The 2014 SharePoint Conference has just wrapped up in Las Vegas. Most attendees have headed home as they try to digest the information overload and figure out how what was discussed might apply in their workplaces.

Although I was influenced by the various session tracks I attended, for me the top three stand out themes of the conference are:

Work like a network: splicing enterprise social throughout the Office experience

I was most interested to see the progress the team at Microsoft has been making on fully integrating Yammer’s social capabilities into SharePoint. Specifically, I was expecting to see tactical integration points rolled out. I also wanted to know what to expect on the road map, with extra clarity on when we will see things in production.

There was some of this with news that most features will be available this summer. A large number of enterprise social sessions were offered, too. These sessions had a higher presence and were extremely well attended.

What surprised me most in a good way, however, was the larger strategic vision for splicing enterprise social throughout the entire Microsoft Office experience.

The announcement of Office Graph is pretty significant and will act as the underlying foundation upon which social could be surfaced throughout the office experience. This is much broader than simply integrating Yammer with SharePoint. At a tactical level, it allows for things like collaborative Yammer discussions directly within the contextual application window of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. Users don’t have to leave the application they are doing work in to engage in conversation. At a macro level, Office Graph combines the cloud with big data analysis and social networking to potentially change the way knowledge workers consume documents and interact with each other.

Microsoft was not presenting Office Graph as a silver bullet. They were quite transparent in saying it is a concept they are suggesting based on research and customer observations. Oslo is just one experimental approach to leverage Office Graph’s capabilities, but there will be many others.

Forecast calls for increased cloudiness

While the message was loud and clear at the last conference, Microsoft was decidedly more bold and bullish about Office 365 and the cloud this year. Make no doubt about it, Microsoft would prefer customers to be on Office 365 rather than running on premise server installations. They said repeatedly throughout the sessions that they believe they can serve customers better and more effectively in the cloud than on premise.

While Microsoft announced a new version of SharePoint On-Premise to be released sometime next year as well as Service Pack 1 for SharePoint 2013, it is unclear what the road map for on premise looks like beyond that.

The feature set for Office 365 and On Premise will likely diverge over the next year, with Microsoft pushing new features exclusively into the cloud.  One such example is Office Graph, a key part of the enterprise social/collaboration strategy and only available for the cloud due to the extensive on premise server requirements necessary to make Office Graph work.

Microsoft was proud to tell those watching the keynote that Office 365 is now a billion-dollar business. Close to 60 percent of the Fortune 500 is running some aspect of Office 365, making it the fastest growing part of Microsoft’s business. The scale of investment is certainly impressive. Microsoft has over 2,000 servers specifically to powering Office 365’s search alone. 

Microsoft is likely not going to be making many new friends with customers not quite ready for the cloud, but it seems to be a calculated risk they are willing to take. That said, Microsoft is continuing to offer hybrid models as a baby-step to the cloud. One example is OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive Pro) which had a big presence this year. Microsoft unveiled OneDrive for Business as a stand-alone service offering SKU. This appeals to organizations with on premise infrastructures that want to take advantage of cloud-based file storage.

Any device, any operating system: new found love for iOS and Android

While the message might not be exactly perfect yet, there was a refreshing and noticeable shift in the willingness to support solutions across all platforms and devices. At the last conference, you would have been hard pressed to find an iPhone or Android device in the hands of any presenter.

This year, however, many of the sessions showcased how SharePoint and other services are supporting iOS and Android devices. Microsoft put extra effort into stressing this point, including during the keynote, and backing it up with live demos. There has been a host of recent announcements on this front as well, such as how OneDrive for Business will support iOS or the Office 365 SDK made available for Android on GitHub.

Please don’t stop moving in this direction, Microsoft. There are still noticeable gaps, as my colleagues running Macs will tell you. They still can’t use OneDrive for Business.

In summary

I leave the SharePoint Conference impressed by the vision and fairly optimistic based on the initial changes I saw. There is a lot of work to do in order to complete the compelling vision. Luckily, we won’t need to wait for years before seeing more progress (unless you’re on premise, that is). Thanks to the evergreen service of Office 365, we will see a steady flow of changes released over the next while. The first rounds of major changes are expected to land this summer.