What is beyond SharePoint 2016?

May 02, 2016

I see the future of SharePoint from a perspective that's slightly askew to Microsoft's marketing machine. I think that SharePoint has been a victim of its own success.

When Microsoft first built SharePoint all of those years ago, it was to solve a simple problem. They had built Word, Excel, Access and Outlook, but there was still a gap for companies to share and collaborate on these files that their software produced. Yes, shared drives worked, but Microsoft saw the limits of folders and the potential of metadata, so they came up with SharePoint. The name even implies that you are sharing some sort of points. 😉 

What Microsoft didn’t foresee, but inevitably had to address, was the fact that companies didn’t want to just share and collaborate on documents. They wanted a place to share news, events and take polls. As the internet evolved, social collaboration started to make waves too. When these needs surfaced, companies started to expand their SharePoint intranets as they had already made the investment in the software and infrastructure. With some configuration and custom development they could make SharePoint serve these purposes. These companies started using SharePoint like a content management system.

Microsoft scrambled before SharePoint 2007 and came up with a publishing framework. In my opinion, the publishing framework feels exactly like what it is – a quickly put together answer to companies using their document collaboration tool as a content management system. It doesn’t come close to real CMS's, but it somewhat satisfied a need.

When I look back over SharePoint in the last 10 years, the most popular features that companies wanted were never well executed by Microsoft. It was the IT team, consultants and product companies that brought the value. This was because SharePoint has never been cutting edge or on target with the needs of most organizations after you install it.

SharePoint adoption is always low. It’s a Lego set with some great pieces, but if you don’t know what your company needs or how the pieces fit together, then all the pieces in the world won’t mean people will use it.

SharePoint is a constantly changing beast that is always behind and doesn’t know what it wants to be. It really is a jack of all trades, master of none.

But this is where the NEW value of SharePoint becomes visible. In SharePoint’s years of adolescence, it has inadvertently become something bigger than itself. Just like an athlete trains for greater strength and dexterity, so has SharePoint become an awesome platform to build custom business solutions. All those years of Microsoft scrambling to bolt on new features or expand into new areas, has pushed the platform to become a robust customizable monster that’s incredibly stable and secure.

In my opinion, the future of SharePoint is as a platform. Almost like a web server or database. In my utopic future, people will talk about the new meeting software they recently purchased from a boutique software studio. They will praise its ease of use, how it feels tailored to their business, fits them perfectly and how they love the companion app for their mobile phone. They will love how it integrates with their outlook calendars and other Office 365 products. And the dirty little secret? It runs on SharePoint. You can login using your Office 365 credentials. Security and stability isn’t a concern because the data lives in Office 365 in the Azure cloud. The kicker is that the user will have no idea it’s on SharePoint.

As I watch the announcements about SharePoint 2016 and as its list of features grows I usually find myself with lackluster feelings. It’s not because I don’t believe in SharePoint 2016/Online or that I don’t think that the features won’t bring value. It’s because I believe the future of SharePoint isn’t in the new Site Pinning feature or a Mobile Experience. It’s in leveraging SharePoint as an Office database to store and retrieve information in real products that solve real business problems for your company.

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