Microsoft teases the release of SharePoint editions like a fine chef, offering a succession of tidbits that leave you wanting and craving more.
SharePoint 2016 has followed the same script, with one big difference. The Release To Manufacturing (RTM) edition, which was unveiled earlier this week, has all the hallmarks of a new step in an evolutionary process rather than a finished product.
Microsoft appears to be looking at it from this perspective, too.
In a blog post that accompanied the RTM, Seth Patton, general manager for the SharePoint and OneDrive Product Management team, showed the enthusiasm you would expect of someone who realizes that months and months of SharePoint development is drawing to a close.
And while the RTM version isn't much different from the Release Candidate (RC) that preceded it, it is an important step for Microsoft.
In the blog, Patton wrote:
“As a part of Microsoft’s broader ambition to reinvent productivity, we are on a mission to make SharePoint more simple, mobile, intelligent and secure to help customers unlock the value of having it as an integrated part of Office 365. “
In other words, SharePoint 2016 marks an evolutionary step for Microsoft and reflects its new commitment to constant iteration.
“It tweaks some things that proved problematic in 2013 (such as mobile and user experience modifications), and belatedly starts to address an increasingly urgent need around hybrid SharePoint deployments,” Tony Byrne, founder, Real Story Group (RSG) told CMSWire
“The majority of RSG's enterprise subscribers still report using SP 2010, and while they can appreciate improvements in SP 2016, it's not front-of-mind for them right now."
SharePoint 2016’s position on the evolutionary chain is hard to dispute.
In the early days, just after the release of SharePoint 2013 there was a lot of consternation that it might be the last on-premises edition.
Since then, that position has been revised and Microsoft now views the future of SharePoint as a hybrid solution.
“As Microsoft’s cloud capabilities have matured, we’ve seen a slow evolution (a re-imagination, if you will) of the SharePoint we have known into more of a packaged, ready-to-go solution,” Christian Buckley, Office 365 MVP and Chief Marking Officer at Beezy, said.
There are two things driving this, he explained:
- SharePoint installations have failed when customers are unable to deliver something quickly and provide business value beyond the basics. While developers may love SharePoint as a “Swiss Army Knife” solution, built to be what you need it to be, the vast majority of customers want it to do more out-of-the-box.
- Microsoft also has to look at supporting those solutions. Because innovation happens first in the cloud, you need to remember that Microsoft has to support SharePoint at scale. Any new capability has to align with the directive to keep things streamlined and centralized.
“As a result, Microsoft is re-thinking its approach, certainly for SharePoint Online, and building out end-to-end solutions that deliver more of what people want,” he said.
Even still, users will still be able to go in and build SharePoint the way they need SharePoint to run. And what about the future? What is Patton talking about when he cites “significant new innovations spanning user experiences, document collaboration, mobile enhancements and platform improvements?”
Cloud First, Mobile First?
Oliver Wirkus is a Senior SharePoint Consultant at Softlanding in Vancouver, British Columbia. He said that the evolutionary process is wider than just SharePoint 2016 and will impact on all the application and hardware development that Microsoft is involved in globally.
He points out that many uses are aware of this already and are likely hold-off on investing in the new platform until they know for definite what is going to happen over the next couple of years.
Remember that Microsoft’s release strategy for SharePoint Online will see it adding new functionality as soon as it is developed rather than waiting for an entirely new edition sometime towards 2020. The on-premises version will be following this path too.
“With SharePoint 2016, Microsoft is trying to evolve SharePoint in that direction, too. Although I'm looking forward to the final release of SharePoint 2016 impatiently, I'm still not sure if this new version of SharePoint will encourage many clients to upgrade their intranets now,” he said.
“My concern is this: Although Microsoft's intention certainly has been to push 'Cloud first, Mobile first' with the new release of SharePoint, I still think they've done that just partially. I'm afraid that SharePoint won't include enough 'Cloud first, Mobile first' features to convince clients to change their intranet strategies now.”
He added that while SharePoint 2016 can be used with mobile devices the user experience and the way that mobile devices deal with data which is saved to SharePoint needs to be improved. The mobile integration does not feel seamless right now.
The same is true for the 'Cloud First' experience. SharePoint 2016 offers just a few interesting 'Cloud First' features and the overall 'Cloud First' experience is steps behind what professional users were expecting.
"Somehow SharePoint 2016 reminds me of Windows 10. Definitely Windows 10 is a great OS and I believe it is the best Windows Microsoft has ever created, but to me it does not feel as if it's matured completely. That is true for SharePoint 2016 as well,” Wirkus said.
Beyond SharePoint 2016
Simon de Baene, CEO of Sharegate, a SharePoint migration specialist, also believes SharePoint will have to evolve after this release.
While most of what’s new in the RTM are at the core,or infrastructure level, the majority of the changes have been flagged before.
“The big news lies in the fact that Microsoft is hosting an online event about the vision of SharePoint after the release of SharePoint 2016. I really feel that the people in charge in Redmond (Wash.) are more serious than ever to revive SharePoint and plan a great future for it,” he said.
He points out that there are so many disrupting products on the market at the moment and Microsoft will need a different approach to keep the pace with the new kids on the block.
“As a big fan of simplicity, I like to hear that kind of statement from Microsoft and I think that if they really do it well, this will make the difference,” he said.
David Lavenda, co-founder and Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy at Harmon.ie, thinks that SharePoint 2016 will be a relief for enterprises for a number of reasons, including the fact that Microsoft is easing the path to hybrid environment.
“I speak with many Microsoft who are not willing or able to move to the cloud; for those customers, the notion that SharePoint 2013 was the end of the road was highly distressing. So SharePoint Server 2016 will be well received by the market. The ability to take advantage of key features that have only been available to Office 365 customers is important for companies that have bet the farm on SharePoint," he said.
He too, however, said that there are still some major gaps in SharePoint (and Office 365) that third-party vendors will continue to fill.
He cited, for example, the ability to enable document-related workflows and facilitating a single repository for emails and documents so information can be found quickly, both of which are critical to many organizations.
There is little doubt that SharePoint 2016 is considerable step forward particularly around cloud and hybrid computing, but it’s what comes next that has everyone wondering.
Fortunately, it won’t be long before we know what’s going to happen with an online event scheduled for May 4 with Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President for OneDrive and SharePoint, who will outline where SharePoint goes from here.