The Future of Collaboration with SharePoint and Office 365

Mobile Man / Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Collaboration can be defined as the action of working with someone to produce something. And it’s interesting to know that it’s quite a new word:

As the above graph shows, until 1880 no one collaborated (although it might just be that they were using different words for it..)!

Collaboration in the enterprise is a very important factor in success. Working alone, people may be very good at doing one or two particular things, but by combining knowledge and qualities, work can be done easier and in less time. An all too common phrase you don’t want to hear in your organization is: “If I’d have known person X had done this before, we would have done this differently and probably succeeded”.

Collaborating should be promoted in any organization and the required tools and technologies made widely available. Technology is not the only driver when it comes to successful collaboration, but it is a key enabler.

Collaborate with SharePoint and Office 365

SharePoint is quite possibly the world’s most popular collaboration tool and is now also part of Office 365. Introduced in 2001, SharePoint delivers document and records management, intranets and extranets, workflows, and much more to the digital workplace. Currently there are two versions of SharePoint - the on-premises version and the online version in Office 365. Microsoft has recently released the public preview of SharePoint 2016, and is also constantly improving Office 365. We will look at what SharePoint 2016 will bring when it will be generally available in 2016, and what Office 365 has on its roadmap when it comes to collaboration.

Groups: The next big thing

Without a group there can be no collaboration. A group can be a business unit, a project team, or any other team of people working together to achieve something. In SharePoint, this usually transformed into a site or a subsite. While these worked fine, they required setting up a site, permissions, creating content pages and so on. Basically, it added a level of complexity, and therefore an obstacle to collaboration.

However, Microsoft has now introduced a feature called “Groups” in Office 365, which according to some people, is the next big thing. A Group can be created in a couple of clicks, and by doing so the Group’s members will get an email box and a place to store documents. And that’s it. It is very easy to start working together and do the two essential things for effective collaboration: communicating and working together on documents.

This feature is also available in separate apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone and is now also available in Office 2016. See here for more information.

Adding attachments made easier

The most common use of Outlook is the sending of files to colleagues and peers. And if you’ve used SharePoint for long, you should know that sending attachments is a big ‘no-no’. This is because every attachment means a new version of that file for each recipient. So, when a user sends a file to five people in their team, this means there would now be six different versions of that file.

Storing this file in SharePoint is the first step to avoiding duplication, but it still involves copying/pasting a link into Outlook to share it with other people. This has been improved in both Outlook Web App and Outlook 2016: when clicking “Add Attachment”, the user is presented with recently modified files in SharePoint. When hitting send, the recipients will see the attachment in the email as they’re used to, but the file itself is stored in SharePoint! So, there is only one version of that file.

A true hybrid search

Microsoft would probably rather like it if everyone used Office 365, but has acknowledged that there are use cases for On-Premises software as well. For example, when other internal LOB systems are used, or when data sovereignty is an issue, or when companies want full control over their software, On-Premises is the way to go. But what if a company wants both Office 365 and SharePoint On-Premises? This is called a hybrid solution. The hybrid search in SharePoint 2013 was not really hybrid as it still resulted in separate lists of search results. However, this has improved dramatically in SharePoint 2016, and it is also available for SharePoint 2013 with the August 2015 update. The cloud search service application will bring a true hybrid search experience - see this blog post for more information.

‘NextGen Portals’: more out-of-the-box templates

SharePoint has a list of built-in site templates. For example, a publishing center is a very good starting point for an Intranet, while a Team Site is the most common template for collaboration. However, these templates haven’t received major updates for a while now. And this is where the so-called ‘NextGen Portals’ in Office 365 come into play.

Next-Gen Portals offer a mobile-friendly, redesigned space to implement an information management portal or Intranet. The first examples are Office 365 Video and Delve, and more is to come. For example, the portal codenamed InfoPedia is the highly anticipated NextGen Portal for information management.

The future looks bright

With the next SharePoint version now available in public preview, a lot of new features to be released/already available for Office 365, the future for collaboration in the enterprise looks very promising. Microsoft has improved their most popular application - Outlook - by making sending attachments easier, and by adding the Groups functionality to Outlook 2016. InfoPedia will hopefully be released in the next year or so as well, delivering a ready-to-use Information Management to Office 365.

All of these features drive collaboration. And the easier that is, the more people will work together, and the higher our efficiency and rate of innovation. So, make sure you are using these features!

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