As SharePoint 2016 finally crosses the general release line today, Microsoft wants to make one thing perfectly clear.

It's only the beginning.

As early as March when Microsoft issued the SharePoint 2016 RTM (Release-to-Manufacturing), Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President OneDrive and SharePoint, stressed SharePoint 2016 is the start of something new. He was mum on specifics, but Seth Patton, general manager for the OneDrive and SharePoint business at Microsoft, echoed his comments this week.

“The best has yet to come. We have a new vision for SharePoint that is to empower people by enabling them intelligently discover, share and collaborate on content from anywhere and on any device. The new SP is simple, intelligence and untethered," Patton told us.

In a pre-release interview with CMSWire, Patton outlined outlined what Microsoft has in mind for SharePoint.

SharePoint Meets The Future

There are multiple releases planned for the next seven months — all, according to Patton, designed to make SharePoint hybrid, more collaborative and provide workers with accessible intranets “in their pockets.”

From the brief glimpses that we have seen of the new releases and apps that are being announced today, the interfaces are clean and accessible for even the least technology-savvy business user. And with Microsoft Graph running in the background users will be able to surface any and all content related to a particular project or query, and display it on desktop, laptop or mobile.

It is this ability to find content anywhere and access it through any device that is at the heart of today’s announcements. Welcome the era of SharePoint untethered or SharePoint everywhere.

Reinventing Productivity

Patton said the strategy goes back to Satya Nadella’s original vision of a Cloud First, Mobile First world, underscored by improved productivity.

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower everyone to do more, to reinvent productivity and business processes. Office 365 and SharePoint are at the core of that. When we are talking about reinventing productivity we are talking about the imperative of collaboration and, of course, digital content. The intersection of these elements is how we see SharePoint evolving to respond to this new mobile and cloud world,” Patton said.

The Role of Microsoft Graph

Microsoft is using its portfolio of tools to infuse intelligence into SharePoint. In this respect, Patton mentioned Graph again.

Graph is a cloud-based back-end tool in the Microsoft Office 365 Suite that facilitates search across integrated applications and applies machine learning to organizational interactions and content use.

In practical terms, this means unified search capabilities across all the applications in Office 365 and associated content repositories, including OneDrive. It also tracks how that content is used and, using machine learning, draws connections between people, content and work within an enterprise. On the basis of this it provides the best content and contacts for given projects.

“We are infusing SharePoint with intelligence from Office Graph, which we believe is a silver bullet. When we look at productivity we see and believe that intelligence is a game changer, and Graph is one of our most powerful assets for doing this,” he said.

Mobile, Intranets

Patton said two trends are shaping the way workers collaborate in a world of digital content.

“The first [trend] is the sheer number of mobile devices and the volume of digital content available now. Today there are six zetabytes of data stored today on company servers, but by 2020 this will grow to 20 zetabytes, of which 85 percent is unstructured data, including documents, emails and videos,” he said.

The other trend refers back to the original purpose of SharePoint in the enterprise:

“Intranets are ripe for reinvention. The intranets of the past were built before cloud or mobile devices were ubiquitous so they have limitations, as does their ability to take intelligence form machine learning and analytics. So in this era of data overload people need to be able to discover, surface and collaborate on data. We also need to address security, compline and privacy at the same time,” he added.

For Microsoft and SharePoint, this represents a considerable problem. Patton points out that, globally, there are 200,000 organizations using SharePoint and 190 million paid users.

Since Office 365 was released, with SharePoint Online as one of its components, the growth in the use of SharePoint Online has been rapid. In the past year alone, for example SharePoint use has grown by 200 percent with 60 percent of that SharePoint Online and the rest on-premises.

Patton, however, stresses that Microsoft will not be abandoning its on-premises users, nor will those users have to wait for the next release SharePoint to benefit from the upgrades that are being offered to online users.

“We know that a lot of our customers have investments in SharePoint on-premises. We also believe that the true power of the content collaboration and intelligence comes from the cloud. So we want to bridge that gap for our on-premieres customers to they can benefit from these innovations,” he said.

“This is why were are investing so much in hybrid capacities, and migration capabilities so that those that want to keep applications and content in their won data centers can still connect to cloud services.”

Learning Opportunities

This is the thinking behind today’s announcements, which include releases to enable:

  1.  Simple file sharing on any device
  2. Mobile and intelligent intranet
  3. Security, privacy and compliance
  4. Open, extensible platform

3 Specific Releases

SharePoint Mobile App

The SharePoint mobile app puts the entire intranet in users’ pockets. Designed for Windows, iOS and Android, it offers full-fidelity access to company news and announcements, people, sites, content and apps, no matter where they are.

You can already access many SharePoint experiences through a mobile browser. But the new mobile SP app makes it a lot easier to do things like navigate portals, access information and content as well as find news, people and projects, Patton said.

He added that they had built the app after looking at hundreds of other intranets and discovered that the single biggest thing that users are looking for with intranets is connection with other employees.

Using the Office Graph, SharePoint-based intranets will automatically surface the people you work with and then content you. It will be available for iOS in the next few weeks and for Windows and Android by the end of the year.

Updated OneDrive Mobile app

Microsoft is also updating the OneDrive apps. Microsoft already delivers deep integration of file sharing and collaboration into Office applications, where users can co-author documents in real time

However, in the future, OneDrive will become the window to all your files. Over the coming quarter, it will provide:

  • Access to SharePoint Online document libraries from the OneDrive mobile app
  • Intelligent discovery in OneDrive of documents from both OneDrive and SharePoint
  • Copy files from OneDrive to SharePoint

Before the end of this year, Microsoft will also add:

  • Document analytics in OneDrive to provide insight into document usage, reach and impact
  • Synchronization of SharePoint Online document libraries with the new OneDrive sync client
  • Document analytics to enable users to see who, what and where documents are being created

Team Sites

The other release that caught our attention is the upgraded Team Sites.

The new Team Sites will be made available later this summer. According to Patton they are intuitive, personalized and work on any device.

With them, users will be able to access the files, lists and apps your team needs to complete projects, while enabling sharing and communication across the organization. They will also be a lot easier to create as will document libraries and lists.

Microsoft Has More

Microsoft is also planning to integrate SharePoint with Flow, which enables users to connect to data in a variety of Microsoft and third-party services, as well as store and modify that data within SharePoint.

And SharePoint Framework, a page and part model, enables fully supported client-side development, easy integration with the Microsoft Graph and support for open source tooling.

For security, Microsoft will have introduced Dynamic access policies by the end of June and bring-your-own- encryption key (BYOK) by the end of the year.

It’s a big day for SharePoint and there is more on the way.