With an official announced 10,000 attendees at the SharePoint Conference 2012 in Las Vegas this year from 85 countries and over 7000 watching live on the webcast and #SPC12 hash tag trending even with extremely poor Wi-Fi access during the week…this year’s SPC12 was a major hit!
The conference was sponsored by over 200 companies and if the 250+ sessions over four days wasn't enough the expo hall was packed the brim full of vendors ready to pitch their latest add-ons to SharePoint.
The keynote focused heavily on the cloud throughout, I do understand that Microsoft marketing team need to push the future…but a quick straw poll as we drew the winning ticket for the Ducati we gave away on the AvePoint booth on Thursday afternoon proved that a good 95% weren't even considering it out of the 1000+ waiting to see whether they were going to win.
The biggest push in the whole keynote in my opinion came from the announcement of 3 month "service updates" for SharePoint Online Office 365 tenants. There was no announcements of any changes to the on-premises 3 year release cycles with 2 service packs. This will obviously be the way to tempt organizations to Office 365 from on-premises which won't be getting the new features for a LONG time after.
Microsoft wanted to make a big point by having all demonstrations on Office 365 from the Amsterdam datacenter to try and prove that geographically dispersed organizations can use one central tenancies.
The other key themes or "disruptive technologies" that Microsoft wanted you to "embrace" were "mobile", "social" and "the experience".
SharePoint's mobile story to date has been very poor with a micro-browser rendering system best left to the deceased Blackberry platform. Comparing SharePoint collaboration workload competitors who have a strong mobile story such as Google Docs, Alfresco and Box.net, Microsoft were really having to make a splash in this round. The announcement of a Windows Phone 8 client which I am already using with our own internal Intranet from a social perspective is great! The information around a iOS and Android equivalent is also great news, although expect not all functionality to be on those devices as per Microsoft's mandate to encourage Windows Phone adoption. The existing Office app for Windows Phone has proved extremely handy and the SkyDrive Pro integration will be a big hit for offline collaboration scenarios and finally nails what Groove and SharePoint Workspace tried to achieve in the last 6 years.
There was a light demo of a Windows 8 RT app for SharePoint expected early next year. It will be interesting to see how the SharePoint iOS vendor apps survive which stronger plays in this space in 2013.
The third thing for the audience to embrace was SharePoint social, not to be confused with Yammer, which I'll get to in a moment. SharePoint social was meant to make a big splash 3 years ago and had plenty of excuses around it being two early 6 years when it launched to be compared to Facebook. Even 3 years later in 2010, the social platform was weak and barely used from sharing activity social effort. Microsoft tended to lean on "Discussion Boards", "Wikis" and "blogs" as social, which sadly didn't get touched in 2010 and haven't again in 2013. The new social in 2013 was demonstrated around the "Communities" site template with very light badge functionality and the new "follow" capability for documents, people, tags and sites. I believe the platform has the ability to be adopted now in 2013 by organizations, but still think comparing it to true enterprise social platforms it really isn't there yet, but it’s a start.
It was great to hear that this wave had 4 times as many people focusing on user experience, and it does really show. They talked about how Office 365 is the "largest scale enterprise cloud service in the world", I guess all vendors claim this, it would be interesting to see how this stacks up against Google's numbers.
It is always interesting to see what Microsoft think are the biggest experience changes and no surprises to see SkyDrive Pro, Site Hub, Team site updates, Apps, Search and oddly Outlook web access being showcased…which is not SharePoint whatsoever. This highlighted to me that the lines between Exchange, SharePoint and Office are blurring and questioned the reality of a SharePoint conference next year and maybe more of an "Office 365 conference".
There was a distinct divide in the keynote, with the Yammer team shoved awkwardly in the middle between two very strong "blue badge" Microsoft sections of the major themes and the new development model. I like the fact that their approach was different from the usual Microsoft "voice" but suspect next time we see them present they will be "neutralized".
The Microsoft team introduced the reasons for the acquisition was that Yammer are "the leaders in enterprise social" with the largest user base of 200,000 organizations in 150 countries in 24 languages and 85% fortune 500. They focused on Yammer's "rapid innovation" pioneering new features based on user feedback and voluntary adoption watching analytical usage data to prioritize features.
The big question a lot of my enterprise customers have been asking is around the story of SharePoint social and Yammer and I was expecting it to be presented clearly. But sadly all they really announced was that Office 365 SharePoint Online customers could get Yammer Premium as part of their package and that there was already "integration" between the two. What disappointed me was that the integration has already been known as this was already in place before the acquisition.
The Yammer guys focused on distinct features to integrate were the "enterprise graph", "post to yammer" in the SharePoint ribbon, "yammer search" within SharePoint search and embedding a document reference from SharePoint in a yammer post. Near futures touted were integration with SkyDrive Pro and Office Web Apps.
Their basic roadmap discussed an "open graph", more web parts, and integration with Dynamics (which was shown at YamJam the week earlier). Deeper integration will tackle the concerns around a unified feed, tighter integration with documents and seamless identity integration. They also went on to discuss how they would hook into all of Office 365 from Skype, Lync through to Outlook and Exchange…."faster than you might expect from us". From this I would read that "SharePoint social" at best will be a little brother not focused on anymore and that Yammer will be the true enterprise social focus at Microsoft. The biggest facepalm moment of this was from discussions with various people at ask the experts is that Yammer will be "cloud-only" so for a lot of organizations out of reach.
We have been evaluating Yammer internally and to be honest have found that even it isn't fully baked and the Windows Phone app is barely usable which is a key to the social enterprise.
There are way too many overlaps between SharePoint social and Yammer right now and although Microsoft promise a more unified story, from my experience, don't expect it in 2013 if they can't even talk marketing slides yet. You can follow, like, post statuses, view activity completely in isolation of each other and there is no mechanism to see both in one stream. In my opinion, this is going to confuse the hell out of end users and so the best approach I can recommend for now is to pick one and shut the other off the best you can. The easiest one to switch off is obviously going to be Yammer as it’s completely separate. Switching off SharePoint social is not a big tick box, it's going to take a lot of custom CSS hacks and master page tweaks for sure.
The innovation focus through the keynote and the sessions during the week were that SharePoint 2013 was “built from the cloud up” and you can see this when looking at the feature comparison between Office 365 SharePoint Online and SharePoint on-premise. And as discussed with the 3 month cadence of SharePoint Online they were “recommending you move to cloud for new experience”.
The upgrade story has got better this time round which obviously was for the benefit of them with Office 365 existing tenants and also on-premises customers. But don’t be fooled by how easy they say it is, expect the same experience as last time if you have customizations and not just a vanilla content database that can be moved to any old farm.
The main improvement from innovation aspects is the announcement of the performance improvements with “40% efficient use of bandwidth” due to “4x image compression” with one example used of the ribbon going from 400kb to 100Kb. They also quoted SQL being 50% faster due to enhanced stored procedures.
The shredded storage focus in the keynote around growth of content databases in average collaboration load being less compared to 2010 due to it storing deltas is a true fact, but if you attended mine and Dan’s session you would have also seen that with it comes a big performance hit from user experience. More details on this to come from me in the future on this and the differences between it and RBS + de-duplication technology.
I have to hand it to them from an innovation aspect on the new app-model with the ability to essentially build your app in php, perl, html5, or whatever and host it wherever and it be able to hook into SharePoint 2013 via the oAuth model if using SharePoint Online. They’re betting on the fact that existing developer ecosystems will start building integration into SharePoint, the market place is looking pretty quiet at the moment but I expect that to grow faster once SharePoint Online is in production with 2013 with all its tenants and demand starts to be driven.
I had two sessions at SPC12, one with Dan Holme focused on IT Pro story on-premises and what's new which received very good scores from attendees and a vendor session with Dana Simberkoff around Governance and Compliance mapped to hybrid scenarios which also received above average scores. So I was personally very happy with my week! If you were unable to attend these sessions whilst you were at the conference because you were too busy, please log into MySPC and check them out!
Chris Givens has written a great little PowerShell script to pull down all the SPC PowerPoint and MP4 files which helped me grab it all and dump it on my Surface RT to watch on my many flights during my travels! Learning heaps already and encourage you to do the same as pretty sure you didn’t get to 250 odd sessions at the event itself with 8 running at once most times of the day! Note you need a MySPC login with access to sessions to get this content.
What wasn't answered all week
For me, other than what I’ve already discussed around Yammer, some things I came away with that weren't answered in a public forum were the release cadence for SharePoint on-premise…if our bleeding edge cloud friends get shiny new things every 3 months…when can us on-premise guys get them? In general there seemed to be a lack of theme around on-premise, and my discussions with a lot of people though out the week was that it was disappointing due to that fact.
Keynotes are always a tricky thing, especially with a room loaded with press, MVPs, office 365 customers and on-premise customers. I think overall it was a great keynote and tip my hat to those involved for a job well done. As for the conference, it astounds me how smoothly the week ran, the unfortunate Wi-Fi issues were out of their control and I spoke to a few that were seriously doing EVERYTHING they could to rectify it.
I had a great week, although extremely busy representing AvePoint and my community commitments and didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked with good friends in the community. I did however get to have a few minutes one on one with Jon Bon Jovi before the SPC12 attendee party started, Jon is a huge hero of mine and I've seen him over 10 times and been backstage once before but unfortunately didn't get to talk to him. So getting a chance to chat to him made my week to be honest!