Kicking off our SharePoint influencer blog series is an enlightening discussion with Becky Isserman, a senior software engineer at BlueMetal Architects and 2014 Top 25 SharePoint Influencer. Our conversation with Becky delves deeply into how services and platforms like SharePoint and Office 365 are playing out in real world scenarios. Becky, who is often at the front lines deploying these platforms for clients of all sizes, is poised to offer actionable insight on how Microsoft can improve Office 365, as well as providing an inside view for Microsoft architects thinking about cloud vs. on-premise deployments. Read on to learn more!

Q: What are the challenges of cloud vs. on-premise deployments, enterprise collaboration and documents management service solutions?

Becky: One of the challenges we just faced sums up a major issue for cloud deployments: a client of mine had never implemented any cloud systems before. Since they had no cloud experience, they had not yet vetted Office 365, and this holds true for many industries with security concerns like government, finance, insurance and pharmaceuticals.

Related to this lack of experience, a lot of organizations are also skeptical of their data being stored off-site in the cloud, and have a tendency towards hoarding data on-premise. Because clients in government, finance, etc. house a lot of sensitive information, which means compliance concerns are a big consideration, they are wary of the dangers of letting the data exist outside of their walls. With the cloud remaining new and untested, these places are refusing to move off-premise and will remain on-prem until they are literally told they can’t anymore (by their solution providers or regulations).

Another challenge for companies considering the cloud is that they have already put a lot of work, effort and money into getting their SharePoint 2007/10 versions up and running, and are unwilling to upgrade to 2013, let alone Office 365, since it will cost them more money in addition to their sunk costs.

Finally, the  lack of documentation for Office 365 in general makes it difficult to answer all the questions certain clients have, especially with regards to compliance. Office 365 is a relatively new platform, and doesn’t have documentation comparable with the deep SharePoint documentation available after over a decade in business.

Q: What is the most extreme case of you have seen so far where a company refuses to consider moving to Office 365 and why?

Becky: In one case, the unproven security aspects of Office 365 caused an insurance-related client to conclude that staying on-premise would make things much easier and faster – by a large margin. The security needs for SharePoint had already been met, whereas with Office 365 would have taken at least an extra 3-4 months, if not a year, to create. My team needed to create a proof of concept within just a few months total, and so there was no way this client would move to Office 365 when the security testing needs alone would take months.

Q: What company do you know of that made the most progress moving to Office 365?

Becky: For a 30-40 person publishing client of mine, Office 365 helped them a lot because they didn’t have a large internal IT department or compliance issues to deal with, meaning they benefitted from the flexibility and cost of making the move. We were able to build their Office 365 solution out with many of the normal amenities and hand it over with no problem. These sorts of benefits extend to other smaller companies, as well as commercial companies that don’t have to deal with complex compliance requirements like this publishing firm or a sports team for instance. For companies and industries where strict compliance isn’t an issue, cloud solutions like Office 365 have a lot to offer from a cost, flexibility and time-to-value standpoint.

Q: In your opinion what can Microsoft do better to facilitate a faster migration to the cloud for today’s enterprises?

Becky: First and foremost, Microsoft needs more proof points around compliance with Office 365. They need to convince a company to bite off the first big chunk – a big client in each of the major industries that can deal with compliance concerns to get a large deployment of Office 365 off the ground. Microsoft can give them a free license as an incentive, and then they need to work with these companies, as that will help them understand compliance issues and make it easier for Microsoft to assist other companies in those fields down the road.

Microsoft can also make it clearer how Yammer fits into the picture and how they want it incorporated with their products. They could take the same route suggested above by giving a big company a license for free, and doing a white paper around the deployment to make clear how Yammer fits in. This would also foster the creation of documentation around the platform.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, Microsoft needs to change their culture with regards to documentation. They need to have someone go on MSDN and TechNet to do an overhaul of the existing documentation structure. With so many years of documentation built up, it’s hard to find what you’re looking for, which drives people to third party blogs that may or may not be accurate. This cultural change won’t come just from Microsoft – as developers, we’ll have to help them by pointing out why certain things are or are not working to help point them in the right direction. The creation of a Yammer network may also help get Microsoft and its community of developers more involved in the process of keeping documentation up-to-date and organized. 

Q: What is your vision of the future of enterprise productivity over the next few years with cloud, mobile and social trends gaining traction? Furthermore, how do you see enterprise collaboration transforming in the coming years?

Becky: I think people are going to save a lot of money and productivity as technology advances. They’ll have between 90 and 95 percent up-time on their servers, and people are going to develop more solutions in the app store. Once Microsoft offers better documentation, we’ll see more provider hosted apps.

In the future, I think Microsoft and other cloud providers will have a clearer idea around the app model – right now it’s deployed in a confusing way, but that won’t last long. I also expect and hope that Microsoft will see 60 to 75 percent higher adoption rates for Office 365 than they have right now.

As far as the transformation of enterprise collaboration goes, thinking about Microsoft’s Office Graph announcements, I am wondering about something along the lines of “Emotional IQ” coming into play to enable smart enterprise collaboration – contextually aware collaboration. I think Microsoft will be able to make suggestions based on your habits, purchases, searches, viewed documents, etc – eventually Office 365 will start understanding you and will surface the right documents for you to work on. With storage getting cheaper, things like video could even break into enterprise collaboration and context to inform Office 365. 

Rebecca Isserman
Top 25 SharePoint Influencer