This week sees Microsoft kick off its sixth SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas. While I am unfortunately not attending the event, I am hoping that it will finally shed some light on Microsoft’s strategy for social collaboration, particularly in the context of the integration between SharePoint and Yammer, and the direction for Office 365.
As an analyst, I’ve tracked Microsoft’s journey with SharePoint since the beginning, my first briefings on the product’s strategy taking place in early 2001, not long after it was first released, and at a time when it was redefining the document management market opportunity. Since then, of course, SharePoint has grown into one of the most successful enterprise technologies ever, largely through its ability to be the Swiss army knife of information management solutions, able to be moulded into whatever you want it to be—intranet, portal, ECM, enterprise search, etc. etc. But after a decade of simply becoming a bigger and bigger beast—both in capability terms, as well as in its impact on and overhead in an organisation—in the last few years we’ve seen the beginnings of a shift in strategy from Microsoft, as it moves to a cloud-first, apps-driven model. While many customers still deploy it in-house, the Office 365/SharePoint Online strategy means that Microsoft is starting to regain control of what SharePoint is and what it should be (rather than whatever shape an organisation or its partners mould it into). This will hopefully help the product to overcome much of the criticism it has faced as a result of poor implementation approaches, but it also means that the company will need to take much greater responsibility for what it does do and its direction.
These days, as you may know, my focus is mainly on social collaboration, and Microsoft has always been a tough vendor to cover here. SharePoint was very late to the party with social, and when it did arrive, the social collaboration features were clunky and awkward—an obvious afterthought. With SP2013, things improved significantly, but three months before its launch, Microsoft announced its acquisition of Yammer, throwing everything into the air. Since then, the company has signalled that Yammer is to be central to its social collaboration strategy, but as yet the evidence of exactly what that means—and the functional impact on SharePoint—is limited. Current integration between the two products is, at best, clunky, and effectively negates many of the positive enhancements that SP 2013 introduced around social collaboration.
It has taken Microsoft a while to get its head around social collaboration, but I am hopeful that we will now get some answers in terms of what it wants to achieve here, and whether it is serious about being a key competitor in this space. I would like to see social capabilities embraced within SharePoint in a more core, centralised way, rather than it being treated as just another app, as is currently the case. While I recognise that most customers don’t currently choose SharePoint primarily as a social collaboration solution, I think SharePoint’s user experience could be dramatically enhanced through more pervasive use of social capabilities and concepts, but this will take significant investment by Microsoft to make it happen.
So let’s see then… will I be pleasantly surprised, or underwhelmed and disappointed? Over to you, Microsoft.