It’s going to be a big year for SharePoint, but details about what to expect are fuzzy.

Microsoft has promised a new on-premise version will be released later this year. However, it has been less forthcoming about SharePoint Online in Office 365.

Microsoft upgrades Office 365 on a regular basis and has given some indication as to where it would like to go with SharePoint Online. But a lot of questions remained unanswered.

SharePoint Strategies

While some companies have been thinking about investing in SharePoint Online or moving from the on-premise version to the online version, many enterprises as still scratching their heads as to how it will evolve. Without confirmation or at least a general picture of where SharePoint is going, many are going to hold off.

This is bad for enterprise planning, but it’s also bad for Microsoft and SharePoint as it makes it difficult to gauge real interest in new editions or upgrades. This is particularly true given the number of vendors in the collaboration and information managements space that say they can provide a faster, simpler, cheaper and more agile version of the platform.

In this respect, companies like Alfresco, Docurated, Huddle, M-Files and even Google Drive spring to mind, depending on specific enterprise need. However, none of the options are as far reaching as SharePoint, particularly SharePoint in Office 365.

Regardless of how you feel, SharePoint is a fixture on the enterprise computing landscape and is likely to stay as such for the foreseeable future.

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SharePoint's hybrid future

SharePoint Enterprise Use

Julia White, general manager for the Office Product Management team, has jumped into the SharePoint fray with a Microsoft blog post that aims to clarify some of the questions about the platform's evolution.

SharePoint, White wrote, began as a content collaboration solution that was built specifically for team sites. Over the years and since the first edition, it has evolved rapidly and now comes with business intelligence, a social layer through Yammer, portals, search (among other things) and is being used in a large number of enterprises as either a primary or secondary enterprise content management tool.

However, with Office 365, SharePoint Online took off and over the past 30 months has made steady progress in the enterprise.

According to Forrester’s Global IT Usage Surveys of IT decision makers for the past three consecutive years, the number of business users using Office 365 climbed from 12 percent in 2012 to 15 percent in 2013 and 23 percent in 2014.

The corresponding figure for SharePoint 2013 is 7 percent, 16 percent and 35 percent, indicating that SharePoint on-premises is still very much alive and kicking despite the ease ofaccess of SharePoint Online. It is also worth noting that usage for SharePoint 2010 is 81 percent, 79 percent and 71 percent.

That said, Microsoft has been putting all kinds of new functionality into the Office 365, notably Delve and Graph and their APIs that will tie them all together. Increasingly, as time goes on, Office 365 will tie all the disparate products together making it just about irresistible in terms of functionality, even if it is still a tad expensive for some tastes.

This is a picture likely to get even more complex this year with the new SharePoint on-premises release, and explains why Microsoft is starting to outline a little more about where it is going with it all.

Learning Opportunities

Common to all the SharePoint editions, White said, is the development of new experiences using a consistent management layer that gives users control of the entire experience.

We also made SharePoint an extensible platform, allowing customers and partners to enhance the out-of-box experiences. Experiences, management and extensibility became the core aspects of what people love about SharePoint. As we move SharePoint forward, these three aspects continue to remain central—both within the server and across Office 365,” White wrote.

SharePoint in the Cloud

Microsoft will continue to build and develop the on-premises version as long as people are using it.White said that because many enterprises still run their businesses on-premises and behind the firewall, even if hybrid is increasingly attractive, the new on-premises version this year will be “the most secure, reliable version to date allowing organization to take advantage of cloud innovations on their terms.”

For Office 365, according to White, Microsoft aims to develop and improve the experiences across all office technologies, while adding new ones like Office Delve and Office 365 Video, as well as email, instant messaging and other SharePoint functionality. It will also extend the development capabilities for management and extensibility.

1. Experiences

Along with the existing capabilities like search, content and team sites, Microsoft will focus on a number of targeted new experiences in Office 365 that revolve around collaboration and team connectivity in an always-on world of device-neutral, intelligence, relevant, personalized and ready-to-go applications with shorter time to value. This in turn will blur the lines across silos. Microsoft is focusing on the following areas:

  1. Search: Ongoing development of Delve, which surfaces personalized content based on insights from Office Graph, which discovers connected data in Office 365.
  2. Portals: White said they are expanding their portfolio of new ready-to-go portals that will massively speed-up what would have taken weeks, or even months to build in the past. Office 365 Video, delivered in 2014, is the first NextGen Portal. In 2015, Microsoft will add new portals focused on knowledge management and people
  3. Files: Microsoft will continue to develop OneDrive, which removes the need for file services. She doesn’t go into much detail here, but points to the pulling together of OneDrive for consumers and OneDrive for Business, as well as the new iOS and Mac apps last week.
  4. Team sites: Microsoft will be working on expanding the concept of team sites. It will do this by bringing together team content with content traditionally kept in SharePoint, including email, instant messaging, contacts, personal files and more.
  5. Business Intelligence: It will continue to build Power BI as a read-to-go solution that users and IT can get up and running in a matter of minutes.
  6. Social: Microsoft will continue to evolve Yammer from a standalone newsfeed into an immersive experience across the entire Office 365 experience. But it isn’t and won’t be limited to Office and will continue to be integrated with other Microsoft products.

2. Management

According to White, Microsoft will continue to develop a system where it will be able to manage all user experiences through a single management layer. In Office 365, Microsoft will continue to develop this management layer by the creation of a unified experience for compliance, management and IT controls.

This layer encompasses not just SharePoint, but Exchange, Lync and all of the new experiences. White said that they will continue this through the year by investing in capabilities like, rights management, multi-factor authentication (MFA), e-discovery, metadata management and policy control.

3. Extensibility

SharePoint has arrived at the point it is now with the help of over 3.4 million developers. While Office 365 is a little different as the developers are now building for the cloud, White wrote that Microsoft will continue to encourage developers to work with them and will do so by continuing the development of the app model Microsoft introduced with SharePoint 2013.

Microsoft will also continue to make it easy to connect to data in SharePoint through a rich set of Office 365 APIs as well as investing in the surface area of these APIs. It will also be developing a totally new set of APIs to enable deeper sets of integration.

4. Hybrid and On-Premises

Hybrid has been part of the SharePoint experience since Office 365 and SharePoint Online. White pointed out that even with growing demand for SharePoint Online hybrid cloud - - on-premises deployments will be the wave of the future. There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is the heavy investment already in SharePoint on-premises. Microsoft is committed to those customers, White wrote:

We’re excited about the next on-premises version of SharePoint and we’re sure you will be too. It has been designed, developed and tested with the Microsoft Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) strategy at its core, drawing from SharePoint Online. With this, SharePoint Server 2016 will offer customers enhanced, flexible deployment options, improved reliability and new IT agility, enabled for massive scale."

With SharePoint Server 2016, in addition to delivering rich on-premises capabilities, White said Microsoft is focused on robust hybrid enablement in order to bring more of the Office 365 experiences to on-premises customers.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by Materials Aart.