Back in October at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, Joel Oleson and I had a conversation about what it means for a product or technology to be a “disruptor” and whether SharePoint (and SharePoint 2010, specifically) fit the criteria. According to the universal source of knowledge and wisdom, Wikipedia, a disruptive technology describes an innovation that “improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being lower priced or designed for a different set of consumers.”
If we’re looking at things objectively, the SharePoint feature set largely mirrors capabilities offered elsewhere in the market, either piecemeal through consumer-based products or services, or through competitive solutions. For example, knowledge management and product lifecycle management platforms have been around for more than 20 years, there are dozens of blogging and wiki platforms, discussion forums have been around since the BBS days, and even the ability to show online presence has been around in portals and through IM platforms for a good part of the past 15 years. But Microsoft has made improvements to many of these features, bringing them together within a single platform. But does that make SharePoint a disruptor?
While SharePoint is not the first to provide most of what it does, arguably, it does many things better – if not through the individual features, then through its unified platform that made tools previously accessible (for the most part) only to the technical crowd and put them in the hands of the average business user. That’s a fairly compelling argument in favor of SharePoint being a disruptor.
There are a number of exiting advances in SharePoint 2010. For example, the Managed Metadata Service, giving administrators and users the ability to better control metadata and keywords, is a big step forward for the platform. Sandbox Solutions allow you to test out customizations and integrations within a controlled space before unleashing on your entire system. Better integration of the offline Groove story in what is now known as SharePoint Workspace. However, do these features meet the criteria of a disruptor if SharePoint provides a solution for a problem they created through their own design and architecture (an argument that you can make for all three of these)?
As the platform matures, it increasingly provides tools and features for IT Pros to shape and control deployments. But are these game changers, or simply incremental improvements to meet the changing needs of its user based? Must disruptors drive the market, or can they follow and improve on what the category leaders create?
The most persuasive argument in favor of SharePoint being a disruptor, in my opinion, is security. For those involved in portal development and software-as-a-service prior to SharePoint, this is clearly an improvement to most other products or services that require some level of custom development to build something as robust as SharePoint.
So is SharePoint a disruptor? In my opinion, no. SharePoint is a powerful platform, and has become the dominant player in the portal space. A game-changer, a power-house, and an industry-leader, for sure. But a disruptor? Not by definition.
What do you think?