Microsoft has historically released a version of SharePoint every 4-5 years, using a "big bang" strategy to bring new functionality to the market. For SharePoint Online 2019 and Office 365, using a rolling release template, this has changed everything. A rolling release model sees new iterations, updates and enhancements delivered periodically to consumers, free of charge and without any need for installation - the improvements just become part of the product. For any company thinking about moving to Office 365 in the near future, this is a very significant change. 

With more and more companies beginning to invest in Microsoft's cloud services, how, what and when SharePoint Online and Office 365 will be updated is a key concern being raised by many businesses. Microsoft recently released the' Office 365 Roadmap'-a new way to communicate updates to address these concerns and offer more transparency.

The roadmap provides an overview of product enhancements that fall within the framework of Office 365-SharePoint, Office Online, OneDrive, etc. Updates are listed as:

  • Launched
  • Rolling out
  • In development
  • Cancelled

The roadmap can be thought of as a living document, which should be checked regularly for updates. Already many in the community view this as an exciting step forward by Microsoft. We agree - it delivers on the promise to offer transparency and to support business in their planning and setting of IT strategy.

Here are four updates from the current roadmap that we think users and customers should be excited about:

1. Document conversations in OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online

What is it? When opening a document from OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online, a fully functional Yammer conversation based on the document will be available. Users can also comment from outside of OneDrive or SharePoint Online through mobile devices or Microsoft Dynamics.

What is great about it? A key customer demand on many SharePoint projects (especially when it comes to systems like Knowledge Management repositories) is for people to be able to comment on documents in a similar fashion to the way current social media sites work. Previously this was difficult or limited in SharePoint. Document conversations deliver this exact functionality, along with providing tighter integration between the different online services offered by Microsoft. It is yet another sign of the great benefits Microsoft are realising from their purchase of Yammer.

2. SharePoint Online Encryption "At Rest"

What is SharePoint Online 2019 Encryption "At Rest"? The implementation of advanced encryption technology, were each file (and any subsequent file updates) stored in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business is encrypted. Even better each file is encrypted with its own unique key.

What is great about it? There is currently heavy pressure in the IT industry to provide employees access to data and tools regardless of device or location. This pressure needs to be balanced with providing the proper level of security across the board. Although far from a ‘silver bullet’, the implementation of encryption ‘At Rest’ for documents is a significant step forward for Microsoft. It also brings Office 365, and related tools, in line with industry competitors.

3. Site folders in OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online

What is it? A new ‘View’ (manifesting itself as a button in the left hand side navigation) in OneDrive for Business. When a user clicks on the view, it displays a list of the libraries across all of the sites that users follows.

What is great about it? Simply, this feature enables faster navigation for users. As the amount of data in typical SharePoint systems grows, users will start following more and more sites that are interesting to them. This new view enables them to quickly see and access all of the libraries that are important to them, simplifying and speeding up navigation and usability. 

4. Data Loss Prevention in SharePoint Online

What is it? Data Loss Prevention prevents the sharing of sensitive information inside or outside the organisation. It uses content analysis algorithms to identify and classify files and data as they are stored online. Administrative users can also create queries and reports on this data, to help them understand the nature of what they are storing.

What is great about it? Similar to the advances in encryption, Data Loss Prevention provides organisations with enhanced security and protection of their data, without requiring significant IT overhead or user admin.

An evolving roadmap for SharePoint Online in Office 365

In addition to the items above, the roadmap includes highlights such as:

  • The ability to customise the global navigation bar in SharePoint Online
  • Improvements to App Store recommendation algorithms
  • ‘Client Side Object Model’ batching for SharePoint Apps - This will offer developers additional tools to improve the performance of their custom code applications.

Office 365 and SharePoint Online are constantly evolving, which is great news for everyone, especially those who already migrated their SharePoint to Office 365. However understanding what is coming down the line, and when, is also vitally important. The Office 365 Roadmap is a great step forward in communications from Microsoft.  Remember, it is constantly being updated. Be sure to check back regularly for other exciting developments on the horizon.

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