There seems to be a notable omission in amongst the SharePoint announcements made at Ignite 2017. Sure hints where dropped “go for flat and wide structures” but nothing explicitly said. For me, the omission is the future of sub-sites in SharePoint. Sub-sites have long been a key component in the architecture of sites especially Intranets. They are also recommended when clean boundaries are needed, say to avoid the need to wrestle with unique permissions e.g. where part of a site needs to be externally shared.
For me it’s the combination of two features that proclaim the demise of sub-sites:
- Groupification* as only Site Collections can be given an Office 365 Group identity
- Hub Sites which are designed to serve as aggregation points for multiple Site Collections
Through Communications Sites and News pages, Microsoft have already started to challenge the architecture and approach to Intranets. Hub sites allow Intranets to become more tailored, more personal offering a mix of user generated and corporate news. Crucially the hidden message seems to be that you do not need sub-sites to build your Intranet.
As Hub sites are aggregation points they can effectively replace traditional Site Collection – Sub-site hierarchies. The limitation around groupification will drive architectures towards flat and wide as otherwise the sub-sites will not enjoy the benefits of Groups or Teams.
The impact on organisations may be limited. I bet Microsoft have a figure for the number of sub-sites and their use – I have a hunch that over 90% of site collections do not use sub-sites. I’m guessing that the majority of sub-sites are associated with Intranets and Intranets being big investments are not changed that often. So unless Microsoft pull the rug out from under classic SharePoint, organisations do not need to worry about making a big investment in their Intranet (well not in the near term but the rug will get pulled and my guess is in 2019…). Where organisations are using sub-sites say to support collaboration they only need to worry once they start the shift to Groups and Teams. As part of the shift they need to anticipate a hybrid state whereby their estate becomes a mixture of “flat and wide”, “narrow and deep” classic, modern and Group.
(* I know it is not a real world but as ‘ifications go it accurately describes the process of giving an Office 365 Group identity to an existing SharePoint site)