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The SharePoint Framework signals Microsoft's roadmap

The SharePoint Framework is key to SharePoint's cloud-first, mobile-first strategy and could modernize Redmond's content management strategy.

During the past three years, Microsoft has made a series of tactical pivots toward a decidedly cloud-first, mobile-first...

and platform-agnostic approach. But the emergence of the SharePoint Framework is bringing about a new chapter for the SharePoint strategy and roadmap.

The SharePoint Framework (SPFx) enables developers to create applications for mobile and desktop environments without requiring a knowledge of .NET and, instead, using open source tools.

The framework is also designed to help developers extend customers' capabilities in the cloud through new app building capabilities. Developers can build apps on top of SharePoint and the Office 365 productivity suite and create digital experiences without requiring certain skills.

So what does all of that have to do with content management? A recent AIIM survey, The Impact of SharePoint -- 2016, found that nearly 30% of the 274 respondents used SharePoint as their only or main enterprise content management/document management system. So respondents are invested in SharePoint and eager to use it as more than just a content repository.

But historically, the platform hasn't been flexible enough or truly modern enough to accommodate that kind of app development. Moreover, many customers with hybrid deployments of SharePoint need app development that can accommodate their on-premises configurations.

Here are some highlights that indicate that the SharePoint Framework is an advancement in the Microsoft roadmap:

  • More flexible code development. The new SharePoint Framework-based approach is consistent with modern web user experience best practices. It uses a client-side JavaScript model that's more responsive and flexible than the traditional, primarily server-side SharePoint page and part model.

    The new SharePoint Framework model makes it much simpler for users and developers to incorporate content components into SharePoint pages, such as Power BI dashboards or interactive renderings of Excel workbooks, Word documents and PowerPoint presentations.

It's safe to assume the SharePoint Framework will evolve rapidly now that the preview is available.
  • Increased mobility. The SharePoint Framework-based approach is automatically optimized for SharePoint mobile apps.

    In terms of Microsoft's cloud-first, mobile-first company strategy, traditional SharePoint was neither; it relied on server-side developer models that weren't well aligned with public cloud deployments and were out of step with mobile app development trends. The SharePoint Framework provides a new cloud-first, mobile-first user experience foundation for SharePoint Online, the cloud-based version of SharePoint that is part of the Office 365 productivity suite and will be available in on-premises SharePoint Server 2016 deployments in 2017, according to Microsoft.

At Ignite 2015, Microsoft highlighted the SharePoint-based NextGen Portal and knowledge management (KM) features. But, to date, these intranet and knowledge management capabilities haven't been made available in Office 365. The modern page/part model touted at Ignite subsequently appeared in Delve, but otherwise, could not be found.

The delays are likely related to dependencies on SharePoint Framework, as Microsoft made a public commitment to using the platform for its SharePoint product engineering. The company also plans to make many of its related resources open source to enable the SharePoint community to build on them.

A SharePoint Framework Developer Preview Release was introduced Aug. 18, and is available on GitHub. Microsoft has emphasized that the preview is neither complete nor production ready, although the company is building on the SharePoint Framework in its mobile apps, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. It's safe to assume the SharePoint Framework will evolve rapidly now that the preview is available, so intranet and KM-related SharePoint news may emerge at Ignite 2016.

SharePoint's content management strategy is strongly intertwined with other cloud-first and mobile-first investments that Microsoft has made. Content created with the Office productivity apps -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- will be embeddable in SharePoint pages (via Office Online and Sway) along with Power BI dashboards, PowerApps and other types of content created with modern, web-centric tools available from other vendors. When used in conjunction with Microsoft's Azure cloud services, the new SPFx-powered modern SharePoint will expand the scope of content management that SharePoint sites and apps can accomplish.

As noted, SharePoint Framework isn't production-ready, and developers are only now getting started with the SPFx preview. It will be some time before third-party SharePoint tools based on SharePoint Framework emerge. If you would like to learn more about the platform, however, several sessions focused on the SharePoint Framework are scheduled for Ignite 2016.

For now, have a few of your SharePoint developers explore the approach and strategize how your content management requirements can be more productively addressed with the modern, mobile-ready and open source page/part foundation provided in SPFx. 

Next Steps

SharePoint Online vs. SharePoint on-premises guide

Navigating the Microsoft roadmap

Pros and cons of Power BI

This was last published in September 2016

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