Last week, European SharePoint Conference (ESPC) 2016 – the biggest SharePoint conference in Europe – took place at the Austria Center in Vienna. Many well-known speakers from around the globe, MVPs, and members of the Microsoft team shared their knowledge and roadmap information about SharePoint and Office 365. After an exciting week spent with the community, here are five of the most important pieces of news I collected from attending sessions throughout the event:
1. New OneDrive for Business and SharePoint capabilities focused on the user
Dan Holme – Microsoft Director of Product Marketing, SharePoint – opened the conference and showed the new modern UI for OneDrive and SharePoint in the keynote. We were able to see the mobile apps in action with a clean UI and simple sharing as well as collaboration functionalities. You can now easily mark one or more items as “offline available”, which starts an instant download to your mobile device. You can also remove the file from local devices just as easily and store it to OneDrive for Business (or SharePoint). You can also see some helpful statistics about the files in the library view, such as how often they were opened.
Companies can now also promote links in the left navigation bar. This is a great way to share important links in each employee’s OneDrive for Business to ensure they are always up to date with latest news or policies.
Holme also demonstrated the modern UI in SharePoint Online, such as the new SharePoint landing page – which shows sites, files, and people related to the employee. We were also able to see the new library capabilities in action. For example, if you drag and drop an item from one group to another, SharePoint automatically updates the file’s metadata.
At the end of the keynote, we also saw the new Microsoft Teams, which will be general available in Q1 2017. Teams is similar to Office 365 Groups, providing a collaboration space with shared files, a team calendar, and a forum to exchange information. Additionally, it offers a chat function and users can easily start video conferences without needing to jump between tools.
You can learn more about Microsoft Teams by registering for our upcoming webinar with Senior Specialist for Productivity at Microsoft Matt Berg.
2. The new SharePoint Framework for developers
Developers’ eyes were locked on the screen when Microsoft Marketing Director Mike Ammerlaan showed the SharePoint Framework, which was announced in August this year. He demonstrated an integration with a custom web part, which collects data from different office locations and displays them with a related status.
In addition to making SharePoint even more useful for special company requirements, this new development also highlights the bright future of SharePoint as a platform and its ability to be extended with custom features from developers.
This SharePoint Framework (also called “SPFx”) was announced as developer preview for first tenants. Microsoft will ship SPFx to SharePoint on premises in the next calendar year, as Vesa Junoven, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, stated in his session later at the conference. My guess is that it will come with Feature Pack 2 for SharePoint 2016, but we will see.
SPFx is primarily for “deep dive” development. However, lighter weight development can be done with the new Microsoft Flow workflow engine combined with PowerApps as well as Power BI. In doing so, companies are able to easily create custom services that leverage information across their entire SharePoint and Office 365 ecosystem along with connected databases.
The implemented logic can then provide easy-to-use applications for decision makers or simplify metadata tagging during file upload for end users.
3. More cloud-born features have arrived for SharePoint 2016
SharePoint 2016 Feature Pack 1, which brings innovations from the cloud to on-premises deployments, was a frequently discussed topic in several sessions. Seven new functionalities improve the experience for three different user groups: information workers, IT administrators, and developers.
The OneDrive for Business user experience was already discussed above. The custom app launcher provides easy access to central applications and sites within a company. While using this feature, administrators can leverage the streamlined UI of SharePoint, but also promote custom destinations.
The biggest improvement for administrators, however, is the improved logic for MinRole deployments. Before, at least eight servers were necessary to utilize zero downtime patching. This was not achievable for smaller companies, which typically run a maximum of four servers. Now, you can take advantage of zero downtime patching with only two redundant web front end (WFE) servers and two redundant app servers.
Another improvement is the ability to share metadata between cloud managed metadata services and an on-premises environment. This helps organizations keep information management policies in sync across hybrid environments.
With hybrid auditing, we can now track and monitor events from single place – in the cloud. Also, actions performed in Central Administration can now be monitored. Companies with more than one farm administrator will love this feature.
Last but not least, developers now have access to an improved and extended OneDrive for Business API to provide additional functionality to employees’ “personal” storage.
If it wasn’t clear enough already, hybrid is still Microsoft’s main emphasis for on-premises SharePoint. Although more features are now available on-premises SharePoint, many of them can only be used in a hybrid infrastructure. Microsoft understands the advantage of having on-premises or hybrid deployments, which other competitors cannot provide. Now, organizations can move to the cloud at their own pace and still access new, born-in-the-cloud features. This is a huge difference from a few years ago, when many customers were uncertain about the future of on-premises SharePoint. Hence, this new approach is greatly appreciated by many customers: “They listened to us!”
4. Enhancements around security, privacy, and compliance
Microsoft remains committed to eliminating the fears some customers have around the cloud. Because of this, a lot of effort is going into adding new security features for SharePoint. Some of the recently announced features cover information governance, such as deletion policies, secure external sharing, and data loss prevention (DLP) policies with tips to increase security awareness.
The biggest news is that DLP policies finally started to work in SharePoint on premises, thanks to an update that arrived in September. Before that, these actions were only able to be carried out through the online engine. While securing content against compliance violations is key in online environments, companies considering moving to the cloud can also benefit from identifying sensitive data that lives on premises. This is often an important step before an online migration.
However, while Microsoft emphasized the topic of security at ESPC, no new features were announced. There is a big demand for more flexibility to identify sensitive content, but also to take action when a violation is found. Automated file classification based on content, which can help with migrations and automatically enrich files with metadata, is also not possible with native abilities alone.
Further details about SharePoint 2016 DLP capabilities and their limitations can be found in this blog post.
5. Roadmap information for SharePoint 2016
I would like to close with a view into the future of SharePoint. With the announcement of general availability for SharePoint 2016, Microsoft stated that this version will be the foundation for future improvements. Many thought the approach would be similar to Windows 10 – one last major version, which will be continuously improved. This was not entirely correct, as I found out. SharePoint Online and on premises code is not yet fully converged. This will take several more years, but the target has been announced.
Following this approach, we will still have a major release every two or three years. Because of this, we can likely expect a SharePoint 2018 or 2019. But before that, you can be excited for Feature Pack 2 in H2 2017. What new features will we see then?
Want more from European SharePoint Conference 2016?
Hopefully this gives you a good overview about the news from ESPC 2016. For more highlights from the event, sign up for our #ESPC16 recap webinar and learn everything about what you might have missed in Vienna. We’ve got you covered with key lessons learned and major announcements to get ready for what’s next from Microsoft.