In-Depth

With New Enhancements, Microsoft Partners Declare SharePoint Is Roaring Back

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Improvements like a new SharePoint Framework and more robust mobile apps have Microsoft partners bullish about the platform's direction.

All the SharePoint enhancements Microsoft is unveiling on Wednesday effectively mean that the platform is back as a substantial business opportunity for the Microsoft ecosystem, partners say.

At a "Future of SharePoint" event in San Francisco, Microsoft formally rolled out general availability for SharePoint Server 2016 and unveiled more robust SharePoint mobile apps, a new SharePoint home page for Office 365 and many other enhancements, some available immediately and others being released throughout the year. (See Kurt Mackie's coverage of the announcement here.)

Of most interest for the SharePoint ecosystem, which includes 50,000 partners and 1 million developers, is a new SharePoint Framework and related enhancements, Bill Baer, senior technical product manager in the SharePoint product group at Microsoft, said in an interview.

"We're introducing a new additive extensibility model -- additive as opposed to replacing anything that we've already done -- that enables fully supported client-side development. That's embracing not only open source patterns and practices, such as JavaScript, Web templates and frameworks; it's also enabling you to use the tools that you've already been using, turning those into first-class citizens, so Yeoman, Gulp, Node.js and many of the tools that are associated with modern Web development," Baer said.

Key advances of the new approach involve the ability for partner developers to access contextual information from Office 365 and from OneDrive, and the client-side-rendering capability, which drastically improves performance, according to Baer.

"We expect to see a lot of excitement and development from our ISV partners, as well as corporate developers that want to take advantage of SharePoint and the cloud."

Bill Baer, Senior Technical Product Manager for SharePoint, Microsoft

"[Previously,] if you wanted to derive information, say, from OneDrive or if you wanted to derive information from Outlook or Mail inside of Office 365, you had to write a bunch of expensive server logic to interact with those different services and make those calls. So you had a lot of round trips that you had to expense as a result of your development effort. So it was really difficult to be able to build a Web Part that was inclusive of all the opportunities that exist across Office 365. What this new client-side development framework does is it provides you both SharePoint as well as Office 365 context. So you can imagine now being able to build a SharePoint Web Part that incorporates the intelligence of the Office Graph," Baer said.

"We expect to see a lot of excitement and development from our ISV partners, as well as corporate developers that want to take advantage of SharePoint and the cloud," he said.

One partner already thinking hard about how to use the SharePoint Framework is Boston-based BA Insight, an ISV that specializes in search and analytics.

BA Insight CTO Jeff Fried applauded what the SharePoint Framework signals about Microsoft's direction with Office 365.

"From one application, it's been very hard to get at all the different parts of Office 365. We worked with multiple authentications and a lot of code to bring in data from outside SharePoint," Fried said. "Today in Office 365, there's very much a don't-break-my-service attitude [from Microsoft]. The direction that Microsoft is going, which is really good out-of-the-box services, which they have to do to run a cloud service, could have been in complete conflict with extensibility and partner value. I was afraid it was going that way. But [these new announcements mean] full-trust code."

Beyond the technical aspects, Fried sees huge business benefits to the SharePoint changes. He expects the open source tooling to transform hiring at BA Insight.

"I've never personally been worried that SharePoint was going to go away. I'm too close to it. But there was a sense in the market that SharePoint was being decomposed into separate services that were part of Office 365 and losing its power as a platform."

Jeff Fried, CTO, BA Insight

"I've been in this world of SharePoint, where I've got to get somebody who is a .NET senior-level coder, who then I have to teach SharePoint development. Then I have to teach them my domain and my products," Fried said. "Now I can pretty much hire somebody right out of school and then teach them my product. It's a much easier recruiting and staffing model."

The bigger business issue is that the announcements should end market uncertainty over the last two years about Microsoft's long-term commitment to SharePoint.

"I've never personally been worried that SharePoint was going to go away. I'm too close to it. But there was a sense in the market that SharePoint was being decomposed into separate services that were part of Office 365 and losing its power as a platform. That has been a market friction for us because people have been either hesitant to commit to SharePoint as a unifying platform or looking for other options," Fried said.

New Signature, a well-connected Microsoft partner in the Washington, D.C., area, has also been anticipating a resurgence of SharePoint this year as a result of the across-the-board work Microsoft has been doing on the platform.

"For us, we just think the business opportunity associated with SharePoint is enormous. If you think about our acquisitions, especially our imason inc. acquisition [last November], that was very much on a look-forward basis. We needed one of the strongest partners on building applications on top of SharePoint," said Christopher Hertz, co-founder and president of New Signature.

"We picked SharePoint as one of our core focus areas this year because fundamentally I believe the announcements that Microsoft is making around SharePoint were going to be a game-changer for customers who either have been using SharePoint for some time or have not really understood how to maximize the value of SharePoint or who didn't understand how to bridge SharePoint from on-prem to cloud," Hertz said.

"I think Microsoft has gotten now to the point where they are presenting a story that anyone can understand," he said. "It's a business process solution. It's really this idea that SharePoint is how you run your business."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.