The Road to #MSIgnite w/ @SteveSmithCK: Cloud Success and Beyond!

Hey everyone and thanks for tuning in for another edition of Dux Quax: The Road to #MSIgnite! This installment takes me across the pond to Edinburgh where I had the privilege of sitting down with my good buddy and SharePoint legend Steve Smith.

In addition to owning his own company, Combined Knowledge, Steve’s a Microsoft MVP and Regional Director with unparalleled expertise in SharePoint, Office 365, and Azure, among others. If you’re attending Ignite this year, click here to for a catalog of available sessions related to some topics discussed in this video.

We hope y’all enjoy this installment of Dux Quax, as Steve and I chat about everything from the continuing relevance of SharePoint to considerations when moving to the cloud as we continue to get ready for #MSIgnite 2017. Cheers!

Dux: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of “Dux Quax’s Road to Ignite”. As you can see, in this episode I’m not driving. And I’m so excited to be with Steve Smith. Steve, why don’t you introduce yourself? I’m sure everybody knows you but just in case.

Steve: Well, I don’t think so. Not so much anymore. So hi, everybody. Steve Smith, owner of Combined Knowledge and also one of the owners of MindSharp in the U.S., educational company, products training, and–oh gosh–since 2003, we’ve been doing this job of ours.

Dux: Boy. And I had to come over and see Steve. If you’re wondering why I am, we’re in a nice and sunny Edinburgh, right?

Steve: Yeah. It’s sunny now. It wasn’t 10 minutes ago.

Dux: Yeah. Well, give it five more minutes and it’s gonna start raining. But very excited. Steve and I are here because we’re running a workshop tomorrow on how to accelerate cloud success. But now that I have Steve, boy, we had a lot of catching up and it’s been forever since I last saw you, man.

Steve: Yeah. It’s been a few years that we seem to knock heads again.

Dux: I know, I know. But, hey, SharePoint brings us together in some parts of the world. Right?

Steve: Yeah. Well, quite. In our history of SharePoint, you always run into all of our friends in the SharePoint space at some point within about 18 months. You always meet somebody.

Dux: That’s right. And not in your hometown?

Steve: Correct.

Dux: Somewhere else in the world.

Steve: Yeah. So we’re in Edinburgh or America or whatever.

Dux: So how is everything doing? I mean, I know you’re still growing your business, business is still good. So what are you seeing from your customers, your students as they take training and talking about collaboration in general and where SharePoint’s going?

Steve: So yeah, I mean, it’s been a really interesting 18 months, 2 years, I’d say. There’s been a huge transition to Office 365, as you would expect, an amazing amount of companies trying to figure out which elements of their on-prem environment they’re gonna move to cloud and if they can move all of it, some of it. I think there’s a lot of companies still out there today who are…still under a bit of mystification about it, some aren’t quite sure. They’ve got a lot of in house skills that are missing. So what we’re finding more than anything is that companies are just still trying to figure out what they’re gonna do, how they’re gonna do it, and what their long term strategy is. But they’re trying to make use Office 365 as much as they can, I think, is what their, kind of, initial elements.

Dux: So is the trend similar in North America, in Europe, in Asia, or there’s a big difference?

Steve: So yeah, it’s quite interesting. And I’ve certainly noticed in the U.K., the trend is a little bit behind the U.S., I think. The U.S. has fully embrace the 365 cloud stack, I think. Less fear, there’s more kind of, you know, going through it to a certain degree. I think the U.K. is a little bit more cautious. I think it’s…in Europe generally, there’s been a bit more caution. Some of it a little bit around the fact that data centers are only just starting to be opened up in certain regions. So there’s a whole lot of compliancy in the data protection element, which wasn’t really a problem in the U.S. because the U.S. had numerous data centers on day one that sorted all that out.

Dux: I mean, I heard when the Microsoft data center opened here a few months ago, it reached maximum capacity.

Steve: Yeah, it was already maxing out. There was an awful lot of certainly large government and public sector industries in the U.K. that that’s all they needed to get going. And they may not be moving everything there straight away but they’re certainly starting utilize the Azure power of it. And certainly the 365, I’ve noticed there’s a definite increase in the amount of customers now looking into that move on the back of data centers for sure.

Dux: Now, speaking about U.S. And I have similar observation where I think the conversation of the U.S, it’s not even about going to Office 365. Everybody’s sold, right?

Steve: Yeah.

Dux: But the conversation is more around, “Okay, now we’re here and there’s all these workloads. When do I use SharePoint? When do I use Teams? When do I use this?” That’s a constant conversation that I have with customers.

Steve: Yeah. And you know, the reality is just that, to be quite blunt, sometimes Microsoft is not helping that conversation because you’ve got different marketing teams with marketing budgets, with KPIs, that are saying different things to different, you know, audiences. And the reality is is what we really need is a single audience listening to a single strategy about how your business is trying to work and which are the best-fit tools for what you’re trying to achieve.

Dux: Yeah, I agree.

Steve: And that kind of marketing strategy just doesn’t seem to be quite there yet. And I had a classic recently where somebody went to a meeting and the conversation was all about change management. Which, of course, is a key part of the whole process anyway, your business has to think of that. But nowhere within the change management was there even the concept of adoption and how to take the workforce along with the ride and actually get them to use it to its maximum potential. And unless you’re gonna do that, then the marketing messages get conflicted. Which is, “Well, we were told we could use groups for example, for this, but actually, teams might be a better fit for that particular type of application.”

Dux: And I can see the challenge as well because, like you said, there’s different teams, different departments at Microsoft. The onus often times falls onto IT in a typical organization. But we have to face it. IT is so short of staff, they may not have the skill even to drive that guidance. So the whole “it depends” scenario only works in a perfect world, you know?

Steve: Yeah, the age old, how many people listening to this now will remember how many times in SharePoint? The answer was, it depends.

Dux: Well, speaking of that…so, you know, in spite of all these new workloads and capabilities in collaboration platforms, do you think SharePoint’s still relevant?

Steve: Absolutely. In fact, I think a lot of people underestimate just how much workloads are still done by SharePoint in the backend. Right?

Dux: Isn’t this famous? I’m sorry, that caught my attention.

Steve: Oh, yes, yeah. That is. Spence has many a picture of that, I’m sure.

Dux: Oh, there you go. Yeah. Spence, Spence Harbar? You find these pictures all over there.

Steve: This is Spence’s hometown right? So this is…this is all this territory around there.

Dux: There you go.

Steve: But yes, there is a lot of famous landmarks here. We’ve got the, obviously the castle in the background and…so we’re near the Haymarket area of the Haymarket station of Edinburgh. Princess Street, Main Street.

Dux: Awesome. So as you were saying, SharePoint’s still relevant?

Steve: Sure. I mean, at the end of the day, what’s really happening in the 365 stack in general is, think of SharePoint as being the repository driver but then we’ve got all the fringe services which are now leveraging SharePoint as that repository. But then they’re building additional services on top of their particular products. So in the example of groups for example, where you’ve got the different pieces like planner and, you know, you may enable groups, you’ve got a bit collaboration, you’ve got a bit of messaging. You’ve then got SharePoint as the repository and then you’ve got the encompassing information protection governance, that security compliance center that’s managing all of the data that’s being put across the whole piece.

And that’s the bit that…I think that’s the bit that a lot of companies are still struggling with, which is they’re trying to maybe do one or two pieces at a time. Whereas in actual fact, a lot of things like teams and groups and all these other…Skype for business, all these other elements are actually all trying to work together anyway.

Dux: And you hit the nail on the head, right? Because organizations today still have that traditional IT mindset, “Oh, let’s move exchange online first. Once we’re done with that, let’s move file shares, let’s do SharePoint.” Which is okay, nothing wrong. But then to your point, the holistic strategy is missing because now governance is not just governance around mail or one drive but governance across the stack. Because like in groups, you delete a group, all the other objects get deleted. And that can be challenging.

Steve: Yeah. And I think…and I can see why people like Microsoft themselves are going into companies and saying, you know, “Let’s get your change management considerations as a key part of your initial strategy.” And that’s really important because it isn’t just about culture change and change management, it is about business process. And, you know, just moving e-mail is an IT role. IT go, “Well, we can move our e-mail and host it there instead.” Great, okay. Does it save us money? Yeah, probably, we don’t have to buy new servers. But hang on a minute. What about all these other pieces that are in 365 that we’re not even considering at the minute?

Dux: And I think that, that’s a big shift IT’s mindset. You talk about change management because the difference today is the platform is there, it’s lit up. It’s just turning it on and configuring it. And there is a lot of value…true, you may want to migrate a lot of the on-prem one by one. But there’s nothing wrong with lighting up all the other workloads immediately so organizations and business users can get the benefit right away in very, very pointed use cases.

Steve: Exactly. And I think the…in fact, to expand on that even further, which is where I am seeing a lot of conversations in the classrooms and the discussions events that we’re running is around the hybrid space. Because when you think of the companies that want to move a little bit to 365, they’re now under a huge discussion about, “Well, if you…do you move e-mail and a bit of SharePoint?” So they’re not going to SharePoint online for everything, they’re keeping their SharePoint on-prem investment, which is huge, in-house. But then they’re utilizing some of SharePoint online for collaboration with certain types of say business partners or operational functional reasons.

So they end up having some people in 365 some of the time, some external people in 365 all of the time and on-prem users majority on-prem still. And that’s creating a second challenge which is how do we join those dots between those two environments.

Dux: And have a seamless experience?

Steve: And have a seamless experience? Right.

Dux: I mean, the last thing you want is the end user, again, getting confused. And then after they’re frustrated, they go back sending email attachments, you know.

Steve: Bingo. Yeah, really. And so now you’re back to the governance and the compliancy. And the new information protection stuff in Azure, which is then being leveraged through the Office 365 stack, is just phenomenal. I mean, I’ve spent an awful lot of time in that in the last few months. And a lot of customers are now talking to us and saying, “Can we have bespoke education around, you know, this topic of compliancy governance using the new tool stack?”

Things like cross labels, where you can apply labels across all of your stack and then obviously do DLP against it, you can do search against it, you can do policies against it, you know? And suddenly you’ve got this unified labeling compliancy sensitivity type application across the whole stack. Fantastic. And that sort of, a lot of customers who are looking at that moved to 365, they like that. But then their first question is can we use the on-prem as well?

Dux: Exactly, exactly. So on top of all these, what may seen like collaboration complexities, right, not that we’re scaring you. But on the flip side, the glass is still half full. There is a lot of benefit, there’s a lot of power. So the last thing you wanna do is get into analysis paralysis stage like, “Oh, it’s too much to handle. We won’t do it, it will take time.” That’s not the intent but just be mindful that you wanna start thinking about it from a holistic perspective and then take baby steps to maximize the potential of the platform.

Steve: Exactly right. And in fact, one could argue that if you’ve actually got your initial plans, your design is sound, and you know where you want to get to in two years to three years time, you can put those correct building blocks in place and then start moving to it. And you won’t get any bad surprises or, you know., design issues 18 months down the road that suddenly, I mean, you have to do a little redesigning it. Right? And I think that’s where the initial investment of time and effort upfront can pay the dividends 18 months.

And I’ve historically found that one of the biggest challenges that IT have or the power users or, you know, the general business users have is that there’s not the buy-in from the top tier of management of saying, “We’re prepared to invest in the information architecture, governance, and security. We’re not prepared to invest in that planning because, well, that could take four months.”

Dux: Exactly. It’s not the case…

Steve: “Oh well, we want it tomorrow,” or, “We want it in two weeks time.” “We need to be live in two months.” And I think that’s where businesses need to change their strategy.

Dux: Yeah. Now, Ignite is coming up. We know Ignite’s Microsoft’s biggest show and they would do a lot of great announcements, obviously a lot of great sessions. What’s your predictions for Ignite?

Steve: So I would say some of the hot potatoes that are developing at the minute, without a doubt, things like PowerApps, flow and these kind of new tool sets within 365. You know, I think there’s gonna be a lot going on with those in the coming time. Teams I think is a huge step. Teams are being pushed and pushed and pushed in the last 8 months to 12 months. So I think we’ll see a lot around that space. Hybrid, I am really looking forward some the hybrid stuff that they’re talking about, not just for SharePoint but just generic hybrid approach.

And for those people that didn’t know, recently they went GA a few months ago with the Azure authentication from hybrid. Fantastic story. A lot of people still don’t know this stuff’s being released. So many updates happening. And then from a Azure perspective, obviously we’ve got more data centers being announced. And then therefore, feature sets of Azure that are being lit up and pushed. So with that ability for companies to use Azure for database and application hosting against 365 service consumption.

So I’m hoping that at Ignite, we’re gonna see a lot of new messages around that Azure feature set that’s gonna allow even more, you know, power BI capability, for example, integration from that. So I’m really excited about, I guess, all the fringe elements. SharePoint as a platform, I don’t expect to see great massive leaps from a 365 perspective for SharePoint online. But again, it’s that hybrid story that I think we will hopefully see a little bit more of.

Dux: And especially, you know, you talk about regional data centers. As we know, in a few months from now, GDPR is big here. And there’s a couple of GDPR sessions at Ignite as well. And more and more, you can see Microsoft’s pushing, reminding customers that, you know, don’t forget GDPR. And the platform can certainly support the requirements of that compliance.

Steve: For sure. In fact, I…you know, I think the whole, if you just look at the security and compliancy center in Office 365, just as a concept, and then having a look at all the tooling that’s in there, it helps you to understand the sorts of questions you’ve got to ask yourselves, just by looking at how that’s being applied. Because the GDPR stuff, we’re certainly starting to see a massive customer request of how can they implement things like learning management systems, integrating that with custom delivery and monitoring and checklists and making sure people comply with certain statutory things that they have to follow. How do they the checklist that off, how do they monitor it, and how do they ensure that people are following it? That’s becoming a real big aspect of it.

And so, sometimes historical methods that we’ve used of delivering the content through different digital channels, we’re now working quite closely with a lot of LMS vendors to integrate that into an LMS system which then integrates with the GDPR requirement going forward, so it’s all interlinking in that way. But I think the…from a customer’s perspective, they’re not trying…they struggle to try and find all the pieces that work together. And a lot of times, they’re just trying to find one solution where it all just fits together.

Dux: Exactly, exactly right. Well, you know, there may be a class for that. Office 365, GDPR and SharePoint.

Steve: Well, now we’re actually running them.

Dux: Oh, you are.

Steve: Yeah, yeah. So we’re already doing GDPR classes with Ant Clay. So he’s been doing the business side and I’m…I mean, myself and some of our other guys, we’re training the technical people on how to use the compliance tools within 365 and on-premise.

Dux: So your compliance center, AIP, all the good stuff.

Steve: Yeah. And one of the things that, again…you know, we talk about 365 and obviously Microsoft’s marketing side of 365 is a key driving factor, but from a hybrid perspective, which is where I think a lot of companies are gonna be within the next, you know, three years to five years, there’s gonna be a lot of companies staying in that space. It’s also about the on-premise services that we can get through, things like SharePoint 2016, Exchange 2016, SQL Server 2016. And then implementing as much governance and compliancy on-prem, as well as through 365 behind this cloud, right? And that’s where I think the…Microsoft aren’t ignoring the on-prem people, you know? They are gonna be able to talk to us.

Dux: Correct. Well, Steve, it’s been a great conversation. And I think we’re about to get to our destination.

Steve: Are we?

Dux: Yeah, yeah. You know Zoey promised us a great dinner.

Steve: This year? Oh yeah, dinner.

Dux: We’re gonna have a good dinner. But again, thanks for watching and hope you enjoyed this episode. Until the next one, see you. And have a great day. Thanks. Bye.

Steve: Cheers.

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