Andrew Connell - SharePoint Expert

The Future of Office 365/SharePoint Part 2: Andrew Connell

We recently sat down with expert panelists Andrew Connell, Heather Newman and Nick Bratolli for a webinar Emgage hosted about the future of SharePoint and Office 365 (You can find that webinar here). Their answers were so good we had to share them again! Here is what Andrew Connell – SharePoint Expert, had to say about the future of SharePoint/Office 365 from a developer perspective. Check out Nick’s answers here. And look out for a blog post featuring Heather’s insight coming soon.


Let’s start off with a fun question to break the ice. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?


I’d like to be able to stick my hand in my pocket and pull out the exact amount of money I need at that time.


What’s your angle when you’re approaching SharePoint? What do you bring to the table?


I am a developer so I focus primarily on the extensibility and the customization side of SharePoint. I’ve been doing it since September 2003 when SharePoint portal server came out. I don’t look at if from the IT Pro side and I don’t look at the adoption side of it. For me It’s mostly just how to customize it. But more so these days, I focus on interacting with SharePoint from outside of SharePoint, using all the different API’s we have. That’s true also with Office 365. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I speak a lot at conferences, and primarily focus on developer education/training, speaking, and writing point of view. I also build training materials for a new business I started called Voitanos.


If you could take your mind forward 10 years, how do you imagine SharePoint/Office 365 could work? What’s the ultimate goal here? What’s the future?


I guess, you can look at answering this question in two different ways: how you think the future of SharePoint/Office 365 is going to go and how you want it to go. In terms of how I think it’s going to go, I’m going to stay away from that. 10 years is a long time into the future for me, especially in this business. But what I would like to see eventually is for SharePoint to turn into a primarily hosted only solution. Something that’s just a cloud-based service and not something with on-prem, and that is just to get everyone on the same platform. I understand that many of companies can’t do that for various reasons. I know a lot of the reasons are because of political reasons and regulations that hopefully the government will get up to speed on.


Where else do I want to see this go? Honestly, I think it’s going to be little controversial here and I almost hesitate to say this, but I’d like to see a lot of things that we have on SharePoint go away. I’d like to see things split out of SharePoint so that people can mix and match, pulling things in and out and replacing things with different components that are available to you. For example, I would get rid of the video portal we have inside of SharePoint. It’s not really a “SharePointy” thing and is kind of limiting. To me it makes more sense to have videos served up from a Microsoft offering site from Azure. For your company it might be easier to use Vimeo or something else. From my point of view as developer that’s the direction I’d like to see SharePoint go in.


With all the frustrations and the pain points, I guess the question would be why use it?


I think you have to look at it from two different angles. The first angle is looking at on-prem. That’s where SharePoint made it’s bread and butter. That’s where Microsoft made the bank going back to the earlier 2000’s. They really saw a huge adoption kicking in in 2007 and that is because of its use for collaboration. I mean look at products that it replaced. It crushed Lotus Notes.


When we look at SharePoint online, collaboration is still a major reason to use it. But let’s face it. The majority of people using Office 365 are not using it for SharePoint. They’re using it for Exchange Online or for storage on OneDrive. So you’re not seeing people have as much of an adoption with SharePoint online as they do with on-prem. Microsoft would probably be embarrassed if the numbers came out in terms of what the utilization is of SharePoint and SharePoint online. I think that’s one of the reasons why we see so many different things coming out for SharePoint, and specifically for SharePoint online. Everything you see Microsoft investing in, like the new things that are coming out for SharePoint or Office365, are there to really push adoption and the utilization of resources that people already are paying for as part of their Office 365 licenses.


Is Microsoft serious about the other parts of Office 365,  PowerApps, Flow, etc or will this go the way of SilverLight or InfoPath? Are they serious about these apps or are they really just trying to solve an adoption problem.


I want to correct something that was said in the question. PowerApps, Flow, those are not Office 365 products. Those are products coming straight from Azure, just to make sure that we’re clear on that one thing. But those two things are trying to drive consumption over on the Azure space. PowerApps and Flow are great products, although PowerApps still needs a lot of work.


Those two apps are driven by the Azure guys and when they were first built they didn’t really have an audience in mind. Now, frankly, they have somebody really good thats running the marketing side of them who understands the audience. The funny thing is the number one audience for both of those products are SharePoint users and Sharepoint customers, because Sharepoint should not be in the Workflow business. That’s not what SharePoint does. SharePoint does collaboration so you want to be able to leverage flow for your workflows and have nice tight tie ins with Microsoft with SharePoint, inside of Flow. You want to be able to very easily create power apps and create little applications or events, simple little forms, custom forms that we have inside SharePoint or that are desktop apps or mobile apps to interact with the data that we have inside of SharePoint.


So I absolutely think that Flow and PowerApps have dedicated teams behind them. They’re in for the long haul. They’re not going anywhere anytime. I would definitely bet on the future of both of those products, especially Flow. And I would hope and believe PowerApps falls in that same category.


Do you think that the SharePoint Designer is done? And Flow is really that new investment area for Microsoft?


Yeah, SharePoint Designer has got a lifetime as equal to InfoPath as far as I can tell. There’s a finite time there. I hate to say this bluntly, but just like InfoPath, SharePoint Designer is a dead product. Does it continue to work with SharePoint today, yes but it’s a dead product.


How do you think Microsoft services will impact SharePoint and do you see SharePoint being used more as a true application platform? A jump start to use the indemnified SQL backend and env to develop and deploy true applications quicker than a typical .NET/SQL app?


You can use SharePoint as an application host like I’ve done in the past. SharePoint has so much stuff built out of the box that we don’t have to build ourselves: navigation, search, workflow, authentication, etc. However, from my point of view, SharePoint is not a development platform.

I know that if you ask Microsoft this question they’ll totally disagree with what I have to say. SharePoint and Office 365, they do one thing and they do it very well. They offer a software as a service. SharePoint and Office 365 offer you collaboration, email, messaging, chat, video conference calls, file storage. They offer software as a service. What they don’t offer you is good storing ability and the ability to go through and build and host your applications. That’s never been SharePoint’s strong suit. Yes we’ve always been able to do it and yes I’ve made a career out of showing people how to do it in the last fifteen years. But there are still a lot of things that SharePoint simply can’t do and that must be done outside of itself.

So, SharePoint to me is still a service and Microsoft hasn’t really done anything to make me think it’s different. I would prefer and hope that Microsoft spend more time focusing on the service aspect of SharePoint and giving customers more and more APIs, which they have done over the last few years. And also focus on letting me build things that live next to or outside of SharePoint but are able to call into SharePoint and provide value add. I was actually just putting a blog post together to revisit a post I did a few years ago on this topic. If you want my really unvarnished opinion you can read that blog post.

Is there a cheat sheet or a website where you can begin training if you’re new to Office 365 and SharePoint need some basics. Which is the best way to learn and to catch up.


I think it really comes down to where do you want to get started. What is the part that you are going to use the most right off the bat? There’s a lot of end user based training options that are out there. Collab365 has got awesome resources that are out there. I’d also look at stuff from the Microsoft virtual academy. They’ve got a ton of videos. And look at the videos that Microsoft published from the Ignite Conference on their Youtube channel.


On the developer side, there’s tons of options. One of the coolest things about this Office 365/SharePoint world, is you really won’t find too many other places that have a good example of a community that has just gone berserk. I mean Microsoft has got this huge unpaid asset. People are out there going and helping each other learn things that you can do with SharePoint, with Office 365, with Skype for Business, blogs, videos, YouTube channels, you name it. There’s a ridiculous amount of stuff. So I think I’m dodging your question a little bit because I think you first have to select what you are trying to do and then you kind of go from there.

A Snippet from Nick Brattoli + more

The Future of SharePoint & Office 365 – Full webinar here

Andrew Connell is a full stack web developer and has been a Microsoft MVP every year since 2005. He also started his own business called Voitanos which provides on-demand technical training for Microsoft SharePoint and Office. Andrew is a world renowned teacher and speaker. His knowledge and focus is Microsoft Azure and Office 364, specifically the Office 365 APIs, Sharepoint Microsofts .NET Framework/ .NET Core, Angular, Node.js and Docker. Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn or follow him on twitter.


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