My (long overdue) SharePoint Conference 2014 wrap-up

So almost 4 months ago now I was lucky enough to attend SPC14 in Las Vegas. I was always intending to write a wrap up of my experiences but having committed to doing an internal presentation along the same lines, didn’t want to spoil the material before it ‘went to air’ so to speak. Long story short, that presentation didn’t happen until this month, hence this extremely delayed blog post. In the interest of preserving this experience (and probably only for my own benefit) I figured I’d still throw it up here, so here goes.

Given I delivered it in presentation form, i’ll write this post as I have some of my other presentations. The headings will match the slides, so click along for context.

 

Introduction

Over 40 hours on planes and in airports for a week in Vegas. Sounded like a fair trade at the time – turned out to be a bargain. Was totally worthwhile, would rate it right up there as a professional highlight (and right up there with some of the personal trips I’ve been on!) and would do it again in a heartbeat. Will hopefully get the chance to do it all again the next time around!

There was of course, Vegas being Vegas, a need for a disclaimer. Some of the stories would have been more suited to a chat over a beer at the pub rather than the office setting, so at the risk of being severely cliched.. Sometimes what happens in Vegas..

Networking

Looks like a bad case of name-dropping I must admit, but at the end of the day one of the most valuable aspects of these conferences is the networking. I was lucky enough to have been given the wise advice before I left – I asked my mentor what I should be focusing on for the week and without delay was told to speak to and meet as many people as I could. If you were to ask me now what the best part about the conference was it’d be exactly that – the people I met and the conversations I had with them.

The conversations at the time might not even be work or conference related – we met people on the first night over sushi, sake and mechanical bull riding that got 2 guys from Perth who knew almost no-one into private parties with CEOs and senior staff within Microsoft teams. We had discussions with people who I’ve since lent on for advice regarding problems I’ve faced on client sites. Connections with event organisers to discuss presenting opportunities for colleagues. Money-can’t-buy advice and insight from some of the best in the business. You get the idea. Worth the price of admission alone.

SharePoint TV and Hands-on labs

I thought it worthwhile to highlight some of the lesser known aspects of conferences for the uninitiated. SharePoint TV – the panel style interviews now available over on Channel9 – were a pretty cool concept I’d not seen before and the ones I decided to check out didn’t disappoint. Hands-on labs are another generally undervalued offering available. Unfortunately I didn’t find the time to do any at SPC, however I have done them before and rated them highly. There’s just too much to do at SPC it’s impossible to fit everything in!

The future of forms

I think something worth remembering with these types of events is that the sessions that get chosen and particularly heavily marketed are there for a reason – it’s always worthwhile taking notice of the messages being repeated in sessions to see where Microsoft is leading us. One of the major focuses of the event was along the lines of the future of forms. InfoPath has been the defacto standard for a while now however when the 2013 version of Office really offered no upgrades to the product the writing was kind of on the wall. The death of InfoPath was announced shortly before the conference so there was big hype around what the next direction would be.

To be honest this topic has been covered comprehensively in so many different places it’d be pointless for me to do the same – so if you’re interested in reading up I’d suggest checking out these posts here, here and here. However perhaps the most important messages to come out of this were the ones around continual improvement and the desire to listen to the community and take on board the feedback provided. This is actually a message which is being heavily pushed by Microsoft recently and in my opinion it’s a great thing.

The future of social

Another one of the golden topics throughout the week was the future of social – it’s probably been a big focus for a while now not just for the conference. There were a tonne of highly rated social sessions available. I didn’t delve too deeply into discussing this topic as a colleague of mine had presented on it a couple of months earlier. Long story short, it’s now blatantly obvious that Yammer is the way to go for social in SharePoint. The really cool innovations coming – some of which have already started making their way into Office 365 – are around embedding the social functionality throughout SharePoint and Office 365 which is something I highly recommend keeping abreast of, it really is becoming more and more powerful in terms of the immediate and contextual value it can deliver.

I guess just as important as the news delivered around social was the consistent messages being portrayed in the sessions. Microsoft obviously see the barriers to organisations harnessing these social technologies as organisational culture, adoption issues and a failure to extract or recognise the value they are delivering so almost any session highlighting what social could offer touched on these points as well – they’ve obviously invested a lot into acquiring Yammer and definitely believe in the value it can bring to organisations and thus making Office 365 an even more attractive offering.

Public facing sites / responsive design

Of course having a great interest in public facing sites I couldn’t help but keep an eye on what was being said during the conference about the topic. Funnily enough it actually wasn’t a great deal – I guess because it’s primarily the domain of on-premises installations. What was said focused a lot on mobility and responsive design, and trying to advertise the cloud for hosting public facing sites. The main messages I took here was that even with the device channel offering provided in SharePoint 2013, they really seem to be pushing the responsive design angle. Also, when it comes to public facing sites particularly if you are wanting to leverage the cloud, then hybrid is the way to go. Be that a hybrid solution between responsive design and adaptive design or hybrid around SharePoint Online and Azure websites.

The architecture and developer streams

Now this slide might seem a bit unbalanced but there’s good reason. The way I approached the conference and even how I approached the sessions I reviewed once I got back was to focus on an area I wanted to improve in and mix in topics that I thought I’d find really interesting or entertaining. At the end of the day I chose the architecture or IT pro stream given I’ve been more known as a developer for the majority of my SharePoint career. I think that’s an important lesson I took out of my experience across the week – at the end of the day there is going to be so much you want to see and learn and its simply impossible to do it all in that short amount of time. I feel I got more out of focusing my energies rather than spreading them across a range of topics but at the end of the day everyone will take a different approach when it comes to session selection.

On-prem v o365, the push to the cloud and the App Model

Another one of the beauties of conferences like SPC is that if you meet the right people at the right times (and that generally means after a few beers) you can often get some really interesting conversations happening! Obviously none of these conversations were going to see the light of day published on my blog, but what I will say is that my opinion on some of the more controversial topics I’ve expressed views on in the past (Why wouldn’t you use the App model for On-Premises SharePoint solutions?) have changed a little. Long story short – it’s happening, so either ride the wave or try and swim against it, choice is yours.

There was of course just as much within the carefully crafted message at the conference as there was in the hallway conversations. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Microsoft see the resistance of moving to the cloud as an IT battle and one they’re trying to win by shifting the perception of what IT should be. They’ve also almost given up on the desire to get everyone to the cloud ASAP and are being more realistic and pushing the virtues of staggered migrations and hybrid scenarios to get organisations used to the idea of using cloud technologies.

So many other great sessions

It goes without saying that there was a tonne of other quality content available throughout the week and there’s no way known I could have watched it all and spoken about it all in this presentation. Going through the sessions I noticed that Search was still positioned as a big ticket topic and there were numerous top rated sessions on that. Another concept that stood out was the user stories and case studies – a lot of these were really highly regarded too and it’s actually something I wish I dropped into a couple of sessions for and is still on my never ending catch up list.

Post Conference Training: Hybrid Scenarios with Office 365 and SharePoint 2013 Workshop

One thing worth mentioning about the conference are the pre and post conference training sessions that are made available to sign up for, most at an extra cost but a couple that were free. I signed myself up for the full day on Sunday and the half day that was available for the Thursday after all the sessions had finished. Overall I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag but that was largely of my own doing. Trying to step off the plane, into the pubs and then into a days’ worth of training was really never going to end well and it kind of showed in the value I got out of that day. That said, the post session I did was really impressive and the resources I got out of it are bound to be worth the price of admission alone. In future I’d probably more seriously assess the value I thought I’d get out of a session before signing up, given the time could have been spent networking for just as much value in some instances.

Ask the Experts

I know I flagged the networking as probably the most valuable part about the conference but if I had to choose a close second it’d definitely be the ask the experts session. This is something they have at Tech-Eds as well and I’ve always used as a chance to eat the free food and drink the free beer then kick on partying somewhere, but I decided to actually have a few chats that night and it turned out to be one of the best things I did. I was able to bring back all of the advice I got that night and use it at the client I was at which was extremely valued and appreciated. Highly recommend.

Conclusion

To wrap things up I thought I’d finish on a fun note. It may sound like the SharePoint conference was a non-stop learn-fest filled with early nights, early mornings and cramming as much information into ones head as possible but there’s definitely another side to it though and it’s a massive challenge trying to do it all on a few hours’ sleep a night. The parties were awesome though. I know of some people who avoid them but to be honest unless you already know a lot of people it’s the best way to meet the people you’ll have some of the best and unique conversations with. There’s something on every night, everything is free, the food and the drinks, and it’s hard not to kick on with new friends after each one and enjoy everything Vegas has to offer. I’ll finish up on that note with a nod and a wink and leave the rest of those stories for another time. Thanks for reading!

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Share Conference 2012 Wrap up

Late last month I was fortunate enough to attend Share 2012 in Melbourne. I went in with mixed expectations with my initial impressions being that the presenters were a mix of well known international personalities, business leaders and vendors with the topics having a focus towards social SharePoint and business-relevant concepts around successful implementations. At the end of the 3 days I have to say my expectations were easily exceeded. The conference was professionally run and the majority of sessions I attended were well delivered on relevant topics with a scattering of world-class presentations thrown into the mix. The number of valuable takeaways from the conference was impressive.

I’ve attended a few conferences in the past, most being large scale Microsoft run Tech-Eds or low-key single day events. Surprisingly, at the end of the day I felt that I got more out of my 3 days at Share than I had at any other conference I’ve experienced. There were certainly areas for improvement with the social networking night events lacking in comparison (possibly a factor of the comparatively low price or lack of major Microsoft backing/subsidising) but overall from a quality and value standpoint the conference was top-notch.

A previous bugbear of mine when attending conferences was that the sessions I really wanted to see always seemed to clash and at other times I had no particular interest in any of the topics available to select from. Thankfully Share managed to avoid this with the major international ‘headliners’ rarely if ever clashing and a clear delineation between session tracks which meant that almost always there was a clear choice for me. Whether this was down to the fact that the conference had less sessions to schedule compared to other major conferences or whether it was all down to the planning I’m not sure, but it was certainly appreciated.

Rather than turning this post into a gushing review of the conference I want it to be more about the sessions I attended and the takeaways I got from each one. If you ever have the chance to watch a webcast or view these sessions at another event I’d highly recommend it.

Opening Keynote Presentation: Deliver SharePoint Success – Achieve Organisational Buy-In to Transform Your Enterprise

Dux Raymond Sy, Innovative-e, Inc. (USA)

I’ve always wanted to see Dux in action. My only exposure to him in the past has been over twitter with a constant stream of tweets, but the feedback and aura he seems to have made it worth it alone. I wasn’t disappointed. This session was a great start and set the tone for a great couple of days – plus a little Gangnam style never goes astray.

Key takeaways:

  • The 5 steps to achieve Organisational buy-in
  1. Gain executive engagement
  2. Educate & engage the business
  3. Assess enterprise readiness
  4. Establish SharePoint roadmap
  5. Promote sustainable adoption

Keynote Presentation: How eBay Built One Integrated Social Network to Increase Adoption on Collaboration With SharePoint!

Ramin Mobasseri, eBay Inc. (USA)

This one was a really interesting presentation to see how a major company like eBay was leveraging social and building upon SharePoint. The insights were great and inspiring, identifying how much can be achieved by integrating other networks into a SharePoint hub.

Key takeaways:

  • Develop a world-class intranet and don’t be afraid to integrate multiple tools

IM – Bridging the Gap Between the Technology and the Business

Megan Skapin, Santos Ltd

This session was a bit of a surprise packet and an excellent case study into how a major organisation implemented their information management strategy on SharePoint. Megan came across as someone who has gained so much experience from the process and had so many valuable insights into the lessons learnt throughout.

Key takeaways:

  • Executive buy-in is critical for success
  • Identify technology champions to promote the system internally
  • Start small, manage scope and continually add value in phased roll outs

Managing Demand, Responding to Change and Sustaining Adoption

Andrew Jolly, OBS

Continuing the theme of how to successfully implement a SharePoint solution, this session was another which helped ram home some of the key concepts and themes that were being delivered at this conference. It was good to get an insight from someone in a similar consulting situation as our company.

Key takeaways:

  • Changing perceptions, setting expectations and educating users is a major key to success
  • Don’t fear change, ensure that the system is able to change to meet business needs

Achieving Accessibility in SharePoint

Neil King, Vision Australia

Accessibility is a personal interest of mine and this was one of the sessions I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately, having previously read the white paper in which this presentation was largely based upon, it didn’t offer too many new insights – but the benefits were there for the crowd which hadn’t delved too deeply into accessibility, and the greater the awareness is amongst business the better.

Key takeaways:

  • Accessibility is achievable in SharePoint 2010 with appropriate customisation and governance

Other takeaways:

Aligning SharePoint to the Business – Why It’s Important

Garth Luke, AvePoint, Inc. (USA)

I loved this presentation. I was curious to see how it would pan out considering we at Ignia are AvePoint partners, plus I’ve had some exposure to Garth via twitter. Overall the content was thorough, expansive and well delivered – I really have no idea how it all fit in to one session.

Key takeaways:

  • Understand the business vision and goals – map the technology to the business
  • Ensure compliance and governance is in place
  • Build a structure, process and change management methodology to sustain growth

Leveraging the Power of Social Media, Without Using the F-Word

Josh Sewell, Velrada

While I’m already a convert to the Benefits of Harnessing Social in SharePoint for the Enterprise, I thought I’d come along to this one to support a fellow Perth-based consultant. It was good to see another consultant peddling a similar message, the more it’s heard around Perth the sooner organisations will start embracing social in a big way.

Key takeaways:

  • For social to be a success, in needs both organisational buy-in and the right organisational culture
  • Measuring the benefits of social will be a key to future social success

Discussion Session 2: How to Best Develop Requirements for SharePoint Projects

Dux Raymond Sy, Innovative-e, Inc. (USA)

This was a bit of a different type of session and based on the track I attended could be deemed to be a success. The discussion-based way of delivering the concepts worked well, and while I don’t think it was particularly better than if it was done as a presentation or workshop, it added value in terms of getting attendees talking to each other and networking.

Show Me the Money – A Practical Framework for SharePoint Metrics

Susan Hanley, Susan Hanley LLC (USA)

Somewhat sheepishly I must admit that this was my first introduction to Susan as a presenter or even as a ‘SharePoint personality’. What an eye opener – brilliant presenter, absolute gun on the topic and clearly world-class. I enjoyed this session immensely and if I was having any doubts about attending the closing keynote later in the day this session put that to rest.

Key takeaways:

  • Identify the business objectives, stakeholders, the metrics and how to collect them
  • Metrics should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound)
  • Have a baseline and a target
  • Metrics should be used to optimise and improve the process

Other takeaways:

Microsoft Purchase Yammer: What Does This Mean to My Social Strategy?

Ramin Mobasseri, eBay Inc. (USA)

I attended this session because I wanted a little bit of an insight into what Yammer was, how it was being integrated into SharePoint and the story moving forward. It only touched on these things briefly – the session was decent, however with the other social sessions across the conference and the keynote session Ramin presented the previous day, it may have been overkill for me.

Key takeaways:

  • Yammer will only grow and be more widely adopted moving forward
  • Reinforcement that part of the reason for the Yammer acquisition was to gain insight into their rapid release cycles

Deliver Project Management on Your Terms With SharePoint

Dux Raymond Sy, Innovative-e, Inc. (USA)

What can I say, Dux is a gun. Little did I know that his keynote from the day before was just a warm up for what I considered to be one of the most valuable sessions of the conference. In terms of inspiring and educating the audience about project management on SharePoint it was top-notch. If you have any desire to pursue SharePoint as a project management tool, give this session a watch as a starting point.

Key takeaways:

  • Too much project management is dealt with in emails and file systems – SharePoint can help alleviate this issue
  • You can start small or with Project Server reach Enterprise levels
  • Using familiar tools will help adoption and ultimately success

Other takeaways:

A webcast of this session has found its way onto the net, take a look

A Brave New Hybrid World – What SharePoint 2013 Really Means to You

Dan Holme, Intelliem (USA)

Just when I thought the conference had peaked, up stepped Dan. This was my other highlight session of Share 2012 and one which inspired me to come back to my client and fight the good fight. Dan came across as a world-class presenter with a consistent message which was highly relevant to me right now.

Key takeaways:

  • SharePoint 2010 is essentially based on 2006 trends – 2013 bridges that gap
  • There will forever be a push to the cloud, but on-premise is not dead yet
  • Gone is the 3-year product release cycle, the cloud will be up-to-date and on-premise will catch up in stages
  • Don’t wait for SP1 – RTM quality is very high, Microsoft is now catering for a larger client audience and therefore has to mitigate initial take-up pain
  • Migrate from 2007 to 2013 – skip 2010

Other takeaways:

  • Dan has released a blog series regarding why you should migrate from 2007 to 2013 if you’re in that position: read parts 1 and 2

Closing Keynote Presentation: SharePoint Governance – Love It or Hate It – You Can’t Live Without It!

Susan Hanley, Susan Hanley LLC (USA)

It was a great way to end the 2nd day of Share with yet another fantastic presentation in a row – 3 of the best to bring the whole thing to a close. Governance has always been an interest of mine and it’s an area I tend to throw myself into significantly in the near future, so this closing keynote was perfectly timed.

Key takeaways:

  • Governance requires planning and commitment
  • Start with something worth governing, empower a team, have the right conversations
  • Align governance around business goals and policies
  • The final output should be limited – no big documents!
  • Incorporate governance into training – governance does not replace training

Other takeaways:

Workshop 2: The Practical SharePoint Business Analyst and Information Architect

Ruven Gotz, Senior SharePoint Consultant & Microsoft MVP (Canada)

The third day of the conference was based around 2 parallel workshops which, at a guess, were attended by 15-20% of the conference crowd. The others definitely missed out – the workshop was a highlight of the conference and definitely delivered as much if not more value than the 2 days of sessions combined.

The only downside was limited time, but Ruven did a great job condensing a full days worth of content (maybe even 2!) into the 5 hours or so we had to absorb it. As a bonus he introduced the audience to a couple of tools (one which I’ve had exposure to before) and gave us a copy of his book Practical SharePoint 2010 Information Architecture which will definitely be on my reading list.

Tools:

  • Mind mapping – xmind has a free version to use
  • Wire framing – Balsamiq is a great and relatively inexpensive option (one I can personally recommend)

So overall the conference in my opinion was a complete success. Not only was it hosted in one of my favourite cities in the world, it was a highly valuable 3 days of business-relevant content with a high number of practical takeaways. If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of these conferences I’d highly recommend it, and hope that I’ll get the opportunity to attend again in the future.