Inside SharePoint

The SharePoint Big Bang Theory

SharePoint's popularity can be attributed to Microsoft's willingness to change with the times. If it's to survive in the enterprise, it's going to need to continue to evolve in a cloud-based world.

In my 25 years in the industry, I've seen the cyclical patterns of how many businesses work. The first and seemingly never-ending cycle is the push for growth and the hiring of full-time employees (FTEs), only to later cut back on those FTEs and move toward an outsourcing model, bringing in consultants and hourly vendors, in an effort to reduce costs and "stay competitive." Invariably however, management teams realize experience -- and, potentially, intellectual property -- can walk out the door when a vendor contract expires. And so the cycle repeats when the company decides to embrace the strategy of building up FTEs once again, and bring the intellectual firepower back in-house.

With technology, it's very much the same cycle. Companies see a vision of the future and then start to spend money, time and effort to build out the latest technology, chasing after the promise of automation and efficiency, among other benefits. Think of this as the "big bang" in technology: an idea, a business objective, or set of objectives that leads to an expansion of technology -- strategy, infrastructure, and operational expertise alike. When those early investments don't measure up to every expectation, the system may collapse in on itself. Maybe there were some bad technology decisions, but in my experience it has more to do with a lack of planning and investment, which ultimately stems from a lack of support at the executive level. Regardless of the cause, organizations not meeting short-term aspirations tend to reduce spending, move from seemingly expensive third-party solutions toward internally-architected "do it yourself" projects and, in many cases, adopt a "sit and wait" approach to the broader technology movement happening around them. At least until the *next* wave of innovation hits, and in the excitement and zeal to be part of that wave (and usually without a firm understanding of costs, skills needed, or limitations of the new technologies) they rush back out to repeat the process.

I believe we're seeing similar patterns within the enterprise content management (ECM) space. Look no further than SharePoint to see this happening.

As Microsoft added capabilities to SharePoint over the years, and provided the flexibility to configure or customize its features to meet just about any business requirement, the success of the platform exploded. Suddenly every enterprise was building out an intranet ... and most of them using SharePoint. End users and administrators alike started thinking about their information architecture and information governance policies. Companies with a variety of internal- and external-facing information assets began consolidating their efforts, and started to move their businesses toward a more structured content management strategy.

What's bringing on the cycle contraction? Economy aside, the rise of the enterprise social networks (ESNs) and cloud-based file sharing solutions have had (are having) a contracting effect on those intranet and structured collaboration plans. Suddenly end users seem to be totally in charge -- both on the front-end in the features they want and the format they want it (mobile, dynamic), as well as on the pocketbook, helping shift corporate spending from capital expenditures (CAPEX) to operational expenditures (OPEX), which means that much of the IT spend is coming from marketing and business users rather than from IT.

I do believe we are in a contracting state within the collaboration universe, and organizations are scrambling to understand how to manage all of the disparate technologies popping up within the enterprise.

In a blog post a couple weeks back (Hybrid is the Prescription, But What is the Diagnosis?) I mentioned a conversation with Damon Tompkins, VP of worldwide sales and marketing for SharePoint ISV MetaVis Technologies, around this change in how businesses are consuming technology -- and how management teams are scrambling to keep abreast of what is happening with their information assets across on premises and cloud infrastructure, and maintaining some semblance of control. Damon had presented to the Puget Sound SharePoint User Group (PSSPUG.org) the idea of providing a federated view across all of those information assets, and what that means both to governance and security for a company, as well as just having a better understanding of the usage patterns of employees across all of the systems and tools they use. Having visibility and maintaining governance is not about command-and-control (necessarily), but about helping an organization to meet their legal, regulatory, and security requirements while also giving employees the features and flexibility to collaboration where they want, how they want.

Whether or not you agree with the idea of a technological big bang theory or not is not as important as being aware of the changes happening within the industry, and having a plan. If you're a SharePoint shop, you're probably well-aware of the changes that have happened to the platform since the 2013 release and the launch of SharePoint Online within the Office 365 platform.

Frankly, with the Ignite conference next week and the release of SharePoint Server 2016 looming, I don't believe we need to be ready for another big bang effect just yet. But I do see it happening within the next three to five years as Microsoft's cloud solutions mature, and the new search and social features within Office 365 expand our thinking on our current SharePoint strategies.

About the Author

Christian Buckley, founder and CEO of CollabTalk, is a frequent speaker and writer, and a SharePoint and Office 365 MVP. In the past he worked on the SharePoint team at Microsoft and later served as an evangelist at Echo Technology, Axceler, Metalogix and Beezy. Follow him on Twitter: @BuckleyPlanet.

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