The end of SharePoint

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

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Do you need a portal?

Back in April, I presented some sessions at the International SharePoint Conference held in London. One of the sessions was titled ‘We need a portal’. It was part of the business track, exploring how to run SharePoint projects.

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Same but different

A while back I posted a video Microsoft had commissioned from Common Craft: SharePoint in Plain English. Here’s that video again:

Not long after, Jack Vinson posted a video on his KM blog, from IBM explaining Lotus Connections. Not as slick as Common Craft but looks kind of familiar:

Which made me wonder, has Google got anything similar? Oh yes, and wisely created by none other than Common Craft too:

Three vendors with three products/services touting a similar story. What are the differentiators that make you choose one over the other?

Side note: whilst many seem to be copying Common Craft’s style of presenting, I don’t see any coming close. The Common Craft web site is well worth checking out.

References:

SPC 2008 – Analyst Mash-up

Anyone who attended the analysts session at SPC 2008 will immediately understand the title… read on to find out more.

Yesterday I attended a session – Analyst Panel: AMR Research, Forrester and Gartner Anaslysts Weigh In. I just know it is going to have been the best session of the conference. Apologies to those who have yet even to present.

Introductions: Tom Rizzo moderated the session. Hat tip to Rizz, he was brilliant! The analysts who braved the audience:

  • Gene Phifer: Gartner
  • Kyle McNabb: Forester
  • Rob Koplowitz: Forester
  • Erica Drive: Forester
  • Jim Murphy: AMR

The following are my scribbled notes typed during the session. They are not a perfect transcription, no guarantees regarding accuracy yade yade yade. My comments are either in brackets within the answers or called out separately under ‘my comments:’

Q – What is your view on enterprise records management in MOSS

Kye: Is RM ready for primetime? Usual answer – it depends. Truthfully, for larger organisations with complex requirements for retention management, then no. Microsoft knows this and has partnered with other companies in this space.

Gene: Ditto. Business records management is one of the missing pieces. It is not feature complete. MOSS with additional third parties is required.

Q – So what are the top 3 things that MOSS needs to make it ready for prime time records management?

Kyle: 1st = experience. Tower and others have been around for longer (this is the stupidest answer. What can MS do about this? Keep plugging away with random releases for the next few years just to prove they’ve been around for long enough?). 2nd = additional certifications, such as UK’s TNA/PRO. It is a checklist requirement for projects but good practice (Agreed but this also has little to do with improving the actual technology.) 3rd = notion of a single secured records repository is being blown away by new technologies such as LinkedIn, Facebook, web apps. You need to put policies on the asset itself (i.e. the record) rather than the store. (Agreed, but what current prime time vendor is already doing this today. If SharePoint is playing catch-up, it needs to catch-up. Trying to reinvent the records management market,despite it being a much needed effort, is unlikely to be a winning strategy for MS in the near term. In other words, the analysts didn’t come up with one concrete requirement that MS needs to build to make SharePoint a prime time platform for records management. Like the much needed ability to handle compound documents, manage complex taxonomy structures such as multi-faceted and poly hierarchies for classifying content, how to create a file plan/classification schema that both works and doesn’t kill the search engine in the process…there you go – 3 things I think MOSS needs to make it ready for prime time record management!)

Q – what surprised most about MOSS 2007

Jim: the breadth of capability. MOSS is covering 6 formerly distinct areas of technology. It is not surprising to see MS do it but it is interesting to see how MOSS is disrupting all 6 spaces at once.

Erica: 1. How quickly it evolved into an application platform that competes with Lotus Domino; 2. Adoption rate is like weeds and wildfire.

Rob: It was an aggressive release, almost entrepreneurial in nature, and aggressive in terms of continued improvement

Gene: In addition to the pace of adoption, I’m more surprised by what wasn’t there. Mash-ups – not mentioned during the keynote. Popfly is doing that stuff. Connecting web parts does not create mash-ups, that’s just interoperability

Tom: Hey, MOSS itself is the biggest composite application of all.

My comments: a great debate sparked up on what is or isn’t a mash-up (a.k.a composite application), including audience participation. Gene was absolutely adamant that MOSS cannot do mash-ups. His attitude – mash-ups are about RESTful applications. I was on Tom’s side in this debate. In my opinion, a mash-up is simply the outcome from mashing two independent sources of information together to create new information. For example, mapping Flickr images using Virtual Earth. SharePoint performs two core roles – 1. storage of content in sites, lists and libraries. 2. a web user interface for accessing digital content – stored locally within SharePoint and elsewhere. Web parts can be used to display content in many different ways, including creating connections between multiple sources (integration) and creating visualisations that are the outcome from mash-ups. No, you wouldn’t use SharePoint itself to create the mash-up. (Ditto for other portal/collaborative platforms) And in this way, Gene was correct. But you would use SharePoint as the user interface to display the outcome from a mash-up. Should we see Popfly type functionality within SharePoint in the future? I should hope so… but I wonder if it will be a feature native to the future hosted version of SharePoint only… Tom certainly kept the session fun and lively by managing to squeeze in references to what is or isn’t a mash-up throughout the remaining questions ūüôā

Q – What’s your take on the consumerisation of IT

Gene: We’ve seen it for years, consumer technology coming inside the organisation.

Rob: Forrester is working on an agenda called Technology Populism – they believe the current approach is more dramatic than we have seen in the past. Research shows huge upswing in web 2.0 as organisations create strategic directions based on it. The problems are growing – content going out to public domain sites that shouldn’t. You need a strategy to take control of this. Applaud Microsoft’s partnerships with Newsgater and SocialText to tackle this space.

Kyle: The line between work inside the organisation and out of hours activities is disappearing. I.T. in the past has been about applications and hard-core technology. Now it is becoming more about information and how you manage information, down to the individual item level. Stuff outside the organisational boundary is currently completely unmanaged. No technology company has come up with a solution yet to tackle this space.

Jim: The dissolving lines between work, home, and community is a more fundamental change than consumerism of technology (which has been happening since PCs first appeared). How can businesses take advantage of technologies like Facebook, monetise it? Anticipate extreme pressures in terms of risk over the next few years, with regard to information leaking. But it is an issue that we need to get over as companies globalise their businesses and become more transparent as those lines dissolve (The added challenge here is that governments show no signs of embracing globalisation in terms of policies placed against information assets and how government data is managed.)

Q – what’s the biggest technology shift in general that will affect the market that sharepoint plays in?

Rob: SaaS. You’ve got to rearchitect applicationss from bottom up to fit the new data centre environments (I’d second this – a separate blog post is brewing on this topic)

Q – what comes after Web 2.0

Erica: 5 – 7 years is going to be Web 3D. 3D environment with avatars, integrating with regular 2D environment. We will see it used for training, demos, simulations… SharePoint has nothing in this space today, no sign of a bridge, I keep telling MS that this stuff is coming. (I think most analysts over estimate the impact of SecondLife and friends to mainstream business, and underestimate other peoples’ ability to see what’s coming. Yes, it has fantastic potential in certain scenarios, but it’s simply not even close to being available in a usable format for the majority of business. And honestly, does Erica think that nobody in MS has heard of SecondLife or is aware of the growing integration of virtual 3D environments into real-world processes and activities? Not sure that the current form of SharePoint is the place to be developing such capabilities… perhaps the hosted online version of the future. For 3D environments to become integrated into daily activities will require them to be hosted on massive data centers…)

Kyle: (staring at the audience) You in IT need to learn what your people do! They use this stuff all the time, you just don’t know it. (I’m not sure who in the audience he thought this actually applied to. Sure, there are some IT depts who have a complete disconnect with the people they support… but I doubt many in that category are allowed out to have fun and attend conferences. Mandates to lock down computers and ban access to Facebook and friends rarely start from within the IT dept…)

Q – What’s your take on virtualisation

Gene: Seeing it at the hardware and OS layer first, it will naturally work up the stack

(Checked the audience for who was using virtualisation in some form – most were, and a lot were for SharePoint. Audience member asked out – what’s Microsoft support for virtualisation with SharePOint)

Tom: SharePoint is supported on Microsoft’s own virtualisation server. PSS will do a best effort level of support on other virtualisation technology like VMWare. According to VMWare, SharePoint is 4th largest load being virtualised

Q Put yourself in Microsoft’s shoes. What’s the one next thing MOSS should do next?

Erica: its the silverlight stuff – more visual and contextual ways of working

Gene: Figure out how are you going to charge for SharePoint SaaS-based services. How are enterprises going to adopt this? What’s the monetary model going to be. Google is free… MOSS should be more capability but how to justify the charging

Kyle: coping with the hybrid that is going to be a mix of on-premise and in the cloud

Jim: Mash-ups and more analytics. How does sharepoint tell me how i’m doing, what the business value is of what i’m getting, how well is this working… and better taxonomy management

Q – It’s 2020. What are the hot topics

Kyle: The interesting question will be what will have happened to Google. We can imagine IBM still being around, ditto for Microsoft. But will Google still exist even? (Spot on with this observation. 2020 is 12 years away, 12 years ago, Google didn’t exist, the web was barely
2 years old from a non-academic/non-military perspective.)

Bob: There will be a fundamentally different approach to business processes.

Jim: lingual support is likely to be a bigger issue (Good point, will China be the super power by then?)

Gene: by 2020, the digital natives will be running companies. So stuff that seems ‘out there’ to today will be business as usual… (very good point, makes you realise just how inevitable the transformation of business is going to be in what we will look back on as a very short space of time. At the moment, it’s an uphill battle to get many organisations to acknowledge the ineffeciencies in current busines practices.)

I’m bagging the final comment. I was surprised that ‘green computing’ wasn’t called out. I can see the need to reduce carbon emissions (likely driven via government policy) as being a driver to move I.T. services into ‘the cloud’ and start using hosted data centers rather than attempt to grow your own to host applications (3D?) and information that require increasing amounts of hardware resources…

Technorati tag: SPC 2008

SPC2008 – BillG Keynote

Having sat in on Bill G’s keynote at the Office DevCon 3 weeks ago, it was interesting to see what would be in the SharePoint conference keynote… Has to be said, the content had a bit more zing. Yes, the ‘last day at the office’ video was played. And as always, the Q&A threw up some great quotes.

Usual disclaimers. These are my scribbles taken live at the event. They are not a transcript, no guarantees regarding accuracy, etc. Enjoy.

Technology Trends

Same mega trends highlighted as at the Office DevCon. Talking about BI benefitting from chip improvements. Lowering storage costs enabling recording/indexing of media content. Natural user interfaces such as touch, pen and speech will transform apps. See MS Surface being integrated into meeting tables, white boards. Building up to the online services announcement:

“Historically, software was tied to a specific piece of hardware. Now software is becoming much more abstract, distributed across resources.”

Business Productivity focus areas:

  • Unified communications
  • Social computing
  • Enterprise search
  • Business intelligence

Comparing SharePoint Pie to Office suite 15 years ago. Previously, people had separate client applications for word processing, number crunching, presenting. Packaging the tools into a suite and lowering the cost made it easy to assume that everyone had the required tools to open and work with relevant content. Today, SharePoint is taking the same approach with server applications. Currently, many organisations have separate tools for business intelligence, search, web content management, CRM etc. SharePoint is tying them all together. Not necessarily about winning in each category, but creating a broad infrastructure that makes it easier to get stuff done. Simple scenario – rich new visualisations created within Excel 2007 that you can publish up to a web site hosted on SharePoint.

Software + Services Platform

Running software on-premise versus subscribing to a hosted service ‘in the cloud’. There are trade-offs in terms of ownership, resource management etc. It means that some elements will stay in-house (at least for a while), but other elements are straightforward enough to be hosted elsewhere. Expecting many organisations to have a hybrid scenario, a mix of installed software and subscriptions to hosted software in the cloud.

Announcing SharePoint Online and Exchange Online: Microsoft Online Services

Opening up the beta (previously, was private beta for customers with more than 5,000 seats). Aiming for general availability by end of year, regardless of organisation size. At the high-end, working with Coca Cola Enterprises, taking all their SharePoint work and putting it into an online environment. The new environment is a strong fit for the kind of work they are doing.

Demo of MS Online Services – John Betz: Login to MS data center – Microsoft Online. An administrator will get an admin view, e.g. add users, set roles, enable account and assign licenses for services to be made available for account. Can sync internal applications with online services (e.g. enterprise email synced with online mail). A sync tool for connecting to internal resources, including AD. Means you can external accounts to the GAL. (Assuming they act as external recipients)

For end users, the sign-in client looks similar to logging into an instant messaging service. The first time the user logs in, will have option to connect online service with user’s Outlook profile to auto-sync email. The quote from John Betz:

“the promise of enterprise class software being delivered as subscription services”

Search

Microsoft has three levels of search:

  • Entry level = Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express
  • Standard = Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
  • Specialised = FAST

Announcing availability of Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express today

Search Demo – Richard Riley: Showed Search Server delivering federated search results, including integration with Symantec Enterprise Vault. Presenting a customised results page, with images presented alongside structured results (similar to the example in To click or not to click). Demo’d FAST, showing a preview pane within the web page built on Silverlight. Very nice demo. (Looks a lot like the Album preview you get in iTunes.)

Back to Bill:

Talking about business data connectors letting you get to information of all types. Search is great when it gets you to documents but becomes more powerful when you can also get to structured data sources.

Looking ahead, people shouldn’t have to worry about where the information comes from. The software takes care of connecting to the backend information stores. The SharePoint environment will enable new ways of interacting with data. Modelling is an important focus area – simulating what’s going on in the enterprise. This approach should reduce dramatically the amount of code that needs to be written. Currently at the early stages but it will make the value of information even more impactful. (He’s talking about declarative programming – see the Office DevCon Keynote Q&A for more information.)

Q & A

Q – Data access and data storage – concept of universal data access still isn’t there. Is it going to change in Office 14? And what about the Exchange storage engine?

A – Storage unification is a big deal at MS. A big opportunity to simplify the programming and admin model and ability to do integration. In SharePoint, you’ve got these lists that are better than tables in some way, but in SQL you’ve got the flexibility and scale that goes beyond what you have in lists. What’s the answer? Want to have the capabilities within SQL as a native capability within SharePoint. In the next version of SharePoint, we’re taking a big step in terms of putting a table from SQL into SharePoint and enabling those richer capabilities. The direction is straightforward – we want list semantics to be in the database engine itself, without giving up the reasons we invented lists – the approachability and ease of use. On to storage unification. (Side note: Bill said that SharePoint has always been built on SQL… Er, no. He must have forgotten about the first version being on the Exchange web store.) AD had its own way of doing distribitued info replication. Now moving more to a metadirectory – will be based in SQL and then do replication out to the stores that do distributed login capabilities. Exchange has its own store, SQL doesn’t do the hierarchy stuff that Exchange needs. To model that hierarchy, we need SQL to cope with tables within tables. Tnat will simplify the underlying store. But no timelines.

Q – When do you plan to go relational with data store: allow nested tables, relational dropdowns within SharePoint?

A – Lists today are pretty powerful, were built for the kinds of things people do in SharePoint. The idea of tables within tables – we’re taking a big step towards that goal in SQL 2008.

Q – What’s MS plan in being ahead of competition, i.e. Google Sites and Team Edition

A – SharePoint is about end users and being able to get their work done. Hilarious – Bill said “the day they announce the product is it’s best day… I may be biased…” It’s great that people have choices. The breadth of work required to build the likes of SharePoint is very high…

Q – MS-Yahoo?

A – We are very serious about competing in consumer search. We’ve learned alot about how to build up the data center in terms of hundreds of thousands of serv
ers. Needed as we host Exchange and SharePoint. But also need to develop what we can offer in terms of software management that can also help customer data centers. Shouldn’t have to have people on call 24 hours a day (i.e. software needs to be self-healing). That’s what we are working on in our data centers. The boundary between desktop search, SharePoint and web search is blurring – we are going to see more solutions drawing on all these different areas. It shows our bullishness about search and software regardless of whether or not MS-Yahoo happens – that is speculation at the moment.

[Update: 04 Mar 08] See the comments for a link to a YouTube video covering Bill’s comment about Google. You can view video of the keynote, and find the official viewpoint over on Microsoft’s web site – SharePoint Conference 2008 Virtual Press Room

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Technorati tag: SPC 2008