Sitting alone in Heathrow airport awaiting the 06:40am plane to Copenhagen and the European SharePoint Conference gave me an opportunity to do a bit of work; none of the shops were open and I had no book. My laptop had been checked in already, so using my phone I jumped straight onto the Core SharePoint Online 2013 site. From here, I was able to review the status of my projects, ‘follow’ relevant documentation and start and comment on conversations on my Newsfeed. This freedom of working on a four-inch screen, on a lonely metallic bench in Heathrow, was afforded to me by the new mobile-friendly changes made to SharePoint 2013. These changes have enabled better user experiences across devices; a must these days for multi-platform and bring-your-own-device environments.
For a look-and-feel advocate -and a person who does most things on his smart phone- these new features in SharePoint 2013 were a welcome freedom. Therefore, filled with optimism for the latest SharePoint release and despite my bleary-eyed exhaustion, I awaited the next few days with great anticipation. Also, I must remember to upgrade to 4G!
This year, over 1,400 proactive and engaging SharePoint enthusiasts, industry experts, thought leaders, business decision makers and end users attended the European SharePoint Conference in the Bella Centre, Copenhagen, from 4th-7th February. The following article highlights some of my key takeaways from this year’s conference and some of the exciting new features in SharePoint 2013.
For me, the most impressive presentation I attended at the European SharePoint Conference was Attractive Business Intelligence with Microsoft Office, SharePoint, and SQL Server, given by Rafal Lukawiecki. This keynote presentation, delivered to a packed audience in the Main Auditorium, was voted the best BI session at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas two months before, and was attended by over 1,500 delegates.
Lukawiecki proved that BI can be attractive, simple to use and accurate, by showing seven back-to-back demos of the building blocks of BI, using SharePoint 2013, SQL Server 2012 SP1, and Oﬃce 2013.
“Microsoft’s most recent BI technologies, such as the very new Power View in Excel 2013, and the greatly reworked SharePoint 2013, can add that special sparkle to your analytics that will pique your users’ interest, and can make them interact more deeply with your dashboards, charts, or reports, unlocking the meaning of the data being presented.” (Rafal Lukawiecki)
“There are major changes in Search!”, announced Agnes Molnar’s opening slide, and during her excellent presentation she endeavoured to give 10 reasons why it has changed for the better.
Agnes’s presentation, 10 Things I Like in SharePoint 2013 Search, began by explaining that the FAST search technology, acquired by Microsoft in 2008, is now at the heart of SharePoint 2013 – also, that the UI of the search results has been greatly enhanced. There is now a hover panel where you can see a preview of your search results. This feature needs Office Webapps and works only for Office, HTML content and SharePoint content – file shares will not work.
Paul Swider’s presentation, A Developer’s Perspective on the Social Architecture of SharePoint 2013, served to highlight that Microsoft is striving to inject a lot more 'share' into SharePoint and touched on how some of the new tools should go a long way towards better meeting modern expectations for social and collaboration interactions.
I’ve always felt that the social features in SharePoint are really just a way of highlighting and enhancing the way most users are already working. Paul Swider’s presentation explored some of the great social tools in SharePoint 2013 and helped to identify some of the practical applications of how social can really impact organisations.
My Sites of past releases have provided users with the ability to store their personal content. What is new in this release, is the ability to easily and quickly access the most common aspects of your My Site. The 2013 ribbon now features links to the Newsfeed, SkyDrive and Sites, meaning users can browse from their project or team sites directly into their personal information.
In 2013 they added the concept of 'Follow', which allows people to quickly and easily add links and references to the content on their My Sites. Within SharePoint, you can follow Sites, Documents, People or Tags, which are referenced in your My Site. Because users are able to effortlessly follow the content, they can rely on their My Site to push the data to them instead of having to remember to navigate to all of their sites directly.
Paul also showed how easy it is to create and follow conversations. Obviously, most users will be used to working together on content; however, traditionally they will do so over email. SharePoint 2013 makes it easy to interact and converse with others directly from the site. By default, each new team site contains a news-feed that allows for teams to discuss content. By typing the @ symbol before someone’s name, the global address book is displayed, making it easy for users to find others; they also receive an email letting them know that you have mentioned them. This email directs them to the conversation and provides a way for them to easily respond. By using the news-feed feature, you can provide a way for teams to keep their conversations more centralised within their project or team content.
With all these great new features in mind it was interesting to attend Mark Fidelman’s Socialized & Mobilized: How the Most Successful Businesses are Using SharePoint and Yammer. Paul Swider presented the social tools provided by SharePoint 2013, but it was Mark Fidelman’s presentation that highlighted how important it is for corporations to successfully transform into social business enterprises, and that to achieve this technologies like SharePoint 2013, My Sites need to be leveraged. I’ll admit some of his predictions for the future of social within companies and the anticipated level of social interaction daunted me a little, but his real-life accounts of how some of the most successful corporations in the world are using social to become more adaptable organisations was very compelling. He particularly stressed the importance of using social technologies to help staff members become fully engaged team players; "from foxes to roosters", I believe was his analogy.
Look and feel
I’ve left the topic closest to my heart till last. This subject of look and feel in SharePoint 2013 was expertly covered in my first presentation of the conference, SharePoint 2013 Branding Options and Opportunities given by Sanna Pehkonen, Onsight Helsinki.
Sanna introduced and demonstrated the most important new branding feature in SharePoint 2013; the Design Manager. So important is this new feature, that Microsoft have even added it as a top-level selection under Site Actions in Publishing sites. This wizard-like step-by-step manager includes links to a lot of common design tasks experienced in 2010 but it also includes a number of new features.
Probably the biggest change for us SharePoint branding guys, and the one that will doubtless have the biggest effect on my working life, is the new Create and Edit Master Pages feature. From here you can create a master page or, critically, convert an existing HTML design into a master page. In SharePoint 2013 you can actually upload a HTML design with CSS and images and then use this feature to convert it to a fully-functioning master file. You also get a preview of your new master page and the Snippet gallery from which you can copy SharePoint functionality (like navigation, site logo, search etc.) and paste it right into your HTML design. This means we no longer need to edit the master file but can continue to edit the HTML file, meaning web designers can use whatever editor they desire. This poses an interesting question on whether a non-SharePoint specialist web designer can now successfully apply branding to SharePoint, a question I will attempt to answer in a later blog post.
I had a fantastic time at the European SharePoint Conference 2013 and hats off to its superb organisers. For me, it was a great chance to meet new people and exchange stories. The networking opportunities were excellent and ably abetted with good food and plenty of coffee; also, cakes if you were quick enough. I met a bunch of interesting people who I hope to see again soon. I was able to get fully engaged in thinking deeply, almost philosophically, about SharePoint and a showcase of what after all is the best platform out there – whether it be on the premises or in the cloud. I look forward to taking what I’ve learnt from those few days and working with SharePoint 2013 further.
I would certainly recommend anyone to consider attending next year’s conference.