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Change is coming to SharePoint, but will you change with it?

Change is coming to SharePoint, but will you change with it?

by: Benjamin Niaulin

This morning, I started up my laptop and logged in to the different Web applications I work with. I think the only desktop application I still use is my music subscription service. I accessed my Outlook from the browser, and the UI for e-mails had changed. Arguably the most important application in the world had changed, and I did not know about it before it appeared on my desktop.

After a few seconds, I got familiar with it and realized it was easier to use than before, and continued on. However, something similar was done for the SharePoint Document Library (with an Opt-in button for First Release tenants), and the community went wild with discussion.

The new SharePoint Document library
If you haven't seen the new SharePoint document library yet, I invite you to check out my previous blog as I have already detailed out the changes. But, as a quick reminder, here is what Office 365 SharePoint customers see if they have opted in for the First Release program to access and test updates before they come out:

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If users decide to do so, they can check out what their library would look like in the new UI, as well as revert back to the classic SharePoint look.

Here is what the new Document Library looks like at a glance:

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SharePoint-as-a-Service vs. SharePoint the platform: working together
We're used to SharePoint being a platform-a box of Legos you lay out on the floor and build whatever you want with. But in Office 365, we need a new flavor of SharePoint, and it doesn't mean removing the traditional old one either.

Keep in mind that SharePoint 2016 On-Premises went RTM, and it continues to provide a similar experience for those that continue to need it, along with a hybrid model to leverage the "as-a-service? part we are starting to see appear online.

We can pretend that our users continue to love SharePoint even more every day, and that they never need to go out and find products online. That administrators can deliver everyone's needs to today's standards with mobile apps and interconnected to all their other work. I am sure, however, that many of us realize this is not the case.

For those in the SharePoint community, aware of the vendors, fellow community members, and overall state of it, I have a question: Has there been a growing number of vendors in the SharePoint market? Or emerging bloggers and influencers?

Combine that with hallway discussions of end users not fully taking advantage of SharePoint, and using it as a File Share or bypassing IT altogether with Dropbox, and it becomes clear that we need a new flavor of SharePoint-one for today's needs and expectations.

Again, it does not mean anything from your traditional SharePoint is being taken away. You will still be able to build things like you have built before. But we also need a "Ready to Go, Ready to Use? Team Site.

Whether it's what you plan to use 100% of the time, combine it with other SharePoint sites, or even go Hybrid with your On-Premises setup, the choice is yours. And this update was primarily to show the new Document Library, not the site or site navigation, and to start delivering on that vision.

There is definitely a pressing need for a Team Site that delivers something in between Office 365 Groups' "Files? and the full-blown Team Site we are used to with Content Types, Site Columns and Managed Metadata. Something mobile, easy to use for our users that will increase usage of SharePoint and grow the user base even more.

Worries about the change voiced by SharePoint community members
Back in November of 2015, Microsoft held the MVP Summit, where many of us from all over the world go to listen to what Microsoft has to say. Typically, they share the vision of things to come with us, and it was no exception this time.

To the excitement of-I'd like to say-a good 95% of us attending, we saw the vision and that included this new Document Library UI. Of course we are asked to provide feedback, either there or after the event.

But to my surprise last week, when this was announced, the same people I saw in the room cheering this on, seemed surprised and actively provided opinions on how they'd want the UI to be different.

Some of the concerns seemed to be about the removal of the Ribbon and the dependence on it by vendors and their products. And that is definitely a legitimate concern.

But, and I don't want to speak for these vendors of course, I feel confident that some of them knew about this change for a while now, as well. Likely, the larger vendors with relationships with Microsoft.

Then what about the smaller ISVs that do not have MVPs on staff, or a relationship with Microsoft's Product Team? As always, it's difficult. Their opportunity will lie in their agility to turn around quicker, but it won't come without its set of challenges.

The impact for now is only for First Release tenants and on an opt-in basis for users; thus there is still some leeway there to change and adapt as a software developer. And if, at the end, this leads to more people using SharePoint on Office 365, we all win.

Between you and I, this new UI may even improve adoption for some of these add-ins created in the past and lost in the ribbon.

Communicating change is always crucial for adoption
The initial reaction seemed to be more due to the surprise of the update landing on First Release rather than the update itself.

I agree: Communication is key during a change in any situation, and for everyone, this came as a surprise. Either waiting for the May 4 online event, or writing a blog on the change a few weeks ago, may have helped the acceptance of the new document library UI a whole lot.

There are still questions unanswered, especially for those that have customized SharePoint. How long will the classic view be available after this goes beyond First Release? And what should developers of Add-Ins do? Is there an easy upgrade for them? If the libraries are being used in intranets with custom branding, what happens then? Bulk Edit and Export to Excel? These are questions I will try to find out and add to my detailed blog post. But I think it's important that, in the future, we let SharePoint be SharePoint and keep our customizations on the side. Not unlike Dropbox, Trello, Slack or Salesforce for example.

Fun thing though: After digesting the news, many were excited with the update, and our very own customers here in Montreal are thrilled with it.

For now, my advice would be to step away from the SharePoint-only world, and take a look at what's going on in the cloud with other products. Look at what your users need and what they're doing today to solve their problems. And, as far as the new document library, know that this is not a new Team Site UI you are seeing. The vision for the Future of SharePoint is set to be revealed on May 4 during an online event, and I strongly recommend you tune in. If you can't, follow me on Twitter @bniaulin, as I'll be there in person sharing what we see.

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