SharePoint Summit Toronto Review: Great Presenters, Well-Run Event

Written by Ron Charity. Posted in Editors' Thoughts

review5 Rating 5 out of 5 stars, Reviewed by Ron Charity

SharePoint Summit (mid-may 2013) is the second technology conference I’ve attended in my native town of Toronto. Most, if not all, conferences I’ve attended have been in the US in places such as Los Angeles, Anaheim, Seattle, Orlando, Boston and, most recently, Vegas in 2012. Toronto is a great venue for a conference, especially if your able to rent a car and explore the area outside the city such as Muskoka for its rugged beauty and Niagara for its wineries and the falls.

The SharePoint Summit 2013 was held at the Toronto Hilton in the heart of the downtown. There were approximately three hundred attendees from Canada, US, UK, Netherlands and Alaska. The Hilton offers a relaxing venue for the Summit with several conference rooms, great catering (Ruth Chris Steak House) of the meals and lounge for catching up on work related activities.

The registration process was fast and simple. The agenda for the three days was full of great sessions from international speakers from the US, Canada and UK. The Keynote with Andrew Connell packed the facility and was standing room only, but the remainder of the events had adequate seating. The inaugural Excellence Gala has recognized companies for their creativity, ingenuity and inventiveness for the benefit of the SharePoint community.

After reviewing all the sessions I chose the following:

Day One

  • Introduction to SharePoint 2013 – even though I’ve worked with 2013 for a year on a TAP and deployment project I always pick up new points when listening to someone else speak on the topic. The speaker (Danny Boulanger) did a great job of summarizing the investment areas and the value of 2013.
  • SharePoint Branding – with the new HTML 5.0 interface and support from tools other than SPD, such as Dreamweaver and the snippet library, there is a lot you can do to brand the UI. The speaker provided an informative end to end view of branding SharePoint. The speak (Yaroslav Pentsarskyy) covered the new features and walked us through how to brand a SharePoint site.

Day Two

  • Real World SharePoint in the Cloud – 365 is a compelling offering for several reasons such as not requiring the data center footprint of a full farm deployment, no operational activities and you can focus on content, features and services that are available globally. The speaker (Seb Matthews) did a great job of summarizing the investment areas in 365 and its value to organizations and kept the discussion lively. The key message is that 365 offers an also turnkey highly resilient global solution. If you ever meet Seb ask him about his Simon Pegg story.
  • How ECM Has Improved in SharePoint 2013 and What’s Still Missing – 2013 is a great platform because it offers content management for websites, documents, records and eDiscovery as well. With the new site catalogue and search driven functionality for cross site consumption of content you have a powerful toolset for sharing across the enterprise and minimizing repetitive content mgmt activities. The speaker (Mike Ferrara, all the way from Miami) did a great job of covering the ECM side of SharePoint and also proving a solid overview of eDiscovery in 2010 and 2013 (highlighting the 2013 improvements).
  • Content Search Web Part - Get it All in One Place and Style it! – Leveraging the 2013 search engine you can use the Web Part to surface content based on a query (Created using Query Builder). With an up to date index you can display content using search without having to code. Also, the details around continuous crawl (parallel incremental crawls) and planning capacity and operational windows. The speaker (Benjamin Niaulin) provided a high energy overview and deep dive into the Content Search WebPart pointing out how painful it was to create this functionality in prior versions and how simple it is now in 2013.
  • Customizing Search Experiences with Enterprise Features – 2013 ships with an improved Search Center (FAST is fully integrated) Search results editor so now admins no longer have to code/customize results pages to get the desired experience – they use the Search Results editor. The speaker (Savash Alic) did an excellent job of highlighting the improvement in search and how these features can benefit organizations. With FAST being fully integrated SharePoint now has world class search.

Day Three

  • Developing for SharePoint 2010 with Visual Studio 2012 – for those that have developed in SharePoint since 2007 (or even 2003) the development experience has improved greatly. Since 2010 VS has full integration with SharePoint making it easy to create, publish and update customizations for SharePoint. The speaker (Paul Schaeflein) provided an overview of the enhancements in VS 2012 and created a sample customization so we could see VS 2012 in action.
  • Building Search-Driven Apps in SharePoint 2013 – With FAST fully integrated with 2013 and the Publishing features enabled you have a variety of tools (Content Search WebPart, Site Catalogue and Search Results editor) for creating search driven applications without the need for coding. The speaker (Scot Hillier) well known in the community for his public speaking and publications walked us through the new features in 2013 and building search driven applications.
  • Building a Multilingual Portal – multilingual support has been improved in 2013 in areas such as variations which supports automatic content translation, cross site publication using a catalogue site that created using a particular language. Also interesting is the improved metadata management where translation of terms is supported. Finally, there is a machine translations service available now. The speaker (Bill Ayers) talked about the general goals of building a multilingual SharePoint farm and the past issues with prior version and what 2013 offers.  For those that work in multinational organizations this is a very informative session.

Between events I caught up with friends that were in town for the summit that were both attending and speaking at some of the sessions. For those that travelled from down south my apologies for the Toronto weather that took a nasty dip over the weekend and forced me to get my winter coat out. Luckily by Tuesday the weather was recovering so attendees could explore Toronto.

SharePoint Excellence Gala

Gala WinnersThe Inaugural SharePoint Excellence Gala took place on Tuesday. It was an exclusive, by invitation-only event that revealed the four winners of Outstanding Projects awards. The judge panel was made up of four leading experts: Russ Cole, York Region District School Board; Arik Kalininsky, VP IT, Willson International and director, CIO Association of Canada; Inna Gordin, editor of this site, SharePoint Reviews; and Savash Alic, Principal SharePoint Consultant at Microsoft and Head Judge of the competition.

The judges’ decision was unanimous, and the panel stressed the high caliber of all nominees. The success criteria were based on Significance of Business Challenge, Business Benefit & ROI and Advanced Capabilities, such as Integration with backend systems, Advanced Research Issues, Role-Based Targeting, Contextual, Social Integration, Authentication and Usability.

  • In the Innovation Category the winner was the Calgary Board of Education, in collaboration with Habanero Consulting Group, for its Iris project, a member portal to support teachers and learners in personalized learning.
  • Mary Kay, presented by Orckestra, won in the Internet category for the creation and implementation of its Global CMS managed e-commerce site on SharePoint.
  • The award in the Intranet category was presented to Servus Credit Union for its employee portal, ‘’The Village,’’ presented by Habanero Consulting Group and nForm.
  • Finally, the Grand Winner for the Best Solution of the year went to Quebec City (image above) for the redesign of its municipal Intranet.

Bottom Line

For those that haven’t attended the summit in the past I suggest you make it out next year to one of the locations (Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal). The presenters and the presentation topics were great – covering a wide verity of topics mixing slideware and live presentations. Also, the location was excellent providing attendees with a venue located centrally to some great tourist sites and entertainment locations.

Did you attend SharePoint Summit? What do you think about it?

Ron Charity
Author: Ron CharityWebsite: http://ronjcharity.wordpress.com/
Ron has worked with SharePoint since its Tahoe beginnings and has done a variety of work for clients in different industries and countries. Currently Ron works for a large US bank designing and deploying scalable and versatile SharePoint solutions.