Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Dropping In On SPTechCon 2013

I've been a power user of Microsoft SharePoint during my stints as a knowledge manager with large organizations, so I couldn't resist the chance to check out SPTechCon 2013 this week in San Francisco.  I got the free Exhibit Hall pass because I only needed a quick view of the main events.

The keynoter today was the Microsoftie responsible for the SharePoint 2013 product rollout.  His demo went smoothly with only a couple of faults that could have crashed his laptop.  The basic structure of this version of SharePoint appears to be a hybrid cloud that enables mobile updates to documents stored in the enterprise version of SkyDrive.  The "create new site" landing page replaces the old hollow function placeholders with tiles connecting to the most-used functions.  Page admins can now drag/drop documents from the desktop into a SharePoint directory without first switching to the old icon/window view.

One big difference is that URL character strings are shorter!  I was often frustrated with the old SharePoint's inability to read path strings longer than a couple of hundred characters.  I wonder if the 2013 version will truncate special characters instead of rejecting them.

Clicking a document shows you who has access to it, and you can email them immediately to share updates. That's what collaboration is all about.  A SharePoint site now has its own Outlook mailbox, so SharePoint documents and Outlook messages can now be rendered in each other's environment.  This is good if it saves time ordinarily spent downloading a document to your desktop only to attach it to an email message.  The risk I see is the chance users will edit a document in Outlook without passing the updated version to the SharePoint document repository.  I'd like to know how Microsoft has dummy-proofed that outcome.

The mobile version of SkyDrive will cache downloads of documents you edit.  This is how Microsoft's cloud service links files on a user's desktop in the workplace to their mobile synch platform.  You can edit docs on your smartphone and upload them back to the cloud.  Users can also follow updates to content in a newsfeed, with the option of following users, sites, or documents.  I first noticed the trend towards Facebook-style newsfeeds in SharePoint add-ons at one of the Cloud Connect / Enterprise 2.0 conferences I attended in recent years.  Microsoft's corporate development strategy noticed the trend and made appropriate acquisitions prior to this rollout.  I would like to know whether this newsfeed looks the same across all mobile platforms.  Many enterprises are adopting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, so the interface between SharePoint and SkyDrive needs to look the same whether it runs on Android or the iPhone.  The federal government  is all aboard the BYOD movement and is one of Microsoft's biggest customers, so Microsoft needs to get this one right.

My biggest concern with previous SharePoint editions was the search function.  It was okay for finding random documents on a general topic but it was never good for complex queries.  I was never able to use it to find the URL of the parent organization responsible for a site's hierarchy.  SharePoint 2013 goes a long way toward solving that by displaying the photo I.D. of users who author documents.  Their photo I.D. reveals a link to their position in the organization's hierarchy, making department location possible.  This is good news!  It means a product engineer who searches for "marketing" can eventually locate a marketing manager who has published documents on that topic for the enterprise's marketing department.

The Microsoft guy took a picture of the audience with his smartphone and immediately posted it to his enterprise SharePoint newsfeed.  That's a cool trick.  I can see how engineers and geologists in the field could use that to send a site photo back to their office for collaborative analysis.  His other cool tricks covered developer functions that could instantly build basic apps.  SharePoint is maturing from a content management platform to a problem-solving tool.

The vendors in the exhibit hall had more problem-solving tools on display.  Most of their apps related to business analytics and user identity management.  My biggest problem was finding some snacks.  One booth was smart enough to bring a popcorn machine but I was disappointed that other booths had very little candy.  I was also disappointed that there were very few attractive women manning the booths.  Hey vendors, if you want my attention you need to include hot gals in your roadshows.

I'm a big picture thinker, so I didn't need the workshops on programming, module construction, and system integration.  I'll eventually take a closer look at business intelligence and GIS applications.  SharePoint is going to be one of the main tools enterprises use to exploit the Big Data we generate with our credit card purchases and social media preferences.

Full disclosure:  No position in MSFT at this time.