Over the past few months, I've been asked to advise clients about Microsoft's future directions on next generation collaboration. In case you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to review Julia White's post on the Microsoft blogs last week on the ongoing evolution of SharePoint. Since Microsoft has already announced SharePoint 2016, it's a great review of their thinking and strategy.
Microsoft had once had a very simple but powerful story around collaboration – SharePoint. And about three years ago, Microsoft took a subset of SharePoint core collaborative features and offered them (along with Office, Exchange and Lync) to the cloud as Office 365. At the time, enterprise social networking was a hot topic, evidenced by Microsoft acquisition and integration of Yammer to the Office 365 toolset.
However, since then Microsoft has increased the cadence and functionality of its cloud collaboration features with five (so far) major rollouts:
- OneDrive for Business
- Power BI
- Delve / Office Graph
- Video Portal
As result, there's been a lot of chatter about Microsoft "abandoning" SharePoint. Nothing could be further from the case. In my coverage over the past three years about the relationship between on premises workloads and the cloud, I've held two things dear:
- The need for collaboration and the capabilities originally provided by SharePoint will only grow, not shrink, in a cloud-collaborative world.
My prediction three years ago that eventually new functions delivered first to the cloud would dominate thinking sometime after the SharePoint 2013 on premises release.
"What will make it really interesting comes after that -- is when new features start showing up in the cloud before they are bundled into the next major SharePoint on premises release. A cloud hosted SharePoint offering with better functions and simplified ease of operation will be a hard combination to deny for many current on-premises users." – SharePoint Pro, February 2012 (http://sharepointpromag.com/blog/sharepoint-decision-do-we-choose-cloud-or-premises)"
Let's take a brief look at all the goodness of Office 365 - especially what's been released AFTER the original 11 October 2012 feature set.
Everyone's heard of TiVo, right? In the late 1990s, when the first digital DVRs were being introduced, the company found that the technology was so far ahead it took buyers twice as long – seven or eight times trying it – before they "got it". Delve, based on the Office Graph, is similar. Is it a social networking system? Or a search tool? Or the latest iteration of Managed Metadata? Pinterest for the enterprise?
Perhaps all of the above. Simply put, Delve provides a way to sense content in your own workspace, and those around you, to present the information you need. If you work in the same physical space, it's easy to discover new things organically and spontaneously. And with the latest innovation, Boards, you can assemble information into multiple screens. If tagging content makes searching easier down the road, Boards help you find things without searching.
The secret sauce of Office 365 is that it combines all the functions of Exchange et al. into one package. When a team works together, sometimes they need to share documents. They need to be able to discuss concepts and documents using enterprise social. And they may need email and group scheduling. Groups let you set up all this for a spontaneous team, integrating best-of-breed capabilities across the whole Office 365 ecosystem.
For years, SharePoint was the best toolkit ever. You could use it to assemble really helpful data aggregations, business process, innovation and decision spaces and the like. But all of those outcomes required some engineering and/or coding. On Office 3y65, Microsoft has committed to "NextGen Portals" – systems that pull together multiple capabilities for immediate business impact.
Up first is Office 365 Video, the first NextGen Portals deliverable. Many companies build up video content for their intranets or extranet portals. However, although SharePoint knows about video content types, document libraries and embedded players, the user experience left a lot to be desired, without heavy lifting. Azure itself provides much better video streaming. The Video portal pulls all of this into a much stronger user experience, allowing many organizations to immediately get value from their visual assets. And Microsoft has committed to more NextGen portals for knowledge management and people.
Could you customize the portal further? Sure – but for many, it's a huge time saving to advance directly to Go!, collect the $200 (or $600) and use video before an extensive UI rewrite or integration.
Take all the power of using a tool as simple as Excel, as powerful as Analysis Services, and as shareable as SharePoint. That's Power BI – with new dashboards and query abilities added all the time. It combines the personal data management of the Office tools with the power of professionally developed BI and visualization. You can even ask questions like "show me the cities with the most customers" or "how many gumballs did we sell in Illinois last year". (Just add Cortana and I'll never use anything else!)
OneDrive for Business
SharePoint has had the idea of a personal storage location – a My Site – for quite a while. OneDrive for Business is the latest iteration. It's a personal cloud that lives, well, in the cloud. You can take advantage of search and backup, and sync your files
So that's a lot of stuff all since the last "release". A lot of commitment to extending collaboration beyond the traditional document library. Sort of the opposite of "abandonment."
Back during the SharePoint 2007 era, Microsoft released a set of site and server templates to create fully functional sites – project management, help desk, classroom scheduling and the like. There were 40 – the so called "Fab 40". Many of these were immediately adopted as is. Others were extended by analysts or developers. And the need for fully customized solutions developed independently was sustained, following the trails blazed by the Fab 40.
I think all this is true in the "new Microsoft". Think about the core values of their offerings:
- Provide immediate value to the business with an immediate rich user experience
- Amplify the value with deployment and management capabilities for IT professionals
- Accelerate value with extensibility and customization for developers
In years prior, Microsoft's release strategy was sometimes "wait three years and you'll be amazed". And that worked – before the cloud. We have shorter timeframes – and Microsoft has rolled out enough innovation for two or three full releases in the past 18 months. Rising expectations, as Crane Brinton famously noted, can start revolutions.
Microsoft isn't "ending" SharePoint – they're enhancing the intrinsic value of all their collaboration solutions. More value mean more adoption – and more opportunities for customers and partners alike. I can't wait to learn more at Ignite, Microsoft's new conference in Chicago this May.