Tinfoil Hat Predictions for SharePoint and Office365 in 2021

So another year has slipped by, and the SharePoint blogosphere is alive with predictions about 2016 and what the future might hold. I thought I’d take this a step further: Time to don my trusty tinfoil hat, and make some predictions about what might be happening in the world of SharePoint in 5 years’ time! Now, it’s worth noting that most of these predictions are based on some basic research, reading, and my opinion about the way trends are heading in the broader tech landscape: I might prove to be right on some counts, I may very well be totally wrong. It will be interesting to revisit this post in 2021!

So without further ado, here are my Top 5 predictions for SharePoint in 2021:

1. SharePoint as a concept/brand will cease to exist

Microsoft barely refer to SharePoint in their marketing. This was particularly true during 2014 and the early part of 2015, when there were hardly any articles specifically about SharePoint on their Office Blogs site, one of the main channels through which Microsoft updates users about forthcoming features and changes within its enterprise technology stack. However, towards the end of last year, somebody sensible at Microsoft seemed to realise that the SharePoint brand still carries significant cachet, particularly with on-premises customers. There was more direct referral to SharePoint by Microsoft in late 2015, particularly with SharePoint Server 2016 coming out shortly.

With that said, I still think Microsoft’s preferred direction of travel is towards distinct, delineated experiences within a shared platform. SharePoint as a concept is just too big and hard to explain (as I wrote about in this article), so even though the brand name still carries some weight, I predict that Microsoft will distance themselves from it and focus on marketing ‘Groups’, ‘Delve’, ‘OneDrive’, and other individual apps within the broader platform.

 

2. Around 20% of content on SharePoint intranets will be created by automated writing tools

Automated composition engines are already capable of turning data and analytics into natural language writing. In my opinion, it’s a matter of when – not if – this technology makes its way onto corporate intranets and collaboration platforms. Things like market reports, shareholder reports, legal documents, and the latest quarterly financial results could all be written by machines, reviewed by a human, and then published on a SharePoint intranet as news articles.

 

3. Modern intranets will no longer have a homepage

This is something I’ve actually been longing to try on a project for the last couple of years, but have never found quite the right situation or client to do it with. Homepages take up a massively disproportionate amount of effort and cost on a project, usually somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of an intranet project’s total development budget. Homepages also take up an exorbitant proportion of analysis/design time too, since stakeholders are always so wedded to the idea of having a nice-looking homepage that everybody wants to have their two pence and get it as ‘perfect’ as possible.

In my opinion, the homepage of an intranet should be nothing more than a jumping off point into distinct portals (or ‘experiences’ as Microsoft calls them) where users can get the content they need or perform the task they must do. You could already make the argument that the app launcher in O365 fulfils this purpose (particularly if it’s customised to include things like links to your News Centre, Project Sites Hub etc. etc.), so I’d be tempted to go full-Google and just have a search box and nothing more on the homepage. I still need to find a client I can sell on that concept :-).

So my bold prediction is that by 2021, modern intranets won’t really have homepages in the traditional sense, or at the very least, they will no longer be pouring disproportionate amounts of time, effort and money into one single page.

 

4. Team Sites will no longer exist

I’m a big fan of team sites, so this is a prediction I make with a slightly heavy heart. There are two main reasons I think this one is very likely to come into fruition: Firstly, Microsoft have created a minimum viable product in O365 called ‘Groups’ which is attempting to bridge the gap between shared mailboxes in Outlook, team sites in SharePoint, and discussion groups on Yammer. It’s a bit of a ‘worst of all worlds’ solution at the moment and I’m not aware of anywhere it’s been widely adopted, but it shows the route Microsoft are trying to go down on the collaboration side of things.

The second reason I think this prediction has a high probability of being right is that Microsoft wants to move away from power user customisation. In my experience, 90% of an organisation’s user base will only use their team sites for the basics: store some documents, maybe a team calendar, capture some contacts if you’re lucky. But the other 10% go to town, and create all sorts of power user customisations and small-scale business apps that help them get work done more efficiently and effectively. Microsoft has been burnt in the past by allowing heavy customisation of SharePoint platforms (hence the app/add-in model) since it makes things harder to support and upgrade. For SharePoint 2013, they took away the WYSIWYG visual interface from the SharePoint Designer tool to make it less non-dev friendly. And for SharePoint 2016, well… There is no more SharePoint Designer! This leaves a bit of a hole in my opinion, in terms of small-scale business applications (it remains to be seen if PowerApps can fill it effectively), but I think it’s another nail in the coffin of Team Sites in the traditional sense.

I think that by 2021, Groups will be the de facto collaboration area, and PowerApps will provide the ability for power users to customise SharePoint and create business applications.

 

5. ‘Intranet in a Box’ products will cease to exist

There’s been a massive trend in the last few years towards implementing pre-packaged intranet products. The market is saturated with products built on top of SharePoint Server/SharePoint Online, and there is relative parity in features and capabilities of all these platforms. I think that it’s only a matter of time before Microsoft builds something into O365/SharePoint that fills most of an organisation’s intranet requirements out of the box. Indeed, they’ve already started down this route with the forthcoming Microsites and Knowledge Management Portal features in O365. Companies that have their own intranet in a box products will have to react quickly to new functionality Microsoft provides, or they will go out of business.

 

Conclusion

So those are my predictions for the SharePoint/O365 landscape in 5 years’ time. Some slightly out there, some bold but based on solid evidence, some that it’s safe to say probably will happen at some point. It will be amusing to revisit these in a few years time and see if I’m some sort of Nostradamus, or a complete fool. Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Tinfoil Hat Predictions for SharePoint and Office365 in 2021

  1. Thank you and well written.
    I certainly disagree on the likelihood of the death of the home page.
    Our corporate structure seems typical to many industries and the people at the top want a place on the wall to post something everyone is likely to bump into. Not possibly navigate to.

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    • Hi Steve, thanks for your comment.

      Agreed, there is always a desire for a homepage. I’ve never worked on a project where it hasn’t been a big focus. My main problem with homepages isn’t actually the lack of useful stuff on them, its more the proportion of project budget they eat up for relatively little value. All they really tend to do is surface news, links to corporate tools and act as a jumping off point to other areas of content. For me, you could fulfil those three purposes with considerably less expense than most companies spend on a homepage.

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  2. Thanks for this predicting article, it was a fantastic read. However, as you’re kind of focused on things that “will no longer exist” or “cease to exist”, I would love to know what do you think is the future of modern intranets? What will exist? What will last and resist all changes the future may bring?

    Fred
    MyHub

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    • Hi Fred, thanks for the comment.

      For the points in the article (e.g. SharePoint ceasing to exist as a brand, team sites being no more etc.) I mentioned under each of those headers what I see as replacing them.

      But for more general stuff, I think the following are likely to stand the test of time:
      * There will still be on-prem versions of SharePoint (though possibly under a different name);
      * Team sites (or replacement, possibly Groups) will still be customisable and extensible, but it will be more geared towards developers;
      * A lot of the core concepts of SharePoint intranets will still be required by most organisations in 5 years, e.g. news publishing to the masses, targeted news/operational announcements, “about us” pages for departments to tell the rest of the company about themselves etc. This will mean intranets will largely look and feel the same as they do at the moment: I think intranets have pretty much fully matured as a concept now, and there won’t be anything too radical changing in the near future (unless Yammer/FB@w ups its game and usurps the traditional intranet).

      That’s just a few thoughts off the top of my head anyway!

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  3. Hi Nathan,

    thank you so much for your detailed answer. I really appreciate it!

    So, if you say that intranets have “matured as a concept” and there won’t be a radical changing in the near future, do you think that the market is somehow saturated right now? Do you think that it’s too late for a new player to play a vital part in this game?

    On the other hand, as you say, Sharepoint is “just too big and hard to explain” – and this is more than just an “image problem”. Maybe you’re right and Sharepoint can “reinvent itself” and will be used as a core/slim version – or many companies switch to another intranet solution.

    What do you think?

    Best,
    Fred~

    Like

    • Hi Fred, apologies for the very late response – thought I had responded to this already!

      In my opinion the only way a new competitor could make an impact in the IIAB market is if they did something really different/innovative. There are just so many established options out there that it would be a tough sell getting clients to go with a company that has no proven track record of executing, no matter how good their product might be.

      In terms of SharePoint as a brand/concept, I think this prediction is looking less and less likely to be true as this year is progressing. Microsoft seems to have realised that it warrants some focus and rather than putting all their eggs in the public cloud basket, now seem to concentrating on hybrid.

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