SPTechCon 2014: SharePoint Experts Discuss Why on Earth We Need to Care About Development and the App Model

What a way to kick off day two of SPTechCon Boston! In an effort to mix it up a bit, my first session of the day wasn’t a speaker presentation but rather a panel of some of the most revered SharePoint experts around. Moderated by Jason Himmelstein, Senior Technical Director for SharePoint at Atrion, the panel focused on SharePoint development and the app model, all while asking: I’m a Developer: Why Should I Have to Learn a New Skill Set? The cast of speakers that carried on the conversation runs the gamut when it comes to background and specialties:

  • Marc Anderson – Co-founder and President of Sympraxis Consulting and Microsoft MVP for SharePoint Server
  • Liam Cleary – Solution Architect for SusQtech and four-time SharePoint MVP focused on architecture
  • Andrew Connell – Independent Consultant and Microsoft MVP for Microsoft Content Management Server (MCMS) and Microsoft SharePoint Server
  • Jeremy Thake – Technical Product Manager at Microsoft
  • Christina Wheeler – Independent Consultant and SharePoint Trainer for Critical Path Training
  • Rob Windsor – .NET /SharePoint developer, trainer, author, MVP & MCT working with Portal Solutions and Pluralsight

To begin, the panel discussed one of the biggest questions on SharePoint developers’ minds: How does the app model affect development and how should we build and deploy apps? As seemed to be the theme throughout the discussion, the answer really boils down to what your personal SharePoint environment looks like. As Marc discussed, what exactly does your environment need, and how does development play a role in getting there?

He seemed to think that when it comes to apps and SharePoint in the cloud, people are asking the wrong question. Rather than focusing on, “Should we go to the cloud?” Marc believes that it boils down to being a business decision; some organizations’ SharePoint environments are better managed in the cloud, while others aren’t.

After delving more into the relationship between apps and the cloud, the conversation veered towards the broader topic of SharePoint Online and Office 365 versus on-premises SharePoint. Specifically, the crowd was interested in putting to rest a rumor that’s been going around the SharePoint community: Is there going to be an on-premises version of SharePoint in the next release? Or is Office 365 inevitable?

Rest assured on-prem users, SharePoint Server isn’t going anywhere, at least not in the near future. According to Jeremy, there will be at a minimum one more SharePoint on-premises release with more to come in the future based on the demand for SharePoint Servers. While this is the case, Andrew seemed to believe that the one future release isn’t going to be the only future release. He sees Microsoft wanting people to go to Office 365 and cited a number of benefits to migrating including better support and maintenance, lower overall operating costs, and lower risk.

As SharePoint Online continues to evolve, the panel believed that it is increasingly becoming a viable option for organizations. One of the main reasons it is becoming increasingly attractive is the improved user experience that it offers. With Microsoft offering premier support for SharePoint Online and Office 365, these platforms are able to offer a much higher level of consistency to users as well as a better-maintained platform. As Jeremy noted, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Specifically, why burden your IT with maintaining SharePoint when Office 365 offers built-in support from Microsoft?

So if Office 365 is so great, why isn’t everyone on it? One of the biggest hindrances to migrating to Office 365 is that for highly regulated organizations, moving to the cloud isn’t a legally viable solution. That stated as the panel noted, it’s not necessarily Office 365’s “fault” that organizations can’t migrate, but rather a serious hiccup in how the government regulates businesses such as those in the pharma, biotech, and financial services industry.

It’s not just Office 365 that isn’t being implemented, but also a host of other cloud-based platforms such as SalesForce, Amazon, Google business, and more. While people such as Andrew are optimistic that in the future, regulators will have a better grasp on cloud technology, unfortunately, he thinks that there’s going to be a long time before regulators change their opinions of technology and loosen restrictions on moving to the cloud.

To close out the panel, Jason posed a simple question to all of the panel members: With so much change in the air, what are you most excited about when it comes to the app model and development? Overwhelmingly, everyone said that they were most excited to simply learn new things and expand their skill sets.

For Liam, this included the ability to explore solutions that can be run on different platforms so that solutions are highly customized and not just “one size fits all.” Andrew appreciates the flexibility that the app model offers developers. Lastly, for Christina, the most exciting part about moving to Office 365 and the app model is the improved search capabilities. She continues to be amazed at how much she is now able to accomplish without a lot of heavy lifting or development.

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