Hybrid is the Prescription, But What is the Diagnosis?

imageOne of the main reasons why I am so excited about the Microsoft Ignite conference in Chicago this May is because it will provide answers to many of the questions floating around the SharePoint community about the future path of the platform. Not that I expect to have all of the answers, mind you, or even to be satisfied by the information Microsoft will provide. No, I think we put too much hope into these kinds of tradeshows, where most of the “big announcements” turn out to be incremental updates to technology already announced or in preview. What I am more interested in is Microsoft’s latest messaging around hybrid SharePoint deployments, and specifically how customers who plan to retain large on prem infrastructure components will be able to take advantage of some of the latest cloud-based features.

Almost 3 years ago, during a strategic planning session with my former employer, I shared my thoughts on where the industry was headed, and where we should make our next investments. My feedback was that we should position ourselves to “own” the hybrid space, focusing not just on migration (traditionally a one-way movement of data) but on change management (bi-directional asset movement) and hybrid management (administration and visibility across on prem and online assets). Unfortunately, we did not pursue that path, and in my mind it was a massive missed opportunity. But then again, there wasn’t a lot of data to back up my position at the time – only my gut feel based on interactions with customers, other vendors, and with Microsoft.

And to be honest, that line of thinking was directly against the corporate messaging coming out of Redmond. Only in the last year or so has the product team come about in their messaging, finally listening to the feedback not just from partners, but from major and minor customers around the world. In a CMSWire article from December 30th, 2014, David Roe collected forward-thinking statement from a number of experts from the community, such as Jim Murphy, research VP at Gartner, MetaVis CEO Steven Pogrebivsky, and Wendy Neal (@sharepointwendy), a senior SharePoint consultant at McGladrey, about the evolution of the SharePoint platform. In the article, Murphy shared that “it will be at least 10 years, if not longer, before enterprises that are using SharePoint are forced to jump to the SharePoint cloud” while Pogrebivsky talked about the ease of use of many of the competing cloud-based  file share platform – such as Dropbox and Box, and even Microsoft’s own OneDrive platform – as helping to delay customer decisions in what to move to the cloud, and how quickly.

But my feeling is that McNeal’s investigation into why SharePoint may be falling out of favor – and delaying movement toward the cloud – is more to the point, and was echoed this past month with AIIM.org’s survey results and whitepaper entitled Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint – Important Strategy Choices. As David Roe reported, sharing insights from McNeal’s blog:

  • Lack of Vision or Clear Plan: Many companies think of SharePoint as simply a product that you install on the server and allow everyone to start using. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
  • Lack of Time and Resources: Often, organizations will designate one or two people from each team as team site owners and expect them to set up and maintain the content. What they don’t realize is the amount of time this takes away from the person’s regular day job.
  • Lack of User Buy In or Change Management Plan: Using SharePoint requires a substantial change in the way people process information and perform their day-to-day tasks. Users need to be included in the project from the beginning
  • Inadequate User Training: You can’t just deploy SharePoint walk away and expect that people will start using it. Even if you do have a plan, and have gotten your users on board with it, they still need to know how to use the new system.

The one critical factor not on this list would be ‘Lack of visibility across all information assets,’ which is the key to managing hybrid: the ability to see all of my data, wherever it lives, and where possible (where APIs exist, for example) to manage them (migrate, administer, report on, analyze) from one location.

So what is actually happening within the industry? Microsoft messaging is pointing heavily toward hybrid, but organizations need to understand that their goal is transition, not a permanent state. Hybrid is not meant to be “the answer” for your long-term ills, but a way to move toward the answer, which is the cloud. On the surface, hybrid seems to answer some of the biggest concerns of moving toward Microsoft’s future vision for enterprise collaboration:

  • keep secure data where it lives today
  • maintain business-critical integrations and customizations
  • take advantage of new features in the cloud

But the reality is that hybrid may not be as easy as a flip of the switch, and may actually increase the overhead of managing solutions that span your two systems.

I was having a conversation last week with Damon Tomkins, VP of worldwide sales and marketing for MetaVis, one of the leading ISVs in the SharePoint space, who recently presented to the Puget Sound SharePoint User Group (www.PSSPUG.org) on his company’s plans to answer some of the unmet management needs of organizations making the long, slow transition to the cloud. Unfortunately, their latest tool that was demoed for the user group is not on their website – and they’ve not yet entirely landed on a name for it – but their “MetaVis Operations Management” platform looks very promising. Honestly, I’ve been preaching about the need for a solution such as this for several years now under the banner of “SharePoint change management” and am glad to see a major ISV finally step up to answer this need.

I’ve stated before that one of the areas where I’ll be listening closely at Ignite is around SharePoint Server 2016’s “management layer.” Your guess is as good as mine at how comprehensive a vision will be shared at this event. I’m prepared to be underwhelmed on the technology actually made available this spring, but am confident we’ll have a much better perspective on the roadmap.

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.