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Following the SharePoint Online collaboration evolution

Microsoft continues to aggressively develop SharePoint Online as it attempts to create an essential collaboration tool for the enterprise.

SharePoint Online is quickly evolving to offer functionality that's on par to its on-premises counterpart. I've always been a bit surprised that SharePoint Online wasn't a nearly identical option to SharePoint on-premises from the outset.

To an outsider, it would appear that SharePoint would have been the perfect one-to-one on-premises and cloud server option, considering it's a Web-based option. However, it's more complex than a move in data center location that's local to Microsoft. And in terms of development, much of the effort has gone into the option that will drive the migration to Office 365 and the revenue from such a move, which is Exchange Online.

But that doesn't mean Microsoft isn't developing SharePoint Online collaboration to provide similar online experiences to on-premises versions. One solid investment being made works well in the Exchange world -- a hybrid configuration. This is where you have your on-premises SharePoint Server environment partnered with a SharePoint Online counterpart. The end result is a synchronization of Active Directory from on-premises to online, single sign-on to access both platforms and federated search for end users spanning both platforms. But this is really just a starting point.

Hybrid is one area where SharePoint Server 2016 is going to offer a "robust hybrid enablement" that will bring more Office 365 experiences to on-premises customers, according to Julia White, general manager for the Office Product Management team.

It's also been intriguing to see the effort being made to bolster Office 365 features through new pieces that rely on SharePoint under the hood to work. White pointed to three examples.

  • Delve: By pulling data from the new Office Graph feature, which monitors your usage and interests, Delve provides a Pinterest kind of graphical card view of information it feels is personally relevant for you. Rather than having to search for something, Delve tries to automatically and intuitively put it in front of you. Some may not like that overly nosy artificial intelligence approach of being presented with data, but others will see it as a huge time saver.
  • Office 365 Video: Having had a chance to work with this feature and report on its current functionality, I was quite impressed with the integration of a video sharing option into Office 365. Termed "NextGen Portals," Office 365 Video is the first in a line of new collaboration tools built on top of SharePoint Online.
  • OneDrive for Business: Folks may be reluctant to give up their Dropbox, Drive or other comparable option. But with OneDrive for Business offering a 1 TB (soon to be bottomless) file repository you can use to share documentation in and outside of your organization, many see OneDrive as a no-brainer. It leads and will continue to lead to a reduced need for file servers and excessive hard disk space because all of that data will be in OneDrive for Business. IOS and Mac can also access and manage OneDrive for Business, as can Android and Windows Phone.

In addition to these large evolutionary steps within Office 365, there are also new collaboration features being worked on that will alter the way we work together using SharePoint and Exchange. We've seen this progression of on-premises with new features such as site mailboxes being added to our list of collaboration mailboxes (beyond Public Folders and Shared Mailboxes) when combining Exchange 2013 and SharePoint 2013. However, there is a new concept called a Team Site. A team can work together using all that Office 365 has to offer aggregated together to give the appearance that your "team" is working in a collaborative bubble, so to speak.

With the increased work to improve Microsoft Power BI, an introduction for greater collaboration through Yammer, management tool improvements, SharePoint Online and OneDrive data loss protection and a bevy of additional enhancements and new features, the platform is becoming more well-rounded and reliable.

Plus, SharePoint Online is starting to outgrow its on-premises older sibling in that there are features available in the cloud that won't be possible or won't be released on-premises. Starting with SharePoint Server 2016, we should see that divide widen due to the freedom Microsoft has with its cloud-based platform to grow the option out at will. Microsoft is making good use of it and evolving SharePoint Online collaboration into the ultimate platform.

About the author:
J. Peter Bruzzese is a Microsoft Office 365 MVP, as a five-time awardee with previous technical expertise in Exchange, a Triple-MCSE, an MCT and an MCITP: Enterprise Messaging. He is the co-founder of an end-user training solution called ClipTraining.com and is a strategic technical consultant for Mimecast. He is an internationally published author with more than a dozen titles to his name. He is a technical speaker for a number of conferences, including Techmentor, IT/Dev Connections and Microsoft TechEd. He writes for online and in-print tech and has written InfoWorld's Enterprise Windows column for more than five years. More recently, he focused his attention on new users in the Exchange/Office 365 community and wrote a short book titled Conversational Exchange (in 10 days!) to help them learn Exchange's conceptual side. In his spare time -- well, let's face it, folks, with all that, JPB has no spare time.

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This was last published in April 2015

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