In use in more than 250,000 organisations worldwide, Microsoft SharePoint has certainly driven change in the way enterprise staff work and collaborate. Yet, it’s no secret that the technology has been underused within many companies for years. Some would say that SharePoint has been difficult to scale within large organisations, and many users don’t even understand SharePoint’s strengths and capabilities.
But, the current SharePoint delivers a lot of value to an organisation and its people. Organisations still using SharePoint 2013 should know that the cloud-enabled SharePoint of today is very different. This week, Microsoft has announced the latest SharePoint developments, which are set to transform how teams and organisations collaborate, communicate, and transform the digital workplace.
MARGINALIA spoke with Dan Holme (pictured right), Director of Product Marketing for SharePoint and Yammer, about what to expect from Microsoft in the future.
In this wide-ranging interview, Holme describes how SharePoint has changed, uncovers the most under-used capabilities of the platform, and shares the latest, biggest announcements — including the promising ‘Communication Sites’. Holme also explains the difference between Yammer and Microsoft Teams, and highlights the power of Delve to discover content and expertise across the business.
Gloria Lombardi: How can organisations create a connected workplace, which is core to digital transformation, in Office 365 with SharePoint?
Dan Holme: A connected workplace comes from making sure that people can connect to each other, to the content, files, data, and the applications they need to get their job done. This is most easily done on the intranet because the intranet brings together the services, colleagues, and content that people need.
SharePoint delivers a mobile intelligent intranet, making it available not only in the browser across PC and Mac but also on mobile devices, both through mobile browsers and the SharePoint apps. So wherever a user is – at the desk, in a conference room, or on the road – they have access to all the resources they need to succeed.
GL: Some people, based on their past memories, consider SharePoint to be clunky, or just a document management system. How would you explain SharePoint Online to people who may not realise how much things have changed?
DH: For many years SharePoint was built as a server with a new release every three years. Take, for example, SharePoint 2013, which was released in 2012. We actually started building it in 2009 and 2010. It took three years to build that product. So, customers with SharePoint 2013 are actually working with a product that was designed around 2010. And in 2010 the world was very different than it is today!
At the time the world had barely started adopting mobile devices and social was still in its infancy in some respects. The world has changed so much in the last seven years. Now we innovate in the cloud – so we innovate for today. And that makes a big difference. By becoming a new customer of Office 365 today you are getting an experience that was built today.
GL: What are the under-used features of SharePoint?
DH: There are three major capabilities that SharePoint provides on the intranet: sharing files, sharing data in the form of lists, and creating pages that allow people to document processes, and publish news and reference material.
Many people understand SharePoint for file sharing. But lists and business processes are underutilised. Fewer people are using SharePoint to manage the data that is important to the team. Almost every business process has some kind of list behind it. Yet, some customers are still using Excel spreadsheets, trying to share them, keep them up to date, and collaborate. But, that data would be better served in a truly shared location such as SharePoint lists. And, on top of libraries and lists, people are able to build business processes.
We are using PowerApps and Microsoft Flow in the cloud to build business processes so that people can automate repetitive tasks and create custom applications – that work on their mobile or in the desktop browser. PowerApps and Microsoft Flow let people interact with their lists and libraries in a sophisticated way, which goes far beyond just simply sharing. It is really about collaborating.
Pages are fairly underutilised as well in Office 365. Last year, we updated the page model so that people can create news even from their phone, to keep their team up to date with announcements that show up on their SharePoint home.
GL: When we think of Microsoft productivity and collaboration offerings, Yammer and Microsoft Teams come immediately to mind. Do you mean to re-position Yammer as a broadcast network, and for large communities? Which would leave Microsoft Teams for team and project communications.
DH: You are close. Microsoft Teams (in the browser or desktop / mobile app) is a chat-based workplace; a hub for teams that work in real time on projects. It is a successful way for high velocity teams to collaborate. It allows them to include the chat experience and get out of legacy email threads. Microsoft Teams can pull all of the resources their team needs into that hub, as it’s a simple interface to SharePoint document libraries, OneNote, tasks, and more – including third-party apps and services.
SharePoint is highly integrated with Teams. This week we have announced that people can add SharePoint Pages to Teams, so they can have a tab in Microsoft Teams that shows their news or a page with important information. That way a team can work inside of Teams and still get the power of SharePoint – Teams becomes better with SharePoint, and we think SharePoint is better with Teams.
Yammer, on the other hand, is an open space where people can connect. That means they can engage, share best practices, answer questions, and find expertise by basically shouting out and saying, ‘Who knows something about this?’. That is a unique capability that can only happen in an open environment. Whereas Microsoft Teams is really about the team; it is not open across the organisation like Yammer is.
Yammer allows organisations to enable front-line workers to connect across manufacturing environments or across retail environments, for example. It allows airline employees to connect, executives to talk more openly with staff. We have just announced a tighter integration with SharePoint and Yammer so that a new class of SharePoint sites called ‘Communication Sites’ will allow people to share news and views across the organisation in a very modern, mobile-first way.
GL: Building on your last point, can you tell us more about your newest innovations and developments?
DH: Among the latest, biggest announcements this week is the integration of OneDrive files on demand, which is going to give people a way to work with all their files regardless of how much storage they have on their device. People will be able to see all of their Office 365 files inside of Explorer and Windows 10. They do not have to open a web browser to find files that are all right there in Explorer where they expect them to be. People can have gigabytes or even terabytes of files – their own and those shared from their colleagues – that show in their Windows 10 folders and yet take up zero hard drive space. Open files synchronise seamlessly in the background; and you can work on a file while offline if you right-click it before you disconnect from the network.
We’re improving file sharing too. Right now, if a person wants to share a file from OneDrive or from SharePoint, they have to use the browser or an Office app, but in June we’ll enable direct sharing from your computer. In Explorer (Windows 10 or Windows 7) or in Finder (Mac), people will be able to just right-click on a file and share it.
For SharePoint, we have two big, exciting announcements. One is PowerApps inside of SharePoint, which I mentioned earlier. Last year, PowerApps allowed users to create applications based on SharePoint lists and libraries, letting people connect many other data sources and services. We are bringing PowerApps experiences inside of SharePoint lists and libraries so users can create a custom form or a rich, engaging, experience around data.
Communication Sites is the third big announcement. Communication Sites are SharePoint sites on the intranet that are modern, beautiful, natively mobile and let users reach a broader audience. Whereas Team Sites let a team collaborate, develop ideas and collect the resources they need, Communication Sites will let users communicate their ideas to the broader organisation.
People will be able to create Communication Sites in seconds right from the SharePoint home. There are a number of page layouts, including multi-column, which look exceptionally nice and allow users to put lots of information on a page in a very beautiful and mobile-friendly way. There is an image gallery and an event web part [widget] to publicise events.
Communication Sites will generally be accessible to much of the organisation – perhaps even to everyone. They won’t just enable talking to employees, but talking with employees. In other words, it is a way to engage the audience not just communicate to them, which is where Yammer comes in.
Organisations will be able to integrate Yammer into Communication Sites so that staff can provide feedback and carry on discussions about the broadcast message.
GL: How can organisations maximise these technologies as part of their digital transformation?
DH: The key to digital transformation is changing the way the organisation works. To do that you have to engage people. They know what the problems are, and many times know the solutions. Bringing people together on an intranet – giving them the content, access to each other, applications that make them work faster, and allowing them to work on their devices – creates a network of discussion, knowledge sharing, and engagement. Such a richly connected environment engenders innovation.
GL: Delve can be so powerful, yet some organisations hesitate, worrying about what it might show users across the organisation. How do you explain the purpose and use of Delve? Especially when some organisations just want a simple People Directory.
DH: Delve is a way to search for and discover relevant content, people, and valuable expertise across Office 365. Underneath Delve is Microsoft Graph, which is learning what a user does, what is important to them and to the people around them. So Delve helps users discover things that they didn’t even know were available – Delve surfaces the relevant work of colleagues.
But people only see things in Delve that they have access to. Underlying everything is a secure set of permissions. You might see something that is sensitive to you, and think that everybody else can see it, but that’s not the case. People who do not have access to such files will not see such material within Delve.
Over the last six months we have been taking the power of Delve into the main collaboration experiences. So the discovery experiences of Delve are now used around Office 365. For example, if a user is on SharePoint home and they see a new circle – a person – they can actually click on it and immediately access all the directory information about that person: who they are, where they sit inside the organisation, and the content they’ve been working on. You can learn more about that person right from SharePoint home – you don’t have to go to Delve for that. Or if you have a group meeting and go to Outlook you will see the other participants. Again you can click and learn more about the other participants right from the calendar.
Finally, we have just announced more personalised search. First, when people search in SharePoint home they will get results that are highly informed by Microsoft Graph, meaning they are tailored to them – so workers are much more likely to find what they need faster. Second, when people look for expertise, let’s say ‘digital transformation’, they will find people who have listed that as a skill, expertise, project, or area of interest, in their profile. This broader matching will enable even better expertise discovery across the organisation.
GL: Is it still a lot of work to build an intranet from the many moving parts of SharePoint? Will companies always need a third-party agency to build an intranet?
DH: We have a very rich partner ecosystem that has always adjusted to our innovations by addressing customers’ specific scenarios. Certainly, our partners will continue to address very specific scenarios and build capabilities that we have not built yet.
However, it is absolutely our goal to make creating mobile intelligent intranets as easy as possible, out of the box. Communication Sites is our first step to help modernise the intranet. With Communication Sites, people will easily create sites and pages, which are beautiful and instantly mobile.
In the future, we will see a new way of intranet building that customers will be able to do totally on their own.
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