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As expected, Microsoft outlined its immediate and medium-term strategy for SharePoint at the user conference that has just finished in Las Vegas. Over several sessions, Microsoft leaders provided insights into where they see SharePoint in the enterprise, what is on its way in the new edition and what is likely to happen after SharePoint 2019.

To clarify where exactly Microsoft is now, Bill Baer, senior technical product manager in the Microsoft SharePoint business published a blog post summarizing the current state of play. SharePoint Server 2019 will be generally available to customers in H2 CY18 while SharePoint Server 2019 Preview will be available to enterprises in summer 2018. There are a number of significant improvements in this edition, he wrote, including user experience improvements that have already appeared in the online edition through Office 365. 

“Using the cloud as a baseline, we’re bringing the most compelling communications and collaborative experiences to customers of SharePoint 2019.  These investments include the introduction of Communications Sites, Team News, and modern Team Sites to include Lists and Libraries and in support of broader data mobility the Next Generation Sync Client (NGSC) support for reliable access to your documents – anywhere, anytime.”

Related Article: What Organizations Want In SharePoint 2019

There is also a heavy emphasis on hybrid capabilities as it has become clear since the release of the SharePoint 2016 edition that many enterprises were not prepared to dispense with their on-premises investments even though Microsoft had been pushing them to move to the cloud. Baer wrote that with this edition, Microsoft is considering the mission-critical workloads that many enterprises have placed on the on-premises service so that with the 2019 edition they are offering support for process automation and forms technologies such as Microsoft PowerApps and Flow to connect with on-premises data. Among the new, key features are:

  • Modern Sites, Pages, Lists, and Libraries
  • Team News
  • SharePoint Home
  • Communication Sites
  • OneDrive Sync Client
  • Improved hybrid support and scenarios
  • New developer options
  • Improved support for business process with PowerApps and Flow

So, what about SharePoint users? What do they think?

Introducing, Responsive Design, Spaces

Puneet Gangal is CEO and founder of Cambridge, Mass.-based Aciron Consulting. He said that the feedback he is getting is that the responsive design and user interface have been major selling points for Office 365 and SharePoint Online so including them in the on-premises edition will help a lot. “Moving to the cloud is not always feasible for companies due to security or legal reasons, so we are excited to see that these organizations will now have access to some of SharePoint Online's best features while staying with on-premise SharePoint, “he said.

The chief marketing officer of AvePoint Dux Raymond Sy was also at the Las Vegas conference. For him the selling point of the new edition is the introduction of SharePoint Spaces. Spaces is, a feature that allows companies to create immersive worlds for viewing data and documents within SharePoint. This means that rather than having to rely on a traditional screen with mouse and keyboard inputs, users can slip on a headset to visualize information, with support from motion controllers, and interact with content from multiple angles. “It’s great to see Microsoft pushing the boundaries of mixed reality with the announcement of SharePoint Spaces,” Sy said. With Spaces, the ease of use can empower organizations to make more informed decisions by entering an immersive world for engaging with information within SharePoint.

Related Article: Your Essential Guide to SharePoint, SharePoint Online and Office 365

Exciting Flow and PowerApps Capabilities

Meanwhile, Paul Seda, a consultant at UK-based Unily, which offers an intranet-as-a-service, said that with the 2019 edition, Microsoft has honored their word to continue supporting customers with on-premise installations of SharePoint. “SharePoint Online has proven to be a fantastic testing ground for new features that are then rolled up into SharePoint 2019,” he said.

He also points out that Modern Sites have made SharePoint a lot easier to use and the enhancements should further help with adoption. Unily has been using the SharePoint Framework to help customers rebrand Modern Sites, and the enhancements to lists and libraries within those sites have been received positively. Many customers are now looking for guidance on how to migrate old Team Sites to the new Modern experience, so this will be a boon for them.

However, for Seda, the new Flow and PowerApps capabilities are the most exciting innovation. “Personally, I'm most excited about customers having the ability to access data behind the firewall for utilizing Flow and PowerApps. As an avid user of both, I know many customers have been chomping at the bit to gain access, but until now they just weren't able to do so easily. This will finally put the last nail in the coffin, so to speak, of SharePoint Designer Workflows,” he said.

Bruce Dhara is SharePoint practice lead at El Segundo, Calif.-based PCM, a large Microsoft reseller. He says that from their perspective there are three things exciting their community.

Migration - Migration tool is getting an update, this will help PCM's small to mid-size customers to follow our legacy modernization process for migration and upgrades without paying for the 3rd party software. We are already seeing a significant boost in requests for assessments towards migrating to SharePoint (on-premises/online):

SharePoint Spaces - Mixed reality and content transformation using AI is going to have a positive impact on manufacturing and healthcare industry. This will not only save development/testing time but will also improve UX and User adoption. We have already used Azure ML platform for demonstrating task automation processes (improving employee productivity using AI etc.) and SharePoint spaces is going to elevate demos & user adoption based on real time updates, tracking and impact analysis of certain complex processes.

GDPR - Some of PCM's clients are excited about the support towards sophisticated requirements that will help them stay compliant with GDPR.

Future Proofing SharePoint

Mountain View, Calif.-based AgilePoint builds a digital transformation platform and Jesse Shiah is their company’s CEO. He points out that even with the new release, organizations will still have to future proof their investment in an environment where most of the improvements will be made to the online version. There are three specific points that organizations should remember:

  • Microsoft has made it clear to the public that its future direction of product development is cloud focused, not on-premises. In this case, Microsoft has started advocating everyone to move to SharePoint online (part of the Office 365) since 2014.
  • The release of SharePoint 2019 is to address the lingering challenge that many organizations who have deployed SharePoint on-premises for years and invested heavily in custom development to create business apps, such as workflows and forms, are now "locked down" and cannot easily migrate to the Office 365.
  • One of the biggest announcements with SharePoint 2019 is yet another addition of another new workflow manager in SharePoint 2019. This ever-increasingly disjointed workflow strategy will prolong the continued compatibility issue that not only will acerbate the "lock down" challenge described above but may also lead to confusion in the market.

“Organizations still have significant SharePoint running on-premises must start thinking how to ‘future-proof’ its investment if they have to create additional custom business apps. This is due to the fact that the release of SharePoint 2019 may enable them to delay their migration to Office 365, it will not eliminate the need,” he said.

This means that with the release of yet another new version of workflow manager in SharePoint 2019, it has never been more important to have a single, future proof workflow platform for all workflow needs — both simple and complex.  Staying with SharePoint on-premises longer could also lead to gradually losing competitiveness in the long run as we anticipate fewer and fewer innovative features will be made available for SharePoint on-premises.

Michael DesRochers is the founder and managing partner at Greenland, NH.-based PoliteMail, a software company that measures internal communications emails sent through Microsoft Outlook. He says that with this edition, Microsoft is attempting to get rid of the image of SharePoint as a powerful but complicated IT toolbox foisted onto unsuspecting business units and is evolving into a simple-to-use, self-service business process platform. “Any organization considering an investment in a new or upgraded intranet would be well advised (and most likely surprised) to take another look at the new SharePoint,” he said. “The elegantly interfaced SharePoint communications sites will be faster to create, easier to use, and offer significant cost savings over dedicated intranet platforms.”