Vegas, Baby: SharePoint Conference 2019!

thoughts on sharepoint conference 2019

To quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

I am getting very excited about the upcoming SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, which is being held May 21-23.  Thinking about it brings a few tears to my eyes.

I have been doing this, working with SharePoint, a very long time. In fact,  I have been working with SharePoint, mostly search, for 15 years!  When I started working with SharePoint, my son Ethan was a toddler. He goes off to Chico State University this coming fall.

In my SharePoint career, I have only missed one national SharePoint Conference…the very first one.  Now going to a SharePoint Conference is like going to a high school reunion.  I get to see my prospects, customers, industry pundits, and many dear old friends.

I still remember my very first conference like it was yesterday.  It was in Seattle on March 2, 2008.  It was my first day on the job at BA Insight.  There were only a handful of us in the early days.  We made a big splash in Seattle, introducing our connector framework.  Back then, we offered just six connectors.

Over the years, I have seen the show grow from just a few thousand folks to more than 15,000 attendees at The Venetian Hotel in 2014.  Sadly, for a few years, the SharePoint Conference was rolled into the Ignite Conference, until being brought back with a vengeance last year.  This year is poised to be even bigger and better.  The event will be held at the MGM Grand.  Vegas, baby!

One of the reasons I am so excited about this year’s show is because of the buzz around Microsoft Search. In preparation for the show, BA Insight sponsored Microsoft’s “Road to SPC” webinar on Microsoft Search.  The event was held March 20 and is entitled, “Accelerate Productivity with Effective Search & Knowledge Across Content and People.”

SharePoint Search: A Brief History

As I reflect, I think about how far search has come since 2003.  Back then, search was broken.  In SharePoint Portal Server, or “SPS” as it was called, results would not always be security trimmed.  Clicking on a result could give one the dreaded “Access Denied” 404 error.  And, the free version of SharePoint, Windows SharePoint Server (“WSS 2.0”), was just a weak site search.

As SharePoint morphed into a content management and collaboration platform, the release of SharePoint 2007, or “MOSS” as it was called, was Microsoft’s first attempt at enterprise search.

But things really changed on April 25, 2008.  That’s when Microsoft became serious about enterprise search.  That’s the day they bought the Norwegian enterprise search company Fast Search & Transfer (”FAST”) for $1.19 billion.  I remember the day well.  Surprise, surprise- I was at a SharePoint show…in Vegas.

FAST addressed several serious problems with the original SharePoint Search engine, including lack of scalability and poor relevancy.  Before FAST, nobody used SharePoint Search.

Microsoft would then quickly move to offer a version of FAST for SharePoint with the “FAST for SharePoint 2010” add-on module.  Many of our customers implemented SharePoint 2010 with FAST, but they had to heavily customize it, and in my opinion, the product wasn’t completely cooked. Believe it or not, some customers are still on 2010 because the migration is so difficult.

SharePoint 2013 was when the platform matured.  It was an open, configurable platform. It had numerous capabilities to let customers have their own UI, including the ability to redirect to other UIs, which made it a natural part of an enterprise search strategy.

Since Google was a closed platform, we partnered with Microsoft on what was referred to as “Google Compete”. The idea was to replace the GSA “black box” customers with SharePoint 2013. This was successful as we were able to move multiple organizations from GSA to SharePoint 2013.

The next release was O365/SharePoint Online, which accelerated the migration to the cloud. By the middle of 2015, Microsoft opened SharePoint Online through their Cloud SSA strategy, which then enabled customers to use SharePoint Online as a unified index using connectors to other cloud or on-premise enterprise systems. In my opinion, going from a closed system to an open system accelerated migration. Unfortunately, the modern search experience Microsoft introduced favored simplicity over flexibility, thus blocking IT organizations from tailoring SharePoint to respond to the requirements of their business users. Many have stayed behind using the classic UI in SharePoint Online or have kept search on-premise.

As we move forward to a world powered by Microsoft Search, hopefully Microsoft will address some of the main complaints I hear from our customers. Although Cloud SSA opens O365/SharePoint Online to external content and allows the customer to have a unified index, it is complicated and hard to manage. Microsoft could further open the system by improving how that integration works. Interestingly enough, while the index is open and the modern UI replaces the classic UI, it is taking flexibility away from customers and is closing the UI.  In my opinion, this is not the right approach for customers. It takes flexibility away from them and complicates the life of the IT organization, making it difficult to respond to changing business needs.

BA Insight Leads the Way

During these years, BA Insight has grown its product arsenal from six connectors to over 90.  We have also introduced autoclassification, a preview product that works with content within and outside of SharePoint, integration with Microsoft’s cognitive services, and even support for search engines such as Azure Search.

From almost 15 years, BA Insight has been Microsoft’s go to partner for enterprise search.  We are a Microsoft Gold Data Analytics Partner, Gold Data Platform Partner, Silver Application Development Partner, and a Silver Collaboration and Content Partner.  We are members of the Microsoft Technology Adoption program for search, giving us early access to new platform versions.

Because of our modular architecture, we have added value to every SharePoint platform release!  And we are not done yet.

The Next Chapter

We live in a Cloud, AI, Machine Learning world.  Technology advancements come at us at the speed of light.  From a search perspective, the Microsoft Graph, Microsoft Cognitive Services, and Delve are great examples of technology advancements, helping to deliver a personalized search experience.

I cannot wait to learn even more about Microsoft Search and other cool advancements when I am in Las Vegas.  Of course, it will great to see my SharePoint family.  After 15 years, it is a family.

If you are attending, please make sure to stop by and say “hi”.  BA Insight will be in booth #626. We also have a suite available for more formal meetings and demos with our execs.  If interested, contact us directly and we will schedule some time.

And yes, what a long strange trip it’s been!