You know that you’ve had a good trip to Las Vegas when you arrive back home exhausted. By that measure, the SharePoint 2012 Conference was an unmitigated success.

But once I caught up on my rest, something else crept in -- excitement.

As a conference sponsor and exhibitor, I had the opportunity to talk SharePoint with an incredible range of professionals in the SharePoint community -- from chief information officers to end users; from Fortune 100 companies to municipalities to small businesses. Everyone I spoke with shared an excitement around the potential for SharePoint to help them work better, faster, and smarter.

These conversations inspired me to spend some time thinking about both the short and long-term future of SharePoint. The following are some of the topics that I believe will drive SharePoint utilization moving forward.

Adoption Takes Time

There is no question that the SharePoint community is fired up about the release of SharePoint 2013. Even so, the process of adopting the new platform will take time -- in large part due to the potentially significant cost of implementation.

Many companies are just now getting up-to-speed on SharePoint 2010, and I believe we can expect a similar pace of adoption for SharePoint 2013. Although the new features are interesting, it is important to remember that they will remain out of reach for many SharePoint users who continue to work on prior releases.

Creative Solutions Can Close the Gap

Although it is natural to want to dive into the “latest and greatest” platform, I am equally excited about innovative interim solutions that help to close the gap between SharePoint 2013 and previous versions. Through customized user experience design and add-ons, previous versions of SharePoint can compete with – and in some cases surpass – the functionality of SharePoint 2013.

You’ve just got to think outside of the box. In fact, even Microsoft is getting in on the game, by enabling the adoption of some features from SharePoint 2013 in SharePoint 2010 production environments. Many companies will wait to implement SharePoint 2013, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be stuck behind the curve in terms of UX.

Making Room for Innovation in the Marketplace

For the first time in SharePoint history, SharePoint 2013 will include an app marketplace. Frankly, I don’t know what to expect from SharePoint apps. I’m sure we’ll see both the inspired and the ridiculous, but the beauty of a marketplace is that it makes room for new innovators.

While some apps will obviously be better and more useful than others, the nature of a marketplace allows the best solutions to rise to the top. It democratizes SharePoint innovation and inspires creative problem solving -- very good things for the SharePoint community.

Social is Here to Stay … With Caveats

Social computing has the power to transform the way companies communicate with their employees and the way that employees communicate with one another -- but like any technology, social computing is only as powerful as its application.

Yammer is not expected to be fully integrated into SharePoint 2013, and although connectors exist, SharePoint will rely heavily on its own out-of-the-box social features. The social functionality of SharePoint 2013 is leaps and bounds ahead of that in SharePoint 2010, but many reviewers find that even in the new release, the social tools simply don’t go far enough.

But, there is good news. As with many of SharePoint’s shortcomings, those of SharePoint 2013’s social tools can be mitigated. Skilled UX designers and technical developers can adapt the platform to overcome the gripes of the out-of-the-box UX to deliver a truly user-friendly interface for optimal employee adoption and utilization of social tools.

Additionally, Microsoft and some of its partners have showcased some interesting ways in which the integration of Yammer can complement the social experiences of users. Until Yammer’s functionality fully converges with SharePoint’s, I am confident that we will continue to see innovative applications of add-ons and customization to meet social computing needs.

UX Matters More than Ever

With every new release, SharePoint becomes a more powerful tool for collaboration and communication. While this is good news, it also carries risk -- SharePoint is getting more complex, while end users are enjoying ever-simpler user experiences in the rest of their lives.

For me, this dichotomy is at the heart of efforts to drive SharePoint adoption. As much as SharePoint devotees appreciate the power and functionality of SharePoint, they know that in the end, it shouldn’t be -- in fact, can’t be -- hard to use. UX matters. Better SharePoint sites get used more.

When it comes to driving adoption and securing ROI, investment in infrastructure must be paired with investment in UX. For me, the single most encouraging sentiment coming out of SharePoint Conference 2012 was the collective commitment to improving UX: from Microsoft, from MCPs, from independent developers, even from end users. I believe that this focus on UX will drive exciting advancements in SharePoint development, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.

Looking Forward

Overall, SharePoint Conference 2012 generated a great deal of buzz and thinking about SharePoint in 2013 and beyond. In December, I look forward to sharing a look ahead toward the new year, as it promises to be an interesting and exciting one for our industry.

Editor's Note: Kevin's had a thing or two to say about SharePoint in the past. To read more, check out SharePoint Adoption: Is Customization the Rally Cap?