Do I think SharePoint is going away? Absolutely not. But recently, while enjoying the perks that Barcelona has to offer during the European SharePoint Conference, I had an interesting conversation. Invited to preach about something I held dear on SharePoint for a 5min soapbox, I had a chance to discuss SharePoint with Mike Fitzmaurice before it all started. It was quite revealing.
The changes in our industry and the reason for the discussion on SharePoint
Coming back from the Microsoft SharePoint Conference, I wrote on my perception that the SharePoint Brand is disappearing. It’s a solid platform and it is here to stay, but the word SharePoint and the brand associated with it is definitely changing. The talk of cloud and the battles currently being held by the major powers are leaving SharePoint with battle scars.
When I saw Mike, I teased him and asked, “So what should I use to replace InfoPath?”. The thing is, too many are asking how to replace this, but it is the wrong question to be asking. This discussion quickly focused on the changes happening these days and soon evolved into whether or not SharePoint was being picked apart for parts.
Storage and Content with SharePoint’s OneDrive for Business
This is the source of so much confusion, even after a rebrand. OneDrive for Business is actually Groove or SharePoint Workspace with a new name and a set of new features. On the storage front, Microsoft is fighting to steer you away from Box or Dropbox and towards Office 365. To do this, they launched a brand called OneDrive for Business. In short, this is just an Offline Synchronization tool that was called SkyDrive Pro (just as confusing) a few months ago. It has nothing to do with OneDrive, the public offering that lets you store your files.
Though OneDrive for Business is a tool installed on your computer to synchronize your document libraries with your computer, and have them accessible even offline. It has been branded as so much more.
In short, it has grabbed some of the SharePoint features and called them its own:
My Sites personal Site Collections
SharePoint Co-Authoring of documents in a library
Document Security through “Share”
Essentially, OneDrive for Business is taking over the concept of a Document Library in SharePoint.
Collaboration and SharePoint Team Sites with Yammer Groups
There are two main drivers to get SharePoint in an organization or at least there have been. In many cases you had SharePoint either for collaboration sites, that would eventually replace file shares and its old method of classifying documents through folders, or you had it as an Intranet for its WCM features. Obviously, we wouldn’t want to replace the Team Sites in SharePoint as they are working so well and have redefined how many organizations work. It doesn’t mean it isn’t getting rebranded though.
*Note: Remember, I am not saying SharePoint is disappearing, but rather the platform is being carved up for parts and branded as other things. The platform itself is still there and the same.
It became apparent to me that Yammer was slowly taking over during the big conference. No doubt that Yammer is being pushed by Microsoft, which hopes to see this social enterprise platform everywhere. If you remember the popular blog post released during the keynote of the conference “Work like a network! Enterprise social and the future of work” they mentioned Yammer Groups and the future it had in terms of collaboration. Yammer Groups will eventually automatically create a SharePoint Team Site for the group to store the files. Of course, in time this won’t be branded as SharePoint either, at least in my opinion, they will just be Yammer Sites. We, the ones who have been using SharePoint for years need to realize there is more than the world of SharePoint. There are many that do not know what it is and are simply looking for solutions to their problems and Yammer + Yammer Sites could be an awesome solution. It will still be SharePoint of course, just carved up for Yammer.
*Note: Again, this is all my personal opinion. I do not have any special access to the roadmap, but am merely stating my observations. Here, I am strictly talking about the brand SharePoint.
Search and finding information with Office Graph and the new Oslo
Today, my favorite topic in SharePoint is Search and the cool new things it allows me to do. The problem is not its capabilities, but rather the lack of knowledge many have around the search engine and how to optimize it in their organization. The real problem we are constantly trying to solve is: “How can I find the content I want?”
The issue we always have is finding our content, the right content. It’s why we left File Shares or Folders to go for tags and metadata. But there is still too much information, that’s why we are being introduced to machine learning. A way to show you the right information you are looking for before you ask for it based on who you are and what you are doing.
Once the famous and highly anticipated Oslo app comes out, you will see it take over the Search piece of your SharePoint. Again, SharePoint search will still be there and so will those features and Web Parts. I feel it necessary for me to repeat as I understand this article may seem scary, but nothing is changing if you are looking at it in the old perspective of SharePoint. The brand however, and its future definitely is. Oslo and apps using Office Graph will be at the forefront of everything related to Searching for documents and other content.
Composites and building business solutions with SharePoint or Office Apps
The message from Microsoft was clear; for us to stop stretching SharePoint into things it is not with out custom code. Often the example I am given is “do you do the same thing to Facebook, Dropbox, Salesforce, etc…? Then don’t touch SharePoint either”. I can tell you that the first time I heard that, I stopped and had to sit down for a moment.
Wow, I had no choice but to agree. Why are we doing that to SharePoint and then complaining it won’t migrate easily or that it doesn’t work properly?
I am bracing for flak on this one, but do believe we need to stop torturing SharePoint. Features to activate or do things that are possible out of the box is fine, I am talking about those stretched out scenarios.
I believe it is inevitable to see SharePoint Apps and Office Apps continue to grow into a more mature and solid solution to store those custom application needs and surface them in your site. Perhaps we should even stop calling SharePoint a Platform? What do you think?
Insights and business intelligence through Power BI
So there is the problem that almost no one touched this piece since SharePoint 2007 saw the light of day. You’re probably thinking that Power BI is a new part arriving to SharePoint that never was there in the first place. However, Microsoft has tried to have Business Intelligence features in SharePoint for a long time. It was always too complicated to get anything done properly however. I remember using conditional formatting with SharePoint Designer to get KPIs instead of trying to build a full on feature, as they were too complicated. And then there was Performance Point, have you ever tried to use this beast? It’s awesome, but definitely not accessible for those building SharePoint solutions in more cases than none. In the new SharePoint brand, the BI is taking a Self Service and do it yourself approach with Excel Add-ins and the Office 365 piece called Power BI.
Needless to say, this transformation is easy to digest.
The transformation of the SharePoint brand
Writing this article has reminded me of something I hadn’t seen in a very long time, the SharePoint wheel! It was in every presentation of our famous platform and helped us understand how it broke down into different verticals.
There is no doubt about it in my mind; the SharePoint brand is going through a transformation. But it’s important however to understand that the platform itself isn’t being transformed, apart from the usual updates any Microsoft product is getting. What I am seeing is a transformation in the brand by taking parts of existing features and giving them a name. In some cases they are even sold separately or as a standalone subscription to make it easier for companies to use what they need quickly, but more importantly to jump onboard.
Perhaps it’s time for us to…reinvent the wheel.