Not really the end but certainly the end for disruptive innovations in productivity and collaborative solutions using SharePoint. The baton has been passed on and SharePoint will join Exchange as a behind-the-scenes platform

(Note: Post was originally published separately and has moved here for archiving)


This week it is the Microsoft SharePoint Conference SPC14 being held in Las Vegas. But, as one person tweeted:

The Exec keynote is all about Office, OneNote, OneDrive, and Yammer. Where’s the SharePoint content at the SharePoint Conference? – Michael Greene

All of the key announcements focused on online services and Yammer integration increasingly replacing traditional SharePoint Server features. Here’s a sample:

  • New compliance features available for Office 365 content, with online site collections now supported up to 1TB in size
  • Direct integration between Yammer and Office/Outlook (document libraries automatically provisioned in the background on SharePoint Online/OneDrive for Business)
  • Yammer introducing new group management capabilities that will likely replace many requirements for SharePoint team sites
  • New Office graph and Oslo client that will likely replace many traditional intranet communications and publishing requirements

A corresponding article on the Office team blog does commit to at least one more release of SharePoint Server as a standalone product that can be installed on your own or hosted hardware.

While we’re committed to another on-premises release of SharePoint Server—and we’ll maintain its social capabilities—we don’t plan on adding new features. – Jared Spataro, General Manager, Microsoft

The message is clear: innovation is happening in the cloud and many SharePoint features are being deprecated in favour of Yammer. Development of future server products beyond 2015, if there are any, are likely to be focused solely on meeting the demands of profitable paying customers with reasons not to move their systems online. Don’t assume all online service innovations will translate into installable server features.

But this is not a doom-and-gloom scenario. It is just the inevitable evolution of a vendor aligning their strategy for software and services to macro technology trends. And we shouldn’t forget that whilst the marketing message is heavily weighted towards Office 365, online services are still a relatively small percentage of Microsoft revenues compared to traditional server products. Those server products and the supporting ecosystem are not going to disappear anytime soon.

SharePoint is following a path well-worn by the IBM Lotus brand that has also come along way from its original Notes product. Whilst plenty of organisations will resist the move to cloud-based computing services for a decade or more, the simple reality is that competitive advantage lies in having the fastest access to the most relevant information. Increasingly, that information is online and mobile…

In the meantime, for many organisations it will be ‘business as usual’ and for many that business will continue to involve SharePoint in one form or another.

… but I’d be surprised if the next event is still called the SharePoint conference* ;-)

*** Update – 5th March ***

In the two days since the keynote, the revelations about the Office Graph and Oslo continue to dominate news headlines and this post has prompted a couple of conversations worth calling out the less popular announcements that impact SharePoint going forward.

Compliance online

Until now, SharePoint online has been very limited in capabilities for supporting enterprise content management, particularly document and records managements. Site collections were capped to a relatively small 100GB and records management features were limited compared to the on-premise server product. Increasing the supported size of site collections to 1TB and beyond overcomes the first hurdle. And the new compliance features demonstrated during the keynote hint at a new direction in formal governance. No mention was made of if or when that feature will cross over to the on-premise server product (although I am guessing it will be in the new server version to be released in 2015)

From social to collaboration

But the biggest announcement influencing the future direction of SharePoint is the introduction of enhanced group management and collaborative capabilities within Yammer, with tighter integration into Office and Outlook. This takes Yammer beyond focusing on social networks and into the realm of collaborative workspaces (see related post below for comparison). The demonstration of having a group inbox and calendar within Outlook, with drag-n-drop copying into personal calendars is a much enhanced version of the meeting workspace capabilities that used to exist in SharePoint and were removed from the 2013 release.  Whilst there is a corresponding document library provisioned in SharePoint this could just as easily be managed by OneDrive for Business whilst retaining version history and simple metadata. SharePoint has little to do beyond the enterprise search capabilities layered over the top. This provides much stronger competition against other cloud-based collaborative technologies that have been competing against SharePoint, such as Huddle. Focus on the simplicity of file sync-n-share over enterprise content management when you want agile collaborative workspaces.

This shift of Yammer into the realm of team work is a significant step into the traditional territory of SharePoint. But only for online customers. Yammer remains a cloud-only proposition. If you want social networking capabilities within your organisation, you will need to consider alternatives. But if you are moving to SharePoint Online and your adoption of team sites is immature, you should pay serious consideration to what Yammer is now bringing to the table. There are some scenarios where SharePoint Online still rules (IL-2 compliance, for starters, in the UK public sector), but expect those reasons to keep shrinking if the announcements made at the SharePoint conference are anything to go by…

Back to files and folders

And finally… the new name for SkyDrivePro is OneDrive for Business and it is now available as a standalone subscription, i.e. it is no longer tied to SharePoint. Like it or not, the popularity of file sync-n-share solutions like DropBox have demonstrated that people still find it easier to use folders to organise and share documents, and the simplicity of the features makes sync’ing across many devices a lot more straightforward than when using enterprise content management systems with their version control, classification, retention policies and workflows.  And as mentioned above, whilst Yammer is integrating with SharePoint for content storage as it takes over some of the team-based collaboration capabilities, if storage is all that is needed OneDrive could also just as (or more?) easily be used.

Closing comment

These shifts are all sensible reactions to the evolving market place and competition Microsoft is facing from new solutions that have been designed from the beginning to thrive in mobile and online environments. Is it the end of SharePoint? Of course not. But it probably is the end of innovation for SharePoint. In a similar way to when SharePoint’s arrival back in 2001 signalled the end of innovation for Exchange which had, up until then, been Microsoft’s focus for the new world of web-based team collaboration as well continuing its core as a messaging platform (and had its own conference back then too, but not for much longer…). I remember it well because I had become an Exchange specialist in the late 1990s due to my background in knowledge management and jumped across to SharePoint when it was still in early beta under the codename Tahoe. Exchange is still here and playing an important role for messaging. SharePoint will stick around too for web-based content management. But Yammer, Lync/Skype (still not sure what the roadmap is there) and OneDrive are the focus for new ways of working based on Microsoft-owned technologies.

* Two months after this post, Microsoft announced the end of the SharePoint conferences


Related Blog Posts

Image at the start of this post: Leaping into Lake Tahoe (licensed from iStockPhoto)

%d bloggers like this: