Tech Expert Interview with Eric Overfield

Eric Overfield, Microsoft MVP and President and Co-Founder of PixelMill, was a recent guest on the TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series.
The series, which is hosted by TechnologyAdvice explores a variety of business and technology landscapes through conversations with industry leaders.
In this episode, Josh Bland and Eric discuss how SharePoint and branding work together, what’s exciting about SP 2016, and SPTechCon Austin!

Now check out what Eric Overfield has to say about the interview!
Hi SharePoint community, Eric Overfield here. I had a great time talking with Josh Bland about SharePoint, its user interface, my thoughts and more. He asked some really great questions and I just wanted to take a chance to expand on a few key takeaways from our interview.
1. From branding and front-end UI perspective, I am ready and excited for SP 2016. 
From SharePoint 2013 to SharePoint 2016, Microsoft has made only minor changes on the front-end UI. Although an improved out-of-the-box interface might have been helpful, on the flip side, a stable platform helps so that we don’t have to make radical changes because upgrading your custom UI has be challenging from previous version to version. If you have a customized SharePoint 2013 site and you want to migrate it to SharePoint 2016, your UI – that front-end look and feel – should migrate much more easily than it did before.
Now that the PixelMill Team has seen the SharePoint 2016 Release Candidate all the projects we are currently working on are being built knowing that they may migrate to 2016 will little to no additional modifications necessary. We’ve coded master pages and branding elements in a way that will assist in migration, at least from the UI perspective, and you can do this as well.
What’s also nice for the on-premises world is that we are likely going to see everything come out on SharePoint Online / Office 365 first. We get to see what’s coming next if we’re going to customize on-prem. Then it will percolate down to on-prem over the next 6 to 24 months through updates and service packs. I expect good UI enhancements from Microsoft over the next 24 months as well.
2. That’s not to say that a custom interface won’t cause upgrade headaches.
SharePoint 2016 does include UI enhancements such as the unified ribbon control that looks and acts similar to Office 365’s suite bar. We also expect additional improvements from Microsoft over SharePoint 2016’s life-cycle. If you do customize your SharePoint interface, you may not always see the latest enhancements without additional maintenance. Or in an upgrade scenario, your UI may maintain your SharePoint 2013 custom experience and may not benefit from SharePoint 2016 (unlike with previous upgrades where you would likely start over). At least with this upgrade, you should be able to include SharePoint 2016 enhancements with minor adjustments to your UI.
However, if you’re on SharePoint Online / Office 365, that is a different story. We have seen early adopters of SharePoint Online over the last two years make some major changes to very large portals, and when Microsoft made some updates, their portals broke. That is why you have to think your customizations through and code very defensively. If you’re going to customize the SharePoint UI, be aware that Microsoft may change something, as their technology is always advancing. However, best practices do exist. You can always have a dev/UAT/production multi-farm tenant environment, allowing you to witness, debug and correct branding modifications before updates hit production. We also encourage a similar approach for on-prem.
3. Another big challenge is not understanding how to work with SharePoint, not against it.
We continue to see developers and designers attempt to modify SharePoint without an understanding or expertise in SharePoint itself. Developers run into road-blocks with SharePoint, but instead of trying to determine why SharePoint does what it does, and why those decisions were made, they go about stripping out SharePoint from SharePoint. However, once you start stripping out SharePoint in order to make it do what you want it to do, you end up building a lot of custom code in the back-end server that starts pushing data back up into SharePoint. This can make upgrading to SharePoint 2016 much more difficult, so your upgrade may be a good time to reconsider previous misguided customizations.
It’s not that you shouldn’t ever override SharePoint, it is just that you can get into trouble if you begin to break too much to get “your way”. Issues may arise during upgrades or say as soon as a developer of a particular piece of custom code leaves or otherwise moves onto a different project, the site might become too difficult to maintain. Ultimately, you want to work with SharePoint, not against it.
4. You’re making a good investment when you rely on a very powerful platform like SharePoint.
Work with SharePoint, it is a strong platform with more abilities than you likely know. If you’re going to start customizing SharePoint, make sure you have a good development team, either in-house or with partners that understand the platform and can do it the “SharePoint way”. There are many ways to handle SharePoint, however we have found you can quickly get yourself in trouble when you start customizing it in ways that were not intended.
More often than not, this is done out of a misunderstanding of SharePoint, so it is good to be cautious. If you don’t have the time or resources, then you might want to use more simplistic branding. Stay with a basic user interface and leverage SharePoint as much as possible. Leverage what SharePoint can do, and provide as little custom code as possible.
5. SPTechCon is a great place to learn how to do things, as well as a great way to network.
How can you learn how to work with SharePoint and not against it while still getting your desired outcome?  One answer, SPTechCon Austin! There is always a really good mix of speakers that deliver helpful content on all aspects of SharePoint.
I’ve been in the community for a while now and I get to see these people throughout the year and they’re just really good, nice people. Most of us are all geeks and we love talking about SharePoint. It’s always fun to be able to geek-out, especially with SharePoint 2016 around the corner. Yes, you can email, you can chat, you can go onto Yammer, you can have these discussions with these friends and colleagues, but there’s something about being able to just sit down with someone face-to-face and dig into this technology. As attendees, if you go and join us, we’re going to ask you to tell us what you think and how you are using SharePoint.
SPTechCon Austin provides a great opportunity for everybody, including all the attendees, to get involved and learn more about how they can leverage SharePoint.  Plus,  Austin is just a cool city. It is one of my more favorite places. February is a good time to go because it’s not too hot yet. That’s always a good thing!
This podcast was created and published by TechnologyAdvice, an Inc. 5000 company looking to help buyers find business intelligence software, data visualization systems, and more. Interview conducted by Josh Bland.

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