Artificial intelligence and mixed reality are among a sweeping set of new capabilities in the pipeline for SharePoint, Microsoft’s flagship collaboration and content management platform.
Microsoft gave a major update to its SharePoint road map at last month’s SharePoint Conference, held in Las Vegas. Creating the most buzz was the introduction of SharePoint spaces, which will let workers create 3-D-style, visually realistic content that they can view from any device. It’s available to partners and customers as an invitation-only preview.
SharePoint spaces aim to make adding immersive capabilities to files and content as easy as building a PowerPoint presentation or SharePoint site, said Jeff Teper, Microsoft’s corporate VP for SharePoint, OneDrive and Office. Spaces are integrated throughout SharePoint, meaning users can work with content in SharePoint sites from a browser, and allow users to interact with 3-D objects.
“We want to enable anyone in minutes to create these amazing new ways to represent and manipulate information,” Teper told attendees. “One of the complexities about a navigational space, where you’re going through multiple spaces, is having them appear dynamic and personalized. Of course, you could code that all yourselves, but why bother when the underlying AI of the Microsoft Graph will help you? Just like SharePoint, this is going to be an application and a platform.”
Microsoft showcased three business scenarios where SharePoint spaces could add value: recruiting and on-boarding new employees, giving them 3-D maps, visual and interactive renderings of a company’s facilities and products; training with dynamic and personalized content; and for product design and development using 3-D renderings.
Partners welcomed the innovation but said there are still limited use cases for mixed reality.
“It’s always cool to keep SharePoint on the leading edge, but there are limited applications for now,” said David Rosenthal, VP and general manager for digital business solutions at Razor Technology, a Conshohocken, Pennsylania-based services provider. “With Power BI, yes. With architecture and engineering, possibly, but these would utilize native applications designed for those industries. I can see one day where metadata, search, video, visuals, sound and more [are] targeting SharePoint, so we have to start somewhere.”
Modernizing SharePoint environments remains complex, Rosenthal says.
“Most companies still have to work extremely hard to leverage the power of SharePoint due to investment of time and resources required. Hopefully with more integrated web parts, targeted content based on audiences, more innovation around PowerApps, Flow, etc., and innovative third-party solutions, we can achieve the productivity and innovation that Facebook has done for consumers.”
Erica Toelle, a product evangelist at ISV partner RecordPoint, agrees.
“I think the interest is more curiosity, because it is very much still a preview,” said Toelle, who saw the demo at the SharePoint Conference. “But I think anything to do with jobs where people need to work with their hands, like in manufacturing, being able to create a prototype design in a fake virtual environment rather than on the floor, is going to save a lot of money.”
Among other developments announced at the SharePoint Conference:
- Intranet: Users will be able to surface key SharePoint features using the Microsoft Teams client, including the ability to associate a Teams channel with a SharePoint library.
- OneDrive for Business: Among the new features coming to the universal storage for SharePoint and Office 365 are support for uploading photos and to camera rolls, a new mobile scan function and the ability to provide password-protected links. These and other features will come to OneDrive for Business over the coming months, as outlined in the Office 365 road map.
- SharePoint Lists: Improvements now available include row formatting, image analysis and Microsoft Flow for Cognitive analysis to enable sentiment, key phrases and translation. Later this year improvements coming include list editing, the ability to analyze lists with Power BI and Microsoft Flow support for Visio, among others.
- Video Support: Over the next quarter, SharePoint web parts will be more responsive to and adaptable to different page layouts, making it easier to render video.