Customizing Office 365…It’s a New World

By on August 17, 2017,


I’ll toss this out right up front…SharePoint and Office 365 customization and development is changing.  Rapidly.  Gone are the days of massive projects that made sweeping changes to every aspect of the platform, or that threw out much of what SharePoint offered and replaced it with something different.  Instead, smaller, targeted customizations are the order of the day.

It no longer makes sense (indeed, it really never made sense in an Office 365 environment) to look at SharePoint as a development platform; a blank canvas upon which to build whatever you needed.  Instead, the prudent owner of a SharePoint Online (SPO) implementation looks at it, as a part of the Office 365 suite, as a nearly complete application which just allows you to tweak a few things here and there to more closely meet your needs.

Gone are the days of massive projects that made sweeping changes to every single aspect of the platform

The analogy of a home remodeling project is quite appropriate.  If you have work done on your home, the builder/architect is going to take the existing structure into account and propose modifications that meet your needs/desires but still fit into the overall building.  It is highly unlikely that they’re going to propose tearing down your entire 4-bedroom Colonial simply because you want to add a fifth bedroom.    Any builder with a modicum of integrity is going to strongly advise against a rip-and-replace approach when there are other, better options.

How does this relate back to SPO?  Any developer moderately familiar with web technologies could take the rip-and-replace approach, tearing out whole sections of SPO and replacing them with something custom, instead of a more standard, but slightly modified SPO site.  It’s not difficult.  But the question is why? Why go to the expense (taking into account design, development, testing, user training and other factors covering both time and money) to retrofit an existing product?

A Nip Here, a Tuck There…

So where does this leave us?  Does this mean we need to just put up with the out-of-the-box look and feel and functionality of SPO?  Over the years, the number one request from clients has been to make SharePoint look and act …well, not like SharePoint.  Are we now saying tough, you just have to live with it?

No.  Fortunately, we’re not saying that at all.

Instead, what Aptillon recommends is a much more surgical, targeted approach.  SPO is, as it always has been, a fantastic platform for collaborating, communicating, sharing, and just in general staying organized and getting things done.  Our recommendation is to keep all of that and just tweak a couple things here and there to make the platform look, feel and act more like you want it to, without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

We can now make targeted, supported and supportable changes

Microsoft has been working hard to give us the tools and capabilities to make these types of changes, and the fruits of that work are just now beginning to show.  With the introduction of:

  • SharePoint Framework (SPFx)
  • Office Graph (which powers Delve, among other things)
  • Microsoft Graph (a unified REST architecture)
  • Apps
  • SPFx Extensions
  • Microsoft Flow
  • PowerApps
  • The modern experience in the SPO user interface

We now have the power to make the changes without embarking on a massive undertaking.

Combining the aforementioned tools and capabilities with the Web Part Framework which has been in SharePoint since the beginning, and standard web-development skills (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS) we can now make targeted, supported and supportable changes, such as:

  • Branding changes to introduce your corporate brand in small, but impactful ways
  • Changes to the header and footer of sites
  • Changes to content presentation, specifically in List Views
  • Changes to data collection/management via custom forms and PowerApps
  • Support for workflows via Microsoft Flow
  • Point-solutions via Apps
  • Integration with other areas of Office 365 via Microsoft Graph
  • Support for accessing external applications (custom built or COTS) via the SPO App Launcher

All supporting web-standards and utilizing standard web-development tools and technologies, and keeping the many things that SPO gives us:

  • Granular Security
  • Collaboration
  • Document Management
  • User Management
  • Auditing and Logging
  • Presentation and Visualization
  • Alerts and Notifications
  • Pages and Parts

What you Need to Know

Aptillon has been on the forefront of SharePoint and Office 365 since their beginnings.  We’ve worked closely with Microsoft to help guide the products and worked closely with clients and partners to help evangelize, train and implement solutions based on SPO and the entire Office 365 Suite.

We can help you determine where it makes sense to do some customization work to help you get even more value out of the platform.  Perhaps more importantly, we can help you avoid “over doing it” and ending up with an unsupportable implementation.

Contact us with your questions. We’re happy to make recommendations!





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