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The Future of SharePoint and the Social Pivot

SharePoint and the Social PivotEveryone wants to understand the future roadmap of SharePoint. There is no shortage of content and discussion around Microsoft’s every move in the content management and collaboration space, with both angst and praise expressed about each individual feature and announcement. As with the idiom "not see the forest for the trees," focus too much on the short term features and you may lose sight of the broader SharePoint platform strategy.

Even within Microsoft that strategy is a work in progress, and the process by which the SharePoint team is building continues to evolve. As you look back across the many statements made by Microsoft product leadership, and especially comments made by Yammer co-founder and CTO Adam Pisoni within several keynote presentations and the Yammer Working Social Tour, Microsoft is learning every day about how people use the platform, and adjusting its strategy as it learn. It’s a fundamental shift in how the company has developed and released software in the past, and it’s having an impact inside and outside of the company.

Social is a Cloud Strategy

Without doubt Microsoft’s social strategy was one of the major points of interest at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. Social is rapidly becoming not just an add on to our existing platforms, but integral to how those platforms operate. While the product team had made it clear (they thought) that the Yammer platform would always be — and only be — a cloud experience, an undercurrent of conversation and questions has continued to surround the need for social for on premises customers, many of whom have not yet started planning a move to the cloud.

Microsoft continues to innovate in the social space, but it's making it loud and clear that its primary focus is on the cloud as a delivery mechanism. Following the keynote presentations, Microsoft enterprise social product manager, Christophe Fiessinger (@cfiessinger) provided a session on the social roadmap where he stated, quite definitively, that Microsoft would not be making any new investments in SharePoint on premises social features (which became my most re-tweeted comment during the conference):

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This does not mean that the company will not continue to provide innovations to the integration points between Yammer, SharePoint Online and SharePoint on premises. In fact, some of the more exciting examples shown were related to hybrid deployments that utilize both SharePoint on premises and Yammer. Fiessinger stated a few times that Microsoft “is committed to improving the hybrid experience.” What he tried to make clear was that Microsoft would no longer be investing in “native” social features for on premises environments, which leaves the door wide open to ISV and consulting partners to provide solutions for customers.

Looking at the Trees

A good portion of the social sessions at the event walked through details of the latest social features within SharePoint (online) and Yammer, as well as those which will soon work across the entire Office365 platform. From my perspective, the more interesting advances included:

  • The “in-line social” experience, which will provide “social building blocks” that work much like a SharePoint web part. These can be dropped into line of business (LOB) systems, allowing customers to integrate Yammer-like interactions into their customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), ticketing systems and other packaged or home-built systems, allowing organizations to further customize their end user experiences while keeping people tied into a unified newsfeed. This will allow people to be social and part of the broader, company-wide dialog, but from within the security of the app or system with which they are most comfortable.
  • Item-level conversations, which looked much like the Yammer experience provided through last year’s Chrome browser extension (which has not yet been added to IE or other browsers. My understanding is that it is not on the roadmap to date to do so). Within the Chrome Yammer extension, there is a tab (with a Y) on the right side of your screen that allows you, as you browse the internet and find relevant content, to quickly open up a Yammer side window and comment on your page without leaving that page. Or, if you are browsing a site which others on your team have already discussed on Yammer, the tab will change to a number, highlighting the number of posts within the conversation, and allowing you to open the tab and add to the conversation. Similarly, the new item-level conversation that Microsoft introduced allows users to have this type of user experience around content within Office 365.

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