Inside SharePoint

What Does SharePoint's Future Hold?

While Microsoft has yet to discuss what is in the pipeline after SharePoint 2016, it's easy to infer what the company is planning by taking a look at today's product and service line.

As we sit and wait for the general availability of SharePoint 2016 next year, members of the product team have already started to talk about vNext. Not as far as specific features, mind you,  but commenting on the fact that Microsoft will continue to provide an on-premises version of the platform as long as the market demand is there. And as Microsoft Office GM Julia White (@julwhite) mentioned in her keynote at the recent Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft recognizes that on-prem will be around for a long time, if not mostly in the form of hybrid environments.

With SP2016 just around the corner, what can we possibly guess about vNext? Undoubtedly, the next version (and the version after that) will include new features and capabilities, extending something, streamlining something else. Sorry -- no insights into what specifically may be coming two or three years from now, but based on the direction of Office 365 and the maturity of the collaboration space, I think we can make some educated guesses. A safe indicator of SharePoint's near-term direction is the Office 365 Roadmap -- how Microsoft is adding to SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, Skype for Business, and other related technologies will directly impact what goes into future versions of the platform. 

Some thoughts on where SharePoint is going:

  • In 2016 and beyond, security and compliance will continue to be critical to the long-term success of the platform. It's not just a matter of reaching or surpassing parity between on-prem and online versions. We live in an increasingly hostile world as far as data in concerned, with constant threats. Microsoft has got their work cut out for them. Some improvements will happen behind the scenes to help reinforce the platform. Others will be offered as an expanded toolset of administrative options. Data Loss Prevention (DLP), eDiscovery and enhanced encryption options are all great examples of this work, and we'll continue to see a steady stream of improvements.

  • Microsoft has a new vision of productivity and collaboration. Satya Nadella talked about the transformation happening across the company during his WPC keynote last month, just before handing off the microphone to Julia White, who provided a live demo of Project GigJam. While the technology was cool, what it really did was cement the points that Satya made about the evolution underway that is merging business and consumer experiences (and expectations). There are so many ways in which this new collaboration paradigm could impact the SharePoint that we know and use today, and I expect to see some of these impacts within the next 12 to 18 months -- first in Office 365 and the online experience, and then with SharePoint vNext.

  • It's not so much about "hybrid" as it is about extending your on-prem experience to the cloud. Semantics? Maybe, but honestly, I think it's a huge improvement to the messaging that frustrated (even angered ) many customers who have spent years and major investments on building out their on-prem infrastructures and customizations. Microsoft finally seems to "get it" that there are valid reasons for some customers to remain on-prem. Instead, Microsoft has shifted gears and is developing solutions that enhance those existing investments, allowing customers to move to the cloud on their own terms (or not at all). Beyond 2016, I think this messaging will only improve.

  • With the launch of Windows 10 last month, we are also beginning to understand the vision of an integrated operating system. Say goodbye to OS versions: it's now an interconnected, personalized Windows experience that provides seamless integration into Office, OneDrive, Outlook, and other business and personal productivity tools. I can envision this same experience extending into the SharePoint realm, where the end user truly does not know whether the information assets she or he is accessing are in the cloud or on a server in the next room -- and it won't matter. We're beginning to see this reality within Windows 10 and the integration of OneDrive. It's like the old Palmolive commercials: you're already soaking in it (I'm really dating myself).

  • One area where I envision dramatic change will be in how partners extend and support the SharePoint platform. For many partners, business models and solutions will need to be overhauled. The message out of WPC was clear: in a world where software in increasingly being consumed as a service, Microsoft wants partners to evolve, moving from project-based consulting and product reselling to managed services, and the creation of their own intellectual property on top of SharePoint. We're already beginning to see this shift with an increasing number of consulting firms providing "intranet-in-a-box" solutions. As these solutions quickly become commoditized, future versions of SharePoint will incorporate many of these same features, which will force partners to constantly innovate.

The collaboration space is evolving quickly -- and even Microsoft is being forced to rethink its strategy on a regular basis. In case you missed the news, CVP Jeff Teper is returning to the helm of SharePoint and OneDrive, helping shape that strategy and messaging, which I am excited to see. Of course, regardless of where Microsoft takes the SharePoint platform, and how much the partner ecosystem may evolve, at the end of the day the technology must meet your business requirements. It is so easy to get caught up in where the technology might be going -- but the reality is that you have a business to run today, and workloads to be supported.

My approach to future planning has always been on the pragmatic side: focus on what the technology can do today, not on what may be coming "soon." You'll get more done.

About the Author

Christian Buckley is a SharePoint and Office 365 MVP, who has worked on the SharePoint team at Microsoft and later served as an evangelist at Echo Technology, Axceler and Metalogix. A frequent speaker and blogger, he’s now the CMO of Beezy. Follow him @BuckleyPlanet.

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