My top 5 thoughts going into SPTechCon San Francisco

Tomorrow, I will be waking up much earlier than anyone should on a Sunday to hop on a plane to the beautiful San Francisco to attend SPTechCon. Now that work is all done for the week, I took some time to look over the sessions and where I’d like to play. It’d harder than it sounds since there are so many great speakers and topics to choose from. The usual suspects are there: What’s new in the new version and what features can my customers utilize? Sure. But this year is different… much different. If we were just talking about SharePoint 2016, the next evolution of this great product, those considerations would completely make sense. But we aren’t and they don’t. Well, not completely. With O365 and the push to move from On Premise to the cloud changes everything. We now have to ask questions like: What do building business solutions look like now? Will my current solutions still work? Where does On Premise makes sense, if at all? And, for my IT friends: What is my role in the new paradigm moving forward?

With that as a backdrop, here are the top 5 considerations that I will bring to the conference with me come Monday morning.

E-Forms Vision

So first, Microsoft tells us that they will no longer be adding incremental versions of InfoPath. They told us that the vision for e-forms and form customization would be shifting from the XML-based tool we’ve love to hate to a more mobile-friendly HTML5 offering. So, there we were, on pins and needles, waiting for the really cool replacement. So we waited. And waited. And waited. And still, with SharePoint 2016, it is still unclear what that vision is (or someone hasn’t gotten around to telling me). I know that the answer lies somewhere in the mix of PowerApps, third party tools (ie, Nintex Forms), or utilizing the App Model and developing Add-ins for those that are really sophisticated.

The problem is, none of this works as well as the tried and true InfoPath model even if the XML data structure is sub-optimal. I will be attending a few different sessions to see if I can get a glimpse of the true vision and, whatever that vision is, what is the maturity path to bring the capabilities up to what we have come to expect.

Business Process through Flow

As you know, or will get to know very quickly, I am a big fan of Nintex workflow solutions. I rarely recommend any 3rd party tools (because the vast majority of them don’t meet the mark), but Nintex is one… and Sharegate is the other. My love for Nintex is rooted in the fact that developing process automation workflows and making it user-friendly is no trivial task. In early iterations, SharePoint Designer was so painful that some very simple logic structures (such as looping) was near impossible. So when I got my hands on Nintex, I knew very few other tools would be able to compare.

That said, Nintex has a major drawback for me. That is that integration with other tools is quite painful. The only true integration comes via web service or web request. In earlier versions, there were code actions, but they removed this capability in the most recent version.

Then I saw Flow that comes with O365. I’ve played with Flow a little and what I’ve seen has opened up my world. I believe this new feature fills a lot of these gaps by offering actions that already integrate with other systems and allows the end user to create simple to fairly-sophisticated workflows directly through the SharePoint interface. This leaves other workflow tools to pick up where Flow can’t quite get over the finish line.

The big questions I will have are: What’s the process to develop and supply new actions to the Flow engine, if at all? and… What are the bounds to what is possible through Flow? At the very least, I would think that Nintex should be looking at this new technology and position appropriately.

Business Intelligence and the Power BI offering

If you haven’t looked at the PowerBI toolset yet, then you’re in for a big surprise. Admittedly, I’ve only scratched the surface myself, but the power you get through PowerQuery and PowerPivot is quite remarkable. One drawback with using these tools with any sizable data set is simply resources on your local environment and CPU/RAM gets pegged fairly easily. Moving all of the processing to the cloud makes a whole lot of sense. I also know that there are a number of capabilities that are present in PowerBI in O365 that I know are going to be pretty amazing. I will be curious to see some demonstrations of Graph and the vision of this tool with the overall BI offering. No great questions or concerns here. I am simply going to try to be a sponge and take it all in.

Social Engagement

So Enterprise Social is one area where I know Microsoft has struggled to have a firm and clear direction and execution. They purchased Yammer, but any integration with SharePoint missed the mark a bit. Also, natively in 2013, there were a number of social features provided, but they never really took off. What makes executing on social so difficult is you have to thread the needle of creating social interaction opportunities into every aspect of the platform, providing this information in a digestible way to management to act upon, and not have those actions discourage future social interactions.

So, with any discussion around social, here are my main questions: What will the 2016 and O365 social experience look like?
How granular will I be able to interact socially with my documents and community? And, most importantly, Has Microsoft solved the problem of searching and aggregating all the social interactions within the enterprise so they can have actionable meaning to management? If Microsoft solves the Social Enigma, they will win in so many ways.

The role of our IT friends

Finally, what I will be looking for, possibly more anecdotally, is the role of our IT Admin and Infrastructure friends in the O365 world. One of the biggest value propositions for moving to the cloud is that many of the administrative activities and box-related duties are handled for you by your cloud service provider. That said, there is an army of highly-skilled SharePoint Infrastructure Engineers out there and there must be a role for them in this new cloud-based world. That could be that in the ever-more-popular hybrid approach, that they are hands-on with the on-premise environment and play a consultative role with the part in the cloud. It could be that there are fewer engineers on staff, but those that do remain are higher-level roles to manage the decisions around the cloud environment. This could include how to scale, when to scale, and what configuration makes sense for the business at any point in time. It will be interesting to get a pulse of what the feeling is out there.

So those are the main topics at the fore-front of my mind walking in. That is, of course, in addition to all the other features that O365 has to offer. Did I miss something? Is there something that you would be looking for? Let’s talk in the comments.

2 thoughts on “My top 5 thoughts going into SPTechCon San Francisco”

  1. I think you covered it all. Personally I am also a fan of Nintex and Flow, Apps have really not come close considering an average end user in mind.
    I play with Power BI and it still has some level of learning for an average excel user.
    Only other topic that is of interest is around Groups and integration with Yammer (so much confusion around this ever evolving area). It is almost impossible to recommend a strategy to companies.
    Looking forward to seeing your findings.

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