Is Office 365 Overshadowing SharePoint?
While Microsoft has been talking up Office 365 much more than SharePoint, both services have integral roles in the company's cloud strategy.
- By Christian Buckley
When Satya Nadella asked Jeff Teper to return to the helm of the SharePoint team, I think he knew the immediate effect it would have of reassuring partners and customers alike that Microsoft still had confidence in SharePoint, and that there was more to do. As Corporate VP of both SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, there was some clean up to do around both -- but from what I have seen from both the partner community and from customers, his return has brought confidence to SharePoint's future roadmap.
Now, to be fair, much of what Teper has stated about the health and strength of the SharePoint business has been stated by others for the past couple years. At the last SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas back in 2014 (SPC14), Sr. Technical Product Manager and infrastructure guru Bill Baer stated officially, from the stage, that there would be future on-prem versions. And yet the rumors persisted.
Much was read into how many times SharePoint was (or wasn't) mentioned during the keynote versus the messaging around Office 365. With that perceived shift in support, the doom-and-gloomers had a field day, predicting the platform's rapidly approaching death. While the FUD did have an impact on sales within the ecosystem, overall, the space continued to grow. Net new deployments of SharePoint have continued to go up.
Side note: the doom-and-gloomers are saying the same thing about last May's Ignite event and the lack of chatter around Yammer, and yet with millions of customers, that technology is far from end of life -- even if its strategic role in relation to SP and now Office 365 Groups remains a bit of a messaging mess. But I digress.
In no way do I classify myself as a doom-and-gloomer when it comes to SharePoint and Office 365. I'm quite bullish on the growth prospects for both. With the maturity of the platform, and the expansion of partner programs such as Fast Track and the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, Office 365 is leaving competitors in its wake. But the other change by Microsoft that had a tremendous impact of SharePoint's resurgence, both on-prem and in the cloud was Microsoft's recognition that hybrid is the preferred path forward for most existing SharePoint customers.
I have long defended on-prem, taking a very pragmatic approach to the move toward the cloud and recognizing that many customers have made substantial investments in their on-prem SharePoint environments. These people are not technology laggards. Most just have fiscal and strategic responsibilities to systems currently deployed. They need to get business value out of dollars they have already spent before they can make the case for something new. Some of them have very real concerns or requirements around security and compliance. The reality is that staying on-prem may be the right strategy for some customers.
With the announcements of SharePoint 2016, I was happy to see Microsoft shift their messaging (which really started a couple years back) in support of hybrid scenarios, and the idea that new tools and capabilities could be used to enhance on-prem and introduce cloud capabilities to customers that needed to maintain some kind of on-prem footprint. This strategy is more about pulling people toward the cloud rather than pushing them into the cloud.
Having said that, on the current product trajectory I can easily envision that SharePoint within Office 365 will fade into the background, and while it will play a critical infrastructural role, out-of-the-box (OOTB) solutions and "experiences" will displace the way we know and use SharePoint today. In fact, I would not be surprised to see the brand become synonymous with on-prem only. I suppose you could say that this is my new-year SharePoint prediction, although I believe it may take another version or two before it comes to fruition.
Why does this matter? It's nothing against SharePoint or current investments being made by a still growing customer base across every segment and industry, and everything to do with Microsoft's drive to create technology that is more intuitive, ready-to-go, integrated, and supportable within the Office 365 platform. Within the cloud and within Microsoft's data centers, the company wants to move away from the idea of SharePoint as a Swiss army knife, and instead offer next-generation solutions that offer instant productivity.
Take the new Planner capability as an example. Part of the new Office 365 Groups (or Outlook Groups), Planner provides most of its core value without any customization or major configuration, leveraging integrations with the Office suite of productivity tools, as well as the other workloads within Office 365. While there will always be options to build custom solutions and integrate, the idea is to provide most (if not all) of what your organization needs within the core platform.
Whether or not this is Microsoft's ultimate goal -- to move away from the build-what-you-need platform model and into a built-for-the-cloud solution -- from a product or program cost perspective, I believe Microsoft will get to a point where they will need to decide to separate the two, or, if sales decrease, to depart from on-prem altogether. In the long term, SharePoint on-prem and SharePoint Online are on divergent paths, with the cloud moving toward plug-and-play and on-prem supporting customized Swiss army knife scenarios. This is not a doom-and-gloom perspective, but a pragmatic assessment.
Rest assured, Microsoft has stated plainly that they will continue building on-prem as long as customers are buying on-prem. And if we've learned anything from Windows and, in particular, Windows XP, Microsoft will continue to support successful products well beyond their expiration dates.
Christian Buckley is an independent researcher, technology evangelist and Office Servers & Services MVP with more than 25 years of experience working with collaboration, social and supply chain technology.