collaboration scenarios and finally nails what Groove and SharePoint Workspace tried to achieve in the last six years.

There was a light demo of a Windows 8 RT app for SharePoint expected early next year. It will be interesting to see how the SharePoint iOS vendor apps survive with stronger plays in this space in 2013.

SharePoint Social

The third theme for the audience to embrace was SharePoint social – not to be confused with Yammer, which I’ll get to in a moment. SharePoint social was meant to make a big splash three years ago and there were plenty of excuses around it being too early when it launched six years ago to be compared to the features available through major social platforms like Facebook. Even three years later in 2010, the social platform was weak and barely used for sharing and social efforts. Microsoft tended to lean on “Discussion Boards”, “Wikis”, and “blogs” as social, which sadly didn’t get touched in 2010 and haven’t again in 2013. The new social in 2013 was demonstrated around the “Communities” site template with very light badge functionality and the new “follow” capability for documents, people, tags and sites. I believe the platform has the ability to be adopted now in 2013 by organizations, but still think it doesn’t fully compare to true enterprise social platforms. However, it’s a start.

User Experience

It was great to hear that this version of SharePoint had four times as many people focusing on user experience, and it does really show. They talked about how Office 365 is the “largest scale enterprise cloud service in the world,”, and I guess all vendors claim this. It would be interesting to see how this stacks up against Google’s numbers.

It is always interesting to see what Microsoft thinks are the biggest experience changes, and it was no surprise to see SkyDrive Pro, Site Hub, and Team Site updates as well as apps, search, and, oddly, Microsoft Outlook web access being showcased…which is not related to SharePoint whatsoever. This highlighted to me that the lines between Exchange, SharePoint, and Office are blurring and made me question the reality of a SharePoint conference next year being more of an “Office 365 conference”.

Yammer

There was a distinct divide in the keynote, with the Yammer team placed in the middle between two very strong “blue badge” Microsoft sections of the major themes and the new development model. I like the fact that their approach was different from the usual Microsoft “voice.”

The Microsoft team introduced the reasons for the acquisition was that Yammer are “the leaders in enterprise social” with the largest user base of 200,000 organizations in 150 countries in 24 languages, including 85% organizations in the Fortune 500. They focused on Yammer’s “rapid innovation,” pioneering new features based on user feedback, and voluntary adoption watching analytical usage data to prioritize features.

The big question a lot of my enterprise customers have been asking is around the story of SharePoint social and Yammer integration, and I was expecting it to be presented clearly. But, sadly, all they really announced was that Office 365 SharePoint Online customers could get Yammer Premium as part of their package, and that there was already “integration” between the two. What disappointed me was that the integration has already been known as it was in place before the acquisition.

The Yammer guys focused on distinct features to integrate were the “Enterprise Graph,” “Post to Yammer” option in the SharePoint ribbon, “Yammer Search” within SharePoint search, and embedding a document reference from SharePoint in a Yammer post. Near future features touted were integration with SkyDrive Pro and Office Web Apps.

Yammer’s basic roadmap discussed an “open graph,” more web parts, and integration with Microsoft Dynamics (which was shown at YamJam ‘12 the week earlier). Deeper integration will tackle the concerns around a unified feed, tighter integration with documents, and seamless identity integration. They also went on to discuss how they would hook into all of Office 365 from Skype and Lync through to Outlook and Exchange “faster than you might expect from us.” From this I would personally read that “SharePoint social” at best will be a little brother not focused on as much anymore, and that Yammer will be the true enterprise social focus at Microsoft. From discussions with various people at the “Ask the Experts” session, it was learned that Yammer will be “cloud-only,” so for a lot of organizations it is out of reach.

There are way too many overlaps between SharePoint social and Yammer right now, and although Microsoft promises a more unified story, from my experience, I don’t expect it in 2013. You can follow, like, post statuses, view activity completely in isolation of each other, and there is no mechanism to see both in one stream. In my opinion, this is going to confuse end-users, and so the best approach I can recommend for now is to pick one and shut the other off the best you can. The easiest one to switch off is obviously going to be Yammer as it’s completely separate. Switching off SharePoint social is not as easy as clicking a big tick box, and it’s going to take a lot of custom CSS coding and master page tweaks for sure.

Innovation

The innovation focus through the keynote and the sessions during the week were that SharePoint 2013 was “built from the cloud up” and you can see this when looking at the feature comparison between Office 365 SharePoint Online and SharePoint on-premise. And, as discussed, with the three-month cadence of SharePoint Online updates, Microsoft is “recommending you move to cloud for new experience.”

The upgrade story has gotten better this time around, which obviously was a benefit for Microsoft’s own Office 365 environments. But don’t be fooled by how easy they say it is: Expect the same experience as upgrading to SharePoint 2010 if you have customizations and not just a “vanilla” content database that can be moved to any old SharePoint farm.

The main improvement from the innovation aspect is the announcement of the performance improvements, with “40 percent more efficient use of bandwidth” due to “4x image compression,” with one example being the ribbon going from 400Kb to 100Kb. They also quoted Microsoft SQL Server as being 50 percent faster due to enhanced stored procedures.

The focus in the keynote around diminished growth of content database size in average collaboration scenarios being less compared to SharePoint 2010 due to the new Shredded Storage feature only storing deltas is a true. However, during my session with fellow SharePoint MVP Dan Holme, we also explained that with this comes along with a significant performance decrease in terms of user experience. To learn more, read my recent post about how Shredded Storage compares to Remote BLOB Storage (RBS) technology.

From an innovation standpoint, I have to hand it to Microsoft on the new app model with the ability to essentially allow you to build your app in PHP, Perl, HTML5, or other options while hosting it anywhere and then hooking it into SharePoint 2013 via the OAuth model if you’re using SharePoint Online. They’re betting on the fact that existing developer ecosystems will start building integration into SharePoint. The SharePoint marketplace is looking pretty quiet at the moment, but I expect that to grow faster once SharePoint Online is in production with 2013 with all of its tenants and demand starts to be driven.

Sessions

I had two sessions at SPC 2012, one with Dan Holme focused on the IT Pro story for on-premises implementations and what’s new, which received very good scores from attendees. I was also part of a vendor session with AvePoint Vice President, Risk Management and Compliance, Dana Simberkoff around governance and compliance mapped to hybrid scenarios, which also received above average scores. So I was personally very happy with my week! If you were unable to attend these sessions whilst you were at the conference because you were too busy, please log into MySPC and check them out!

Architecting Connected Systems CEO Chris Givens has written a great little PowerShell script to pull down all the SPC PowerPoint and MP4 files, which helped me grab all of the content and dump it on my Surface RT to watch on my many flights during my travels! I’ve learned heaps already and encourage you to do the same, as it’s doubtful you made it to approximately 250 sessions at the event itself with eight running at once most times throughout each day! Note that you need a MySPC login with access to sessions to get this content.

What Wasn’t Answered all Week

For me, other than what I’ve already discussed around Yammer, some things I came away with that weren’t answered in a public forum were the release cadence for SharePoint on-premise. If our bleeding edge cloud friends get shiny new things every 3 months…when can us on-premise guys get them? In general, there seemed to be a lack of theme around on-premise, and my discussions with a lot of people throughout the week indicated that this was a disappointment.

Success!

Keynotes are always a tricky thing, especially with a room loaded with press, MVPs, Office 365 customers, and on-premise customers. I think overall it was a great keynote, and I tip my hat to those involved for a job well done. As for the conference, it astounds me how smoothly the week ran. The unfortunate Wi-Fi issues were out of the organizers’ control, and I spoke to a few individuals who were seriously doing EVERYTHING they could to rectify it.

I had a great week, although extremely busy representing AvePoint and fulfilling my community commitments, and didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with good friends in the community. I did however get to have a few minutes one-on-one with Jon Bon Jovi before the SPC 2012 attendee party started. Jon is a huge hero of mine. I’ve seen him perform more than 10 times and have been backstage at one of his concerts once before, but unfortunately didn’t get to talk to him. So getting a chance to chat to him made my week, to be honest!

JT and BJ.jpg

What was your favorite part of SPC 2012? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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