Inside SharePoint

How Microsoft Is Rekindling Excitement for SharePoint

Listening to what users want and tackling the cloud in a unique fashion has helped to gain some of the SharePoint shine that might have been lost in the past few years.

When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about transforming collaboration and productivity, we all have ideas about what that means. Most of us think in terms of some kind of utilitarian, feature-driven view of the world. But I'm beginning to see things differently.

We're quickly moving toward a world where Microsoft could replace Apple as the cool kid on the block.

In my mind, its not about displacing Apple -- or any other company -- in the consumer space, but in terms of how the brand is viewed by users. And I'm also not talking about the cult of personality surrounding Steve Jobs versus Satya Nadella, although having a personality that people can rally around is certainly a factor. No, I'm talking about Microsoft's new direction toward all things productivity. The evolution of workplace productivity as envisioned through Nadella's Microsoft is creating a new sense of optimism, and real excitement. While the Redmond marketing machine is positioning itself around Windows 10, where I see greater impact is the productivity to be realized through the Office Graph and Delve, the innovative GigJam concept and a revitalized SharePoint.

Can we be honest for a moment? As a SharePoint guy and Office 365 MVP, I may be biased -- but my feeling is that SharePoint had been headed in the wrong direction for a couple years, with Microsoft making numerous messaging missteps, and (again, my opinion) losing sight of who its customers are and what those customers wanted from the platform. Yet Microsoft has come to a realization (finally) that on-prem customers are important, and that the move to the cloud is going to take time. Microsoft has listened and learned, pivoting its strategy from a very aggressive push toward the cloud to more of a pull model -- where customers are able to take advantage of cloud experiences while not giving up their on-premises infrastructure.

Whether it was a masterful strategy or a beautiful mistake, Microsoft has found itself in a great position with competitors like Box, IBM, and Jive by offering more options and solutions for customers with varying degrees of on-prem investments. A couple years back (in 2013, specifically), Gartner provided some statistics during their Catalyst Conference in San Diego around movement of SharePoint customers to the cloud, stating that 35 percent of existing SharePoint customers would never move to the cloud, and within five to seven years only around 15 percent were projected to be pure cloud -- leaving 50 percent in some kind of hybrid state. Microsoft adopted those stats, sharing them during its annual Worldwide Partner Conference. However, since that time some Office leaders have acknowledged that the numbers have changed. What we're seeing now is that the number of companies claiming they will never move to the cloud has decreased to as few as 20 percent -- while customers projected to be pure cloud in the next five to seven years has also decreased. Hybrid, it seems, will be the new normal for SharePoint for some time.

Microsoft has a huge window of opportunity to build on the good will being provided to Nadella, learning from past communication and strategy mistakes with SharePoint and building some excitement around the platform's roadmap. I often talk to audiences about user-centric development and change management, and how Microsoft has earned points by adopting smarter, more effective listening tools. And they are most certainly listening, and responding quickly to questions and customer issues.

At the most recent Partner Conference in Orlando, Nadella talked at length about transforming productivity, and rethinking how teams collaborate. The task now is to help people bridge the gap between the vision and driving meaningful value to businesses. Realistically, it will take more than savvy marketing and overly aggressive sales goals to push customers toward this new model of productivity, but inspiring people to move -- focusing on pull tactics instead of push -- will certainly move people toward this vision more quickly.

Microsoft is learning to inspire through innovation rather than rely on blunt-force marketing. People want to feel inspired, they want to catch a vision of the future -- but they also need to see the practical application of that technology, which sometimes means steps, phases, and iterations in that technology. Within SharePoint, this means giving people that hybrid bridge from the present to the future -- and, most importantly, to not make them feel cut off or second-class citizen if they decide to take the slow, financially prudent route to the future.

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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