SPC11 Wrap Up - the SharePoint freight train

As the SharePoint conference wraps up its third day, it is as clear as ever that the platform is nothing short of a proverbial freight train.   As evidence, nearly 8,000 attendees (7,600 based on feedback from Microsoft) ultimately registered and attended the event (many showing up without pre-purchasing an attendee pass).  Combine this with a very packed exhibitor hall with loads of new players, a license population in the tens of millions, and a two year old product that continues to capture new customers at a rapid pace, it's not hard to see why there's so much interest in the larger collaboration and content management market.

While some have criticized our comparing SharePoint to Lotus Notes, I think the comparison is nevermore appropriate.  The two platforms, though different in terms of functionality, are identical in the ways that count: adherents fanatically defending the technology, with a very large partner ecosystem and a committed community developing surprising solutions from generic features.  Like Notes, the real value of SharePoint is well beyond the core constructs the platform provides.  As I have said many times, SharePoint-based solutions generally "look" nothing like SharePoint.  These solutions make inventive use of platform facilities to create something greater and specific to the problem the solution needs to solve.  This was/is true for Notes and it is even more true for SharePoint.  Just look at SharePointReviews or Microsoft's own "solution directory" for a glimpse of the breadth of the add-on ecosystem; this will help you understand the diversity that's possible. Of course, the same predilection for extension and bespoke development got Notes shops into trouble too.

Where the comparison between Notes and SharePoint diverge, in my mind, is the sheer size of the connected product sets from Microsoft (and others) and the potential for SharePoint growth as a result.  The best example is Office.  SharePoint's 120 million licenses sold is an astonishing figure for a collaboration product.  However, when you compare that to a Microsoft-reported 1 billion user population for Office, the SharePoint community seems rather small.  IBM and Lotus Corp before them could never boast such a large productivity tool install base, nor were they able to bring related collaboration tools to as wide a market as Microsoft.

As individuals and organizations of all sizes are increasingly geographically distributed, information workers  (to use Microsoft's vernacular) will continue to drive demand for network-based file and information sharing as well as more real-time and disconnected communication vehicles.  With the launch of Office365 this past June, previously impractical on-premise SharePoint implementations for individuals or small firms become a simple subscription to SharePoint in a shared environment.  More importantly, the subscription isn't limited to SharePoint, since it includes other connected products like Exchange, Office and Lync.  And while all four products are presented separately, packaged as Office365, they start to appear as simply features of a broader productivity suite.  As a result, like Office did for Word, Excel & PowerPoint, Office365 will "drag" SharePoint into a previously inaccessible user population.  In fact, the meteoric growth of SharePoint 2010 (roughly 65 million licenses or about 50% of all SharePoint licenses), could be eclipsed by SharePoint vNext as both organizations and individuals really start to sign-up for Office365.   If we further consider the co-star of the SharePoint Conference, Azure, Microsoft has created what could only be called a very diverse productivity offering.

Should everyone run out and adopt SharePoint?  No.  While I firmly believe we have not yet seen the crest of SharePoint growth, buyers should continue to carefully weigh what tools make sense for them.  Remember that SharePoint 2010 remains the same product it was two years ago (minus some modest updates through service packs).  It is not best of breed in most functional categories.  And while Office365 may have made SharePoint technology practically available to more users, the SharePoint portion of the O365 feature set still has meaningful limitations when compared to on-premise SharePoint. 

This year's SharePoint Conference consistently delivered the "steady as she goes" message and Microsoft effectively reminded everyone why SharePoint has been a success.  Office365 was a very clear highlight and even the limited announcements (like the addition of BCS in SharePoint Online) implicitly and explicitly hints at the underlying strategy Microsoft has adopted around these products.  However, my previous advice still holds: when evaluating SharePoint across a single use dimension like web content management or business intelligence, you're unlikely to find it effectively competing with pure-play tools.  SharePoint's real value is and will continue to reside in its breadth of functionality and connections to other Microsoft tools like Office and Lync; these are very compelling attributes to be sure.  If your organization needs to implement an intranet, an extranet and an internet site (or some combination), SharePoint may be a good fit to help consolidate technology platforms and skillsets.

That's a platform view, however, and often business stakeholders want something more practical. For a pure-play, single dimension tool to solve a singular aspect of your content management challenges, like web content, you'll be best served to carefully evaluate other tools alongside SharePoint to ensure the best fit.

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