Interview: Microsoft’s Sebastien Fouillade on the modern SharePoint admin experience

What do SharePoint admins want? According to Microsoft’s Sebastien Fouillade, Principal PM for SharePoint Strategic Engagements, they want an experience that enables them to more easily get their work done, whether it is managing thousands of sites or changing critical policies. But how can this be achieved? That’s where the complexity comes in.

Fouillade delivered a talk at the European SharePoint Conference to over 400 SharePoint admins, highlighting the SharePoint admin updates rolling out this month. We spoke with Fouillade after his presentation for some insights on ways SharePoint admins can take advantage of the new changes and address some of the common challenges they face. Check it out below.

What are some of the biggest challenges that SharePoint admins face?

A significant challenge occurred when we enabled self-service modern and group-connected sites and admins couldn’t see any of the new sites in the classic SharePoint admin center. The new SharePoint admin center intends to solve this challenge.

Another related challenge is managing all of the sites that are created. Some of our customers have hundreds of thousands of sites and we needed to provide a way to help admins easily find various sites of interest.

Finally, there are a lot of different admin centers, and every time admins visited a different site, it was like learning a new language. The challenge is to provide a more coherent experience across all admin centers. We’ve started making some progress in providing a more coherent admin story but there is more to be done.

How can SharePoint admins address some of the challenges they’re facing?

Start using the modern admin experience and give us feedback. With the new experience, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking through how admins can have visibility into all of the sites being created. We accomplished this by leveraging and extending a modern SharePoint list to manage sites.

We’re also continuing to invest in building a more coherent experience across the different admin centers. This is really important. We want to ensure that the language, the information architecture, and even the design patterns we use are all cohesive so that users can flawlessly move across different admin centers.

To be a successful SharePoint admin, what is required?

Admins often want to restrict site creation for end users because they are afraid of the proliferation of sites, or afraid that some key URLs will get taken up by the wrong site. Restricting site creation can seem like a good idea, but it also places a burden on SharePoint admins to be the gatekeepers of all sites created. In turn, this also increases the barrier of entry for people who just want to collaborate by creating their own team site. Now they need admin approval, are less likely to create a site and might even work around it by using non-IT-approved solutions.

SharePoint admins need to find the right amount of governance and self-service to enable their users to take full advantage of the modern experience.

In addition, if you want to be a successful SharePoint admin, give us feedback. We’re continually using customer feedback to improve the admin experience. Take advantage of it. I spoke to a room of 400 people and asked how many have used the new admin experience. About 90 percent raised their hands. When I asked how many provided feedback, only three people raised their hands. We read all the feedback we receive, I read over 5,000 pieces of feedback over the last year. We use it to prioritize features on our roadmap. So I would stress that if you want to be a successful SharePoint admin, tell us what’s not working so we can make it better. I’m hoping that next year, half the room raises their hands. We’ve integrated a feedback button right into the admin experience so it’s always just a click away.

What is some of the common feedback you hear from SharePoint admins?

Some common feedback is that with the new modern experience, there’s still this or that missing, like user profile, term store, search management and even apps management, for example. When we started the preview for the new SharePoint admin experience, people were afraid that we were going to switch things on them without hitting parity, so we had to fine tune our message. Those features will come, but they’re massive and will take time to do right. Until then we’re not going to retire the classic experience.

Some other common feedback we’ve received is that people want to perform bulk actions in the admin experience.

What does the future SharePoint admin experience look like?

There are multiple tracks happening. The near-term is that we want to get bulk actions in there. We want to add more support for policies, more actions that you can do at the site level versus the tenant level.

We also want to bring the OneDrive admin center on par with the SharePoint admin center, and in general, more alignment with the other admin centers. In the past, broadly speaking, admin experiences were a combination of knobs and switches, they were complex and user experience was less of a priority. With the new SharePoint admin center and the updates happening to the other admin centers, our goal is to ensure admins have the best possible experience. This is what we mean when we say, “Admins are humans, too.” We want SharePoint admins to have a first-class experience.

At LiveTiles, one of our primary goals is to provide a good user experience. What do you think defines a good user experience?

A good user experience is when you’re able to get your work done flawlessly and the interface almost disappears and it’s really just you and your work. For me that’s the ideal experience. The interface should not get in the way. Things should be very natural. I’d love all my experiences to be like that. If there are performance issues or discoverability issues, the user experience will be degraded.

At the end of the day, admins just want to get their work done. Any user experience that makes it easier for them to do this is a good one.

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