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.
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.