Before hopping on planes and traveling half way across the world, we caught up with several of the keynote presenters and speakers at the conferences – Mike Fitzmaurice, Vice President of Product Technology at Nintex, Chris Johnson, General Manager at Provoke Solutions, and Jeremy Thake, SharePoint MVP and Enterprise Architect at AvePoint. We got them all chatting about the hottest topics in the Australian and New Zealand SharePoint communities today, what they’re most looking forward to at the conferences, and some must-attend spots for those looking for a true Australasia experience.
Mike and Chris, you’re both co-leading a keynote presentation at the conferences entitled: “Right Place, Right Time, Right Information”. Why did you select this topic as the keynote address?
Mike: There is a major shift in the SharePoint industry right now. The platform has achieved critical mass, and instead of the question being “Do you have SharePoint?”, it is now “How much SharePoint do you have?” However, just because that shift has occurred doesn’t mean there is clarity of how to properly use the platform. One of the reasons I’d like to think SharePoint MVP Debbie Ireland has us leading this keynote is because both Chris and I have been through many product development cycles of SharePoint when we were at Microsoft. We have the opportunity to share with attendees the most important trends they need to stay apprised of in order to stay current in this industry. Some trends make nothing but sense, while others might be flashes in the pan.
How do you identify what makes sense?
Mike: Not every trend needs to be jumped on immediately, and not every trend is a great idea for every company. We have an opportunity to bring clarity here, and it’s backed up by no small amount of experience.
Chris: A bunch of topics are front of mind at the moment. Whether it’s simply a buzzword or have real meaning behind them, a keynote is a way for us to give our perspective on each of those trends and shed light on how Microsoft views them as well. We’ll provide plenty of background on how Microsoft approaches these SharePoint trends, and help connect some of the dots on what’s hot, topical, and where the platform truly fits in to each.
Could you give a teaser as to what some of those trends may be?
Mike: Cloud and mobility are two of the larger trends. Extensibility and interoperability with other software is hot right now.
Chris: IT pros are wondering about their role in the platform’s transition to the cloud. We know lots of customers aren’t ready to go to the cloud today or tomorrow, but many are trying to gear themselves up for when they are ready in maybe 5 or 6 years. We’ll explain how to get ready for that shift, and for the types of roles people will play in a SharePoint deployment of the future.
Have you done this keynote before?
Mike: No – we’ve come up with something special that we’ll unveil first to the Australian and New Zealand SharePoint communities.
Chris: It’s definitely not the first time we’ve talked about these topics, but it is our inaugural push to focus on these themes in a keynote address.
What can we expect as part of describing these trends in the keynote?
Mike: Do not expect a bull fight because we will not harm animals in the delivery of this keynote.
When you both prepare for a keynote like this, do you find you all get pressure from your own companies to add them within the content of the speech?
Chris: I don’t get any pressure whatsoever from my co-owners or directors. Our opinion is that our company comes along for the ride. If you have something important to say, people will know you for it regardless of whether you throw your logo in their face or not.
Mike: Not at all. There are times when I advocate Nintex, times when I advocate SharePoint, and times when I advocate both. This is a keynote, and there is no pressure to “flog the wares” whatsoever. This is a talk about SharePoint and the sandbox in which all of our companies play. We’ve been at this a long time in many roles, and are probably regarded more for our presence in the SharePoint community than presence in other companies.
What is the one key takeaway you want attendees to walk away with after your keynote?
Chris: It’s important to recognize that cloud mobility and workplace productivity are not big, scary problems that people can’t solve or must solve immediately. It’s a scale from, on one end, having to deal with these things today and, on the other hand, getting ready for them in the future. Just because things are buzzwords and hot topics right now doesn’t mean they need to solve the world’s problems over night. It will take some time.
Mike: Chris, that’s a good point. SharePoint, like any technology, is in a state of constant flux. That flux is best met with a combo of healthy optimism and healthy skepticism. We’ll give plenty of examples in just a few short days.
What’s your favorite aspect of the Australian and New Zealand SharePoint communities?
Mike: Enthusiasm. The Australian community has historically looked at what SharePoint can offer, rolled up their sleeves, and have a really serious go at it. Other places are a bit more cautious, so I usually see crazy yet wonderful stuff happen from Down Under. The cool stuff often happens there first.
Chris: There are two countries that really stand out in the SharePoint world: Australia and New Zealand. More interesting solutions and talent come from those two countries, and there is much more going on down in that corner of the world. If you look at the sheer size of those countries in terms of population versus the innovation coming out of those countries, it’s out of whack.
Mike: Actually, my favorite thing about New Zealand community is its dedication to the platform. If you look at the attendance per capita for the SharePoint portion at TechEd or SharePoint events of any kind, I am constantly amazed and humbled by the turnout we see there. Kiwis do not sit on the fence when it comes to SharePoint. There are a lot of times when you could use SharePoint to attack business problems or you could use something else. New Zealand is all-in when it comes to using SharePoint.
Chris: Kiwis have the tendency to get a lot done with a small amount of resources given size of the country, money, and population. I’m constantly amazed by what people are doing with SharePoint for that reason, by building interesting solutions and using the platform in ways most people wouldn’t think of to get things done.
Jeremy, you lived in Australia for seven years before relocating to America in 2011. How does it feel to be going back home?
Jeremy: I’m excited to catch up with everyone, and especially to see how other local speakers’ voices have matured in the past year. It’ll be interesting to see first-hand how the market has changed in Australia, and I can tell by the topics highlighted in local SharePoint User Groups that the focus is shifting. Cloud is one of them, and search has a strong voice as well. I’m excited to see how these two topics play at the conference.
Jeremy, you’re co-presenting a session on governance for SharePoint with SharePoint MVP and AvePoint Chief SharePoint Evangelist Dan Holme, and you’re also leading a session on Windows Azure. What are you most excited about?
Jeremy: The governance topic has been around for a long while, but I’m really excited to scrutinize the reception of Azure with the local community. Chris and Andrew Connell have talked about it a great deal, but I believe the uptake hasn’t been as strong as Microsoft had hoped. Many are still looking to conduct on-premise development as opposed to doing it in the cloud. The feedback I get for my Azure presentation will be interesting. While many may not be ready just yet, this is coming down the pipe and will be taken seriously at some point in the very near future.
Why has adoption not been as strong for Azure?
Jeremy: Many companies, especially government organizations, like keeping things on premise. I’m finding they are not ready to have fixed Service Level Agreements that are out of their control. There are some early adopters such as new Chief Technology Officers at some bigger organizations taking these risks, but many are risk averse at this point.
What is the most important need amongst the AU community today?
Jeremy: Sometimes the Australian SharePoint community feels isolated – there are some great pros that just do not get much visibility internationally. I think a large part of that is that many feel it is too far to travel outside of Australia, and so people can only have a voice through their blogs. If we could give the community more of a platform to stand on from a global perspective, it would be really cool. Unfortunately, not all of them are as nuts as I am and switched on to social media platforms such as Google+ and Twitter.
Chris, you’re a Kiwi native but living in Seattle, WA today. What’s the biggest thing the New Zealand SharePoint community needs at this point?
Chris: Been fascinating coming from the New Zealand SharePoint market to the one in North America. To give perspective, there’s approximately 4 million people living in New Zealand today, and its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is about $100 billion less than the GDP of Seattle. So the market size is tiny compared to the rest of the world. Consequently, the New Zealand SharePoint market has unique problems that you don’t usually see in the States: Simple things like software licensing and cost of doing business can be a real blocker in New Zealand. I’m excited about some of the moves Microsoft mad in terms of providing a standard license for SharePoint for Internet Sites (FIS) which is at a vastly reduced cost compared to the standard SharePoint license. That in itself has made a huge difference because previously, the costs were just extremely prohibitive.
Spending time now in America has helped me to really understand much more as well the unique challenges New Zealand organizations face. In America, it makes sense why products would be priced or designed in a certain way, but I can see more clearly why it doesn’t work in New Zealand. For example, there are no data centers in Australia or New Zealand for Microsoft Office 365 – the closest one is in Singapore. International bandwidth is still scarce in New Zealand, and it makes a big difference in the way you can use services from the cloud. With that said, we’re only starting to see the tip of that iceberg. Software’s going to the cloud, but there are some specific problems the markets in Australia and New Zealand both face that must be addressed.
Jeremy, what is the key message you want to have resonate with the Australian SharePoint community by the end of the conference?
Jeremy: That I still have an Australian accent, and I still have an agnostic voice even though I’ve joined a software vendor. Hopefully, I have maintained the respect that I am an expert in the field. From a messaging perspective, I’m hoping that people think more outside the box with site collections, web apps, and the structure of SharePoint rather than thinking of it as one big dumping ground. It’ll be interesting to see how that comes across in Australia as well as New Zealand.
What sets the Australian and New Zealand SharePoint conferences apart from others?
Chris: People are extremely enthusiastic. These conferences are less about the sessions and much more about the social connections you make when you attend. A lot of heavy lifting gets done with a beer in hand.
Jeremy: The people are extremely direct. Even if they’re not sure how they’re going to phrase the question, they will still ask. In America, I’ve found that many people feel they need to make sure they phrase the question correctly before they even ask.
Mike: I’ve found that Americans ask a question as much to get an answer as they do to demonstrate their grasp of the topic at hand. Europeans ask questions one-on-one, but not with an audience watching. Australians are not afraid to ask questions – which is extremely refreshing.
Chris: Forwardness is more prevalent in that part of the world. There is no real fear of reprisal, and I just believe that questions and healthy debate is more accepted in Australia and New Zealand than in other regions.
What are your favorite places to visit in both Melbourne and Auckland (New Zealand)?
Chris: In Melbourne, the Formula One happening the day before the conference. Lygon Street is also famous in Melbourne for its Italian food. I love going and sitting outside an Italian restaurant with a good bottle of wine watching Ferraris speed past me.
Mike: I’ll definitely visit the Melbourne Supper Club and the Cosh Bar on Ponsonby, and I’ll try to squeeze in a rugby match, but I’m really looking forward to Lamingtons and Squiggles. Sausage rolls, too. Pity whitebait aren’t in season.
Chris: I’m 100 percent looking forward to meat pies – they’re the undiscovered, “next big product” in America.
Jeremy: I’m really missing kangaroo meat. Stereotypical? Sure, but I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to a good kangaroo steak.
Mike: The general consensus here is that we’re excited about Australian and Kiwi foodstuffs.
For more information on the upcoming conferences, please visit the event websites for Australia and New Zealand.