SharePoint customizations have long been a key focus area for Intranet product owners. For a long time what Add-Ons to choose was almost a bigger question than whether or not to choose SharePoint against another Intranet platform altogether. While some admins saw Add-Ons as a crutch to teach SharePoint 'how to be an Intranet', others thought this made the product the perfect foundation for any type of application. And indeed you could transform your SharePoint into either a workflow-strong application, a Social Network, a nicely designed website or a strong document manager – or all all of them together.
Add-Ons and customizations in general were a lucrative market for a long time, with Microsoft itself claiming that for every $1 they earn for a license they'd expect a further $8 to be spent on consultants, customizations, Add-Ons, etc.
Regardless of popularity, customized SharePoint instances have proven to be a little bit of a challenge for companies looking to upgrade to a newer SharePoint version. That's why 40% of companies are still using SharePoint 2010 – over 7 years after its release – as they find it easier to just keep a once-customized page alive on an older server rather than bothering to migrate the experience as that often involves having to start from (nearly) scratch.
Of course this kind of fragmentation, while economical, contributes to an even more disjointed user experience where some sites and data are still actively used in production with versions of SharePoint that not only look dated, are less compatible with newer applications (like chatbots or mobile apps) but make it even harder to train your workforce as knowledge leaves the organization over time.
If you're looking at SharePoint Framework Extensions today, chances are that most of the Add-Ins you are shopping for only work with SharePoint Online data. So here are three strategies to make even legacy data from SharePoint 2010, 2013 and 2016 available to SharePoint online users.
1. Add a Digital Assistant Extension to SharePoint Framework
Smart assistants for the workplace have become a popular way to add conversational smartness to existing data allowing users to query it using just their voice. Additionally they stay up-to-date with relevant updates from all connected sources without having to manually seek them out, by having their workplace assistant instead bring data to the user.
This is what Digital Assistant does by integrating multiple SharePoint instances, and then surfacing their information through chatbots available on popular enterprise chat tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack or even smart assistants like Alexa.
2. Making legacy data findable with AI-powered Search
The great idea behind smart workplace assistants is that they don't just show you data from SharePoint but can integrate with a whole host of other applications through which they can aggregate personalized information streams, i.e. a user's list of tickets, popular articles, recent events, etc.
All the user needs to do in order to get that information is to ask their Assistant for it. In order to allow them to do so naturally Digital Assistant comes with a built-in Natural Language Processing engine that uses AI to determine similar ways users might ask to achieve the same thing. Digital Assistant's AI engine is super easy to set up: it follows an easy to build model and you can use analytics to refine the accuracy over time.
3. Add portability to old data with embeddable Cards
Once you have created a smart workplace assistant that works with your SPFX SharePoint Foundation you want to be able to take it with you anywhere you go; at home, on your commute or of course at your desk. That's why Digital Assistant is available not just as a stand-alone web app, but comes with chatbots for popular enterprise chat tools, a Chrome extension and Cards can even be embedded into other solutions, like SharePoint, or any other site.