Microsoft is providing businesses with a new way to experience SharePoint: in mixed reality. The company announced it would be adding features to the content-sharing platform used by more than 400,000 companies at its SharePoint Virtual Summit. SharePoint Spaces is a new way for business owners to build and interact with content, providing applications in employee onboarding, product development and company learning. The new feature will be available to all Office 365 commercial subscribers once it officially rolls out.
Microsoft also announced other improvements to the SharePoint platform, including various features like an AI-powered search function and a personalized Office.com feature. For small business owners, these announcements mean you will be able to create and interact with content in exciting ways. However, some of these features – especially the mixed reality features in Spaces – may be geared more toward enterprises.
Spaces allows business owners to build mixed reality environments from templates and a point-and-click build process. It means users can create an interactive platform where employees can interact with content in a more engaging way. You also won't need a headset to view content in Spaces. Once an environment is created, anyone within your company can interact with it on any device. This feature provides a level of practicality that makes Spaces usable for all organizations – even those that don't have a headset.
Once you've created a virtual environment, you can build in content that already exists on SharePoint. This allows business owners to work from existing content and create an interactive way to use that content. This seems to be the goal of Spaces: to create a more engaging way for workers to interact with business content. The use cases at this point are limited, but Spaces can be treated as a first step for VR and mixed reality in the common workplace.
Microsoft outlined a few potential use cases for businesses in a blog post. Spaces can be used in employee onboarding and recruiting. It can provide a new platform for new workers to learn about the company in a more engaging way than a normal PowerPoint presentation or one-on-one discussion with a manager. Workers can understand a company's hierarchy in an interactive way, and view 3D maps of the building or campus. Microsoft also outlined the potential for VR in product development. Workers can create 3D models of products to visualize improvements and make notes. Beyond these two use cases, VR in an office setting seems limited. However, as technology develops and more businesses begin implementing spaces into their routine, new ways to use and interact with mixed reality will emerge.
AI in SharePoint
In addition to Spaces, the company announced new AI-powered features within SharePoint, like an enhanced search feature in the mobile app and a recommendations tab on the Office.com homepage. These enhancements will provide users with a faster, more intuitive experience. Business owners can also enjoy some new image capabilities. The Microsoft team built AI into image searching, so SharePoint will be able to identify where photos were taken, what objects are in the photos and even extract text from photos. This also makes the search process easier, as users can search for photos using keywords that aren't file names, such as objects pictured in the photo.
All these features will be rolled into current commercial Office 365 subscriptions, which makes them a low-cost way to experiment with things like mixed reality in your workplace. The company has not detailed when these new features will go into effect, but businesses interested in trying out Spaces can sign up to preview the program here.