Working for a consulting firm, I’m often asked my opinion on the direction of SharePoint. Sometimes it’s about a specific functionality (i.e. Forms and Workflow), and other times, it’s about SharePoint as a whole, and even what my opinion is on Portals in the enterprise.
You seem a bit shorter than I remember…
With the advent of of Office 365, and the recent release of SharePoint 2016, my opinion has been shifting with the overall landscape of the way the technologies are moving. If you had asked me about the future of SharePoint 3 years ago, I would have had nothing but glowing reviews, and said that the platform will be around for a very long time.
Even today, I would say the platform will still be around for a long time, but that’s only because I would now classify it as Legacy Software. Now, that doesn’t mean everyone should throw away SharePoint tomorrow, but it does have implications for the future.
It’s no secret that Microsoft has been burned by the perception of bad SharePoint deployments. They took an extremely customizable piece of software, told their customers it could fulfill all of their business requirements, and let them run with it. Predictably, customers ran as far as they could with it. Extending and deploying anything and everything, until SharePoint became synonymous with “Big Messy Portal with Company Announcements from 2 years ago on the home page”. And that was before they made it even easier to dive into SharePoint by offering it with Office 365!
Over the past few years, Microsoft has killed their Forms solution (InfoPath), informally deprecated their Administration tools (SharePoint Designer), and they are rapidly retooling a lot of the enterprise features into separate products (PowerBI, Flow, OneDrive, and the Next Gen Portals like Video).
But guess what? This is a GOOD thing. I’ve been working with SharePoint for a long time, and I’ve seen the heartache and exasperation from customers who have been burned by the unfulfilled promises of SharePoint. SharePoint wanted to do Everything reasonably well, but without providing any guard rails from having it do Everything unreasonably well.
Microsoft has made a commitment to new versions of SharePoint for on-prem users, but realistically the only reason they have made that commitment is to allow a legacy product to remain somewhat relevant in an Enterprise that is slow or resistant to change. Flow is the latest example of this. While it’s a product that is still in it’s infancy, it’s a simple to use Workflow product that can empower regular users to use Workflows without crashing the platform. It doesn’t provide all the functionality we were used to with SharePoint Designer, but that’s ok. I can easily crash your on-prem SharePoint with an SPD designer workflow, not so much with Flow.
But that seems to be the direction Microsoft is heading with this. Decoupling the functionality that made SharePoint so powerful and Popular, and repackaging it under the greater Office 365 umbrella. Providing a better experience than before, and doing it without attaching it to the smell of the SharePoint brand name. Putting up guardrails to protect our users from themselves, because as much as we all hate to admit it, our users need protecting, and we can’t be there for them 100% of the time.
You look very different, have you lost weight?
What about Enterprise Portals in general? Every organization wants the same thing: mm A centralized place where users can easily access relevant information they need to collaborate and be productive in their respective roles. In the past, it was always a URL, with a flashy homepage that provided content that was usually out of date, ignored, or completely uninteresting. My prediction is that over the next few years, the concept of Enterprise Portals will become outdated, as Personification Architecture and Platforms become a much greater part of an employee’s experience. Microsoft has begun to dip it’s toe into this with Delve, and I can see this concept becoming much more attractive. For instance, having my experience tailored to me if I am a new employee, versus an employee who has been with the company for 15 years. Or seeing and collaborating on information that is hyper-specific to my role and my team in an IT architecture group, versus sifting through information that may only be relevant to Accounts Payable. The key to this will be richer identity technology, and greater integration through tools like the Office Graph, Active Directory, and Taxonomy services that SharePoint provides; or greater integration with other tools outside of the Microsoft ecosystem.
I really like the new ‘You’
At the end of the day, the goal is for users to have the easiest and richest experience possible. The technology is moving in the right direction, we just need to make sure we help it to become the best it can be.
If you’re interested in learning more about Office 365 Consulting services, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org