SharePoint is Dead! Long Live SharePoint!

Like many others in the SharePoint community, I had the urge to quickly jump into the fray and share my thoughts on the recent blog post by Steve Gaitten on the Bamboo Team Blog in which he shares his impressions on the transition from the on-premises SharePoint model to the Office 365 hosted platform. I held fast for a few days, enjoying some of the interesting dialog running through the community, but want to add my thoughts.

His most provocative statement?

“I believe that SharePoint will be increasingly less important as a standalone experience. And that’s how it should be, because SharePoint as an independent experience, separate from Office, doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

His comments seem to have ruffled a few feathers. Some responded with alarm and even anger, others laughed it off as an attention-getting marketing effort. But here’s the thing – he was right. The shift is coming, and SharePoint as we know it will come to an end.

As we know it. Not today. Not this year. Probably not for a few years, realistically. But change is underway.

Of course, it’s impossible for any of us to predict the timeframe for the shift from the enterprise to the cloud. You need to look past the marketing frenzy around the cloud, and take into consideration several factors:

  • Office 365 is brand-spanking new, and has a long way to go before displacing a majority (or even a sizeable minority) of on-premises environments.
  • Feature parity between versions is one, probably two versions away – at best.
  • Azure needs to mature, allowing for more of the features currently possible through rich ISV (independent software vendor) solutions to connect to SharePoint. In many cases, the “app fabric” simply cannot yet support the functionality of these rich apps. The APIs are just not there. Yet.
  • The marketplace needs to be convinced that the platform (any online platform, for that matter) is stable, with high availability. Outages on the BPOS platform and other competitive platforms (Google, Amazon) are a reminder that these technologies are still new, and enterprises need to approach with caution.
  • Some enterprises will NEVER move to this kind of cloud solution due to security and proprietary restrictions, perceived or real. Period. However, many of these organizations will investigate and deploy hybrid solutions.
  • “The Cloud” is not a new idea that everyone will suddenly sign up for. We’ve been hearing that the cloud / software-as-a-service / ASP solutions will displace on-premises solutions for the last decade. The reality is that it simply won’t happen as quickly as these vendors would like. I joined a startup ($180 million in VC funding) in 2001 that offered a cloud-based collaboration solution, similar in some ways to SharePoint. Companies struggled to get past basic concerns about cloud-based services back then, and many of those concerns remain.
  • Each innovation gives rise to new technologies, new ideas. Arguably, the innovation that breaks the camel’s back and influences widespread movement to the cloud may not even exist yet.
  • Truly disruptive innovations are about business solutions driving technology, not the other way around. This is so fundamental. Office 365 is more than just a hardware solution with a little bit of software, but a way for businesses to shift their focus from thinking of SharePoint as an IT platform, to thinking of SharePoint as a business platform and an enabler.

In the August edition of Redmond Channel Partner magazine, there’s a great article on this coming shift called Selling Office 365 in which author Jeffrey Schwartz captures this very idea in his conversation with John Betz, director of product management for the Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) group at Microsoft. In regards to the business opportunity for partners looking at how they can work with Office 365, John states “the larger opportunity is for making the technology apply to the business. It’s partners upping their game, getting out of patching and managing servers and spending the contract dollars on addressing the business need.” This is spot on.

For businesses, the vision of Office 365 is to allow you to spend less time and money and people on keeping servers up and software current, and to spend more time on using the software to solve business problems. For vendors, this may mean a shift in the business model away from IT services toward business services.

The shift won’t happen overnight. Microsoft is doing what Microsoft does best – marketing their vision of the future. That doesn’t mean SharePoint on-premises is dead. Gravity still works, water still runs downhill, the sun is still shining. Office 365 needs feature parity. Businesses need to see the rich functionality of vendor solutions available on-prem or in the cloud – and even working seamlessly between the two. These changes will take some time. Until then, businesses should keep using SharePoint. Your investments today are still important, and will be relevant to the future path of SharePoint online.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in her HBR column Evolve (Again), stated perfectly, “Continuous evolution protects against bloody revolution. New technologies don’t disrupt all at once. Without abandoning the old, companies can play with the new.”

My advice? Keep doing what you’re doing. And take a breath, folks.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.