I have been doing a lot more hands-on customer work recently and it got me to thinking about all of the conversations I have been having. As luck would have it, both customers are SharePoint 2010 currently, with plenty of 2007 mode webs still running around. Sigh. Both are also very heavily customized but in different ways. One used lots of third-party web parts and one used a lot of (too much) elbow grease. Both used SharePoint Designer a ton. Neither is very happy with what they have today.
To be clear, I don’t judge either of them. They got to where they are today by responding to user demand and trying to make the best of the tools they had in front of them. It’s not uncommon for things that were a good idea at the time, like bell bottoms and butterfly collars, do not age well. In this case, it’s actually a good thing. In the past, we SharePoint administrators were forced to employ some ugly methods to get where our users wanted SharePoint to be. These methods feel old and outdated now because there are better, less unpleasant alternatives available to us.
After reflecting on what they did and how they got there, I thought it would be fun to write a total opinion piece. Here are Shane’s thoughts on what features and functionality are good and which are not so much. There are exceptions to every rule but if you asked me about all of the following, with no context, here are my default answers.
I am certain this will annoy/upset plenty of people with this list. These are my thoughts except for the parts I got an assist from Todd Klindt. He and I debated and discussed a lot of these topics for fun, so I let him read the draft. He definitely contributed some of the support, which is good. That means if there are parts you don’t like, he wrote them. If there are parts you love, I wrote them. Very easy to follow. And, If you think we are insane, let’s talk about it in the comments below. Let’s just keep it polite.
This is a tough one for me, the original (gangster) of the on-premises SharePoint farm, but sometimes you just have to embrace change. If you are starting fresh with SharePoint today, or trying to upgrade something old and crusty, my default answer is Online. Why? That is where the future is. This is where the largest investments from Microsoft are, this is where the best functionality is, and let’s face it, they are better at running servers than we are. All of the cool kids are hanging out in Office 365 these days. You want to be a cool kid, don’t you?
But stop with the defensive “they are going to take your job” line. Yes, SharePoint Online means there are going to be less on-premises admin jobs but this is probably good. It allows us admins to move up the stack some and contribute to the actual goal of whatever your company does. You’ll spend less time keeping the lights on, metaphorically, and more time adding value with some of the products below. On-premises SharePoint jobs are slowly (or not so slowly) going the way of the buggy-whip salesman or street sweeper. The future you will appreciate the current you moving to acceptance of that and learning new skills and embracing new cloud technologies. You don’t want to disappoint the future you, do you? I didn’t think so.
And there was much rejoicing. 2018 is the year of PowerApps because once you spend about an hour with it, you will realize they are just so much more promising than InfoPath ever was. Need to pull data from multiple sources and SharePoint site collections? No code behind required. Want to use your form on a mobile phone or device? Built out of the box for that. Want to build an experience instead of a piece of paper? PowerApps controls? Where is Microsoft making large investments? Not on the product with 2013 in its name.
I also appreciate you have heard that InfoPath was being replaced more than once. Good news, this isn’t another one of those false starts. PowerApps is the now, and it is the future. It all comes back to my mantra of follow the money, Microsoft is heavily invested here unlike the other attempts that were a group of five interns hoping to get traction. You will be better for investing in PowerApps early and often. Plus you can never go wrong with a Microsoft product with “Power” in its name. PowerPoint? Still going strong after all of these years. PowerShell? Pure awesomeness. Power BI? Well, the jury’s still out on that one, but it has promise. Microsoft seems to reserve the “Power” adjective for only the coolest products.
We are speaking of products with 2013 in the name. Let’s be clear. SharePoint Designer was never a good idea. Yes, it had its place, heck it can still make some changes to SharePoint Online, but this darn tool has caused more SharePoint pain than all of the other bad choices combined. The only thing it has going for it is that it is free. (As long as you don’t value your time or your hair that you will pull out undoing its damage later.)
Honestly, I didn’t realize anyone ever used these, either version, but I guess they did. Eek! If you were one of those people, see the PowerApps section above. Doesn’t seem like a one to one replacement at first but about 5 minutes into, you will see the light. And if PowerApps alone doesn’t do it, bring along her friends Power BI and Flow. Your users will thank you.
It seems like everyone is still rocking hybrid farms, so you can too. It’s a good way to get familiar with all the goodness that’s in the cloud, without losing the comfort of your familiar on-premises farm. Getting your AD users syncing to Azure AD is step 1, step 2 is OneDrive for Business, and step 3 is profit. Or something like that. Either way, keep building those hybrid solutions to ease the transition to the cloud. Make sure you are looking at tools like the on-premises data gateway that allows you to expose your on-premises SharePoint, SQL, and other solutions to the Office 365 tools you are learning to love (PowerApps, Power BI, and Flow).
Also, Microsoft continues to pour out new hybrid capabilities. If you haven’t checked them out recently, do yourself a favor and go looking again. It seems like every week the story evolves and gets better.
It is no secret that I have a love affair with PowerShell. That is because it is the tool for everyone. You can use it to: Build and manage your SharePoint farm, create and migrate content everywhere, and use it to gain access to parts of SharePoint previously only left for devs. If you haven’t learned PowerShell yet, I would ask, “Do you want to have a job working with Microsoft tech in 5 years?” If you say yes, then PowerShell is a required skill. Get to it.
Still freaked out that everything, including your admin job, is headed to the cloud? Embrace it by learning more about automation with PowerShell. Learning to automate everything the business does to within an inch of its life is a much-needed career skill. How exactly do you think Microsoft keeps all of those data centers humming along? It ain’t with the mouse.
Oh, how I beg customers for this. Let’s quit writing compiled code. It just isn’t the way to go. If you still need code, you need to be using client-side object model (CSOM) to interact politely with the server. But before you do that I always challenge, can you build what you want without code? When you start rolling in the new tools like PowerApps and the cool new web parts Microsoft keeps rolling out, do you really need that fancy code? And how long is that fancy code going to work as SharePoint continues to evolve so rapidly? If there are scenarios where code is the answer, just make sure you think about the next guy as you make that wiz bang solution. And seriously, can you build it with one of the other non-compiled code solutions?
To be fair, site collections have always been the correct choice. Over the years, we never did a very good job of selling people on that. So I will try again. My goal, if I have a say in your information architecture, is site collections for everything with two rules. Every site collection must have a quota. This is not debatable or questionable. The second rule you can debate for 30 seconds. Thou shalt not break permissions inheritance. If you want to break inheritance, you do that in SharePoint Admin center by clicking the New site collection button. It is that simple. Why? Users don’t understand unique permissions AND admins don’t understand unique permissions. They are a crutch that let people build terrible, unmaintainable solutions. You also get the benefit of better storage management and “empowering” the users to manage their site collection. We all know empower is code for pawning your work off on an overzealous business users so you can spend more time watching sneezing panda videos or whatever the kids are into these days.
That is my brain dump of conversations I am having right now with customers. What would you add to it? How angry does my list make you? I am open to being proven wrong below in the comments.