Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2013 Q&A: What is the Future for Microsoft SharePoint?
Microsoft is facing important pressures from market and technology forces, which will force it to make fundamental changes to SharePoint's architecture and future development plans. Gartner analysts said SharePoint Online will evolve relatively quickly by integrating with Yammer, Exchange Online and Lync Online, to the extent that the lines between the various elements of the overall Office 365 suite will seem to disappear, although it remains possible to buy them separately. On premises SharePoint Server will follow a different path with slower updates.
Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner, examined the future of SharePoint today during his Maverick presentation at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando titled, “Should Microsoft Kill SharePoint?”
Gartner’s Maverick research is designed to spark new, unconventional insights. Maverick research is unconstrained by Gartner’s typical broad consensus-formation process to deliver breakthrough, innovative and disruptive ideas from the company’s research incubator to help organizations get ahead of the mainstream and take advantage of trends and insights that could impact IT strategy and the wider organization.
We asked Mr. Mann to share his views on the outlook for SharePoint.
Q: Where is SharePoint now?
Jeffrey: SharePoint has proven to be a highly successful product, bringing billions of dollars of annual revenue to Microsoft. It is used, in some form, at a majority of Gartner's clients. SharePoint does not excel in any particular area when compared with best-of-breed, single-purpose products. Instead, it provides "good enough" features across a variety of integrated capabilities. A large part of its success comes from providing reasonable support for most of the things, most people, need most of the time. Together with support from the third-party developer ecosystem, this brand promise has made SharePoint widely deployed. However, few end users really love using it. It remains a tool that people are required to use, not one they want to use.
Q: What dilemmas is Microsoft facing regarding SharePoint?
Jeffrey: Microsoft faces two important dilemmas regarding SharePoint, which are also important for SharePoint users:
- SharePoint needs to go to the cloud, but some customers can't or won't — Microsoft needs to move SharePoint to the cloud for its own interests, as well as the interests of its customers. However, many organizations using SharePoint cannot go to the cloud because they have regulatory restrictions or complex, customized implementations that prevent adopting SharePoint Online. Some third-party add-ons they depend on are not available for the cloud version. Others do not trust the cloud or see no reason to change, so they won't make the move.
- Users want improvements, but IT doesn't want to upgrade — We regularly hear end users and administrators complain about features or user-experience improvements that they would like to see in SharePoint. Although they want new functionality, they are less keen to have more upgrades, which are seen as expensive, disruptive and time-consuming. It is difficult to see how users can expect to get changes without implementing new versions. If upgrades were easier, they might be less reticent to install new versions. This is a move Microsoft is trying to address with the app model introduced in SharePoint 2013.
Q: How should users handle the overlapping functionality between Yammer and SharePoint?
Jeffrey: Microsoft has recommended that users adopt the Yammer activity stream rather than the SharePoint newsfeed, and provided tools to do so. Customers who don't want to or cannot use Yammer (because it is cloud-based, for example) can continue to use the SharePoint newsfeed, although new developments will concentrate on the Yammer activity stream. Capabilities such as "following" documents are provided by SharePoint 2013's native interface, but do not support Yammer's activity stream.
Aside from this recommendation about the Yammer activity stream versus the SharePoint newsfeed, there is little guidance on
how to handle the overlaps. Organizations must decide whether to use Yammer or SharePoint for groups, discussions, Q&A, blogs, wikis and file storage. Without guidance, users are unsure which way to go to avoid future difficulties.
Q: Will Microsoft Kill SharePoint?
Jeffrey: In a word, "No." Gartner expects that the SharePoint product franchise will continue for quite some time, with new releases for both the on-premises and the cloud product. In one way, nothing has changed: SharePoint Server continues to be supported and developed, with new versions expected at pretty much the same schedule as with earlier versions.
However, this argument ignores the monumental efforts Microsoft is devoting to SharePoint Online and Yammer. It is disingenuous to expect that these cloud efforts will not affect the on-premises products, which would simply go on as before. Given how Microsoft is shifting focus to the cloud, and with differences emerging between SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server, it will become increasingly difficult to consider them the same product, especially as Microsoft integrates SharePoint Online ever more closely with Yammer, Lync Online and Exchange Online.
Q: What should organizations with complex, on-premises SharePoint installations do?
Jeffrey: The implications I’ve mentioned will unfold slowly over several years — there is no need to take panicky, immediate action. SharePoint Server 2013 will be a viable platform for doing what it does now, at least until 2018 (when mainstream support ends). However, it is not too early to start planning for a post-SharePoint world.
While Microsoft will not walk away from this product line, there are strong arguments that the changes coming will split the on-premises and online versions of SharePoint sufficiently, and that Microsoft should acknowledge that they cannot remain as one product, and help customers plan accordingly.
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Additional information is also available in the report "Maverick* Research: Should Microsoft Kill SharePoint.” The report is available on Gartner's website at http://www.gartner.com/resId=2599817. The report is part of the Gartner Special Report "Drive Disruptive Innovation with Maverick* Research." This Special Report explores high-impact future scenarios that help companies think differently to uncover opportunity and enable innovation. This collection of research is intentionally disruptive and edgy to help IT leaders get ahead of the mainstream and take advantage of trends and insights that could impact their IT strategy and their organization. The Special Report is available at http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/maverick/ .
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