office 365 sharepoint changes MVP Stacy Deere-StroleRecent discussions among Microsoft MVP’s resulted in a blog published last week by MVP Stacy Deere-Strole, “Keeping Up with Microsoft: Realistic or Not?”. In this article, Stacy states that “every Tuesday, there is a new change to Office 365” and that makes it “harder and harder” to keep up.

Stacy talks about the frustration of going to a client meeting with an online presentation that worked “a day or two ago” and finding it not working due to changes to Office 365. She says “keeping up with the rate of change …. is just not possible.”

Stacy makes an interesting and important point. Compared to Office 365 (which includes SharePoint Online), SharePoint on-premises proceeds in graduated steps. A new release comes out about every three years – SharePoint 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, soon 2019. In between, there are service packs and hot fixes. These upgrades and fixes are installed by IT at IT’s discretion. There is no concept of “Evergreen” (endless, rolling releases) like in Office 365.

While this has the downside of on-premises SharePoint not having the latest and greatest features of SharePoint Online, it allows for gradual and controlled changes to the SharePoint environment. A migration from one version of SharePoint to the next – say, 2013 to 2016 – is a big move that requires careful planning.

Office 365 – Many Features, Constant Change

By contrast, Office 365 is a behemoth, with many features and capabilities that are continually updated. From a distant perspective, it is actually quite impressive – so much technology and cool-sounding features rolled into one package! But as you get closer and closer, and really examine what is in there, it becomes overwhelming.

Here are features of Office 365 that we would bet few people are using: Bookings, Business Center, Delve, OneNote, Planner, StaffHub, Sway, Yammer. And what about Hubsites, Community Sites, Teams, “Microsoft 365 F1”, Bots, AI, Bing for Business, Azure, PowerApps, Flow?

While it is remarkable that Office 365 has so many capabilities, people have businesses to run and it is hard from them to know what is worth trying out, let alone keep up with the output from Microsoft. As Stacy says in her blog, “clearly, there are some limits on the volume [and frequency] of change that people can handle.”

At Crow Canyon, we frequently hear that organizations moved to Office 365 for the Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), email with Outlook, and SharePoint. There is little-to-no mention of Delve and the other more esoteric features of Office 365.

Using SharePoint More Effectively

Focusing specifically on SharePoint, we find that people think of it primarily for intranet and document management; they often don’t realize how much more can be done with SharePoint. Part of our work here at Crow Canyon is showing that SharePoint, whether on-premises or Online, can be used to automate business processes. That is why we have our set of business applications (help desk, customer support, asset management, work orders, purchasing, onboarding, and more) as well as our NITRO Studio™ application creation platform, with forms, workflows, portals, reporting, and more.

By going deep into an area of Office 365 that people are familiar with – SharePoint, we are able to give companies the ability to increase efficiency and improve operations without engaging lesser known and unfamiliar aspects of the Office 365 suite. This increases user adoption of SharePoint (and therefore, Office 365) while decreasing the exposure to the kind of rapid changes Stacy writes about — changes that are usually at the outer edges of Office 365 in areas where Microsoft is introducing new features.

Issues with Office 365’s Rate of Change

But back to “Stacy’s Complaint” – in her blog, she is not criticizing the amount of features in Office 365 per se, but instead decrying the rate of change. In her view, the weekly updates have become “impossible” to keep up with even “for individuals who are in consulting and have a 50-to-60+ work week”. And she points out that some of the Office 365 changes compound on each other – a change could cause a bug or issue that requires another change, and on and on.

Stacy Suggests Solutions

Stacy suggests some solutions for Microsoft:

  • Give consultants more insight into the Office 365 roadmap so they can better understand what’s new and what is coming down the pike.
  • Have a moratorium on changes for the months of November and December. These months are busy with holidays and end-of-the-year business activities anyway. A moratorium would give consultants and Office 365 users time to catch their breath and get caught up.

The Reality

Technology is changing rapidly not only in Office 365, but throughout our lives. There is a well-documented acceleration due to the exponential increase in computing power coupled with the decrease in size needed to store gigabytes of data. Throw the cloud and mobile into the mix, and we end up with a rate of change few of us can keep up with — driverless cars, artificial intelligence, facial recognition, robots, to name just a few.

Stacy’s blog is an important marker in the debate as to how much is too much too soon. It will be interesting to see what reaction, if any, comes from Microsoft and the Office 365 community.