Over the past decade, much of the focus of SharePoint has been around the capture and storage of content. For many companies using the platform, that focus will change -- in fact, that change is well underway, moving more and more toward the presentation layer where personalization, social interactions, and business intelligence are becoming a business priority. Even within Microsoft's latest collaboration messaging to "work like a network" the focus has moved away from document management-related features toward "seamless social experiences" that emphasize the user experience: listen to conversations that matter, adapt to make smarter decisions, and grow your business.
This is not just smart marketing, but recognition that the customer landscape has changed, and the user experience is the key to long-term collaboration success within the enterprise. While there are many drivers to the change in focus within Microsoft, there are two primary drivers, in my view, for this strategic shift: the acquisition of Yammer, and the persistent customer feedback surrounding SharePoint's adoption and engagement gap with end users.
Analyst firm IDC predicts that a majority of enterprises will implement some sort of social solution by the end of 2017, and according to Forrester, these same enterprises are increasingly placing a high priority on business intelligence (BI) platforms, in many circumstances adding this capability to established collaboration environments such as SharePoint. Both social and BI solutions have the ability to abstract complex data and business activities into conversations and visual representations, respectively, making content and business processes more consumable and manageable by the masses.
For example, rather than rely on a workflow to route necessary documentation through stakeholders, social tools help participants interact, answer questions as they arise, and focus on the nuances of each customer request. As part of that social interaction, those stakeholders may use real-time geographical heat mapping to illustrate the size and impact of customer issues, allowing managers and front line workers an easier way to review massive amounts of customer data and quickly flag any "hot spots" which may be the result of regional issues. Increasingly, these kinds of dynamic interactions and data visualizations are being used within established collaboration platforms to help data owners quickly convey important information, and to allow people to interact and share that data as incidents occur.
The mantra of software companies who sell social solutions is for "open collaboration" with as few regulations or end user controls as possible, which encourages adoption and, they argue, innovation. While BI solutions have historically catered to security-minded customers, much of the real innovation in the space is being directed toward the cloud. Customers with strong regulatory, compliance, or discovery requirements have been slow to broadly adopt these new solutions -- even though these new technologies may hold the answer to many known end user adoption or engagement issues.
While Microsoft's public announcements and roadmaps point toward a technology direction that will converge social, BI and personalization capabilities within their Office 365 platform, and across their market-leading Office web applications, for many enterprises there is still a "wait and see" attitude toward moving on premises production systems to pure-cloud solutions, which is where Microsoft's Office Graph and Delve interface (formerly codenamed Oslo) are available for customers. Until SharePoint and Office 365 can provide governance, risk , and compliance capabilities similar to what is available offline, these social and BI features will continue to be a "nice to have" feature set for many CIOs. In short, most enterprises need to have some degree of visibility and control over their collaboration platforms before they move past "dipping their toes in the water" and roll them out enterprise-wide.
As more and more organizations begin to realize the business benefits of collaboration, the need for accurate measurements and analytics increases: How are people collaborating? Was my social collaboration deployment successful? Is it driving more business, better customer service, improved team communication, or any other business value metrics? The latest Forrester survey results indicate that enterprises are investing more now than ever in business intelligence (BI) platforms -- but are these initiatives successful in helping improve collaboration overall?
Governance and management concerns aside, personalized experiences -- with a tight coupling of social interactions and data visualizations -- are the secret to improving end user engagement, pure and simple. Organizations are increasingly turning to web-based BI and social tools, mostly developed for the consumer market, to meet their collaborative needs. This is both exciting and scary -- especially if you don't have the tools in place to monitor and respond to these end user interactions. However, within the enterprise, its not enough to simply see what people are discussing or how they are collaborating. What is needed is the ability to guide and direct end users toward secure and compliant activities -- without interrupting or discouraging their collaboration. Successful collaboration is not just about passive observance, but in taking the data and doing something with it.
In my many presentations on the topic, I try to address this shifting customer direction and provide advice with a pragmatic approach: move forward with both eyes open. My advice is to recognize these three truths:
- Companies are increasingly using social and BI tools, because social collaboration is an effective method for getting teams to talk, to share, and innovate. Likewise, BI tools have moved out of the realm of the highly technical business analyst or power user and into the hands of the business stakeholder. You can call it "the consumerizatization of IT" or the maturity of the business user, but the fact remains that end users are not waiting to be handed the tools they need to get their work done.
- Companies are ill-prepared for this shift, because the leading platforms are focused almost entirely on delivering features to encourage collaboration, and are not focusing on the governance, risk, and compliance requirements that an enterprise requires to fully adopt and deploy these solutions. Most vendors view these requirements as being restrictive to end user collaboration. There is a widening gap between what end users want and what enterprise governance standards will allow.
- The organizations that can close this gap will have a distinctive competitive advantage over those who cannot, allowing them to offer their end users unfettered collaboration within secure and compliant environments.
Different people consume data in different ways -- some prefer spreadsheets, pivot charts, and tried-and-true database management techniques to capture, manipulate, and analyze complex data. For organizations that rely heavily on structured collaboration platforms like SharePoint, or even unstructured collaboration tools like Yammer, it is becoming increasingly important for power users, administrators, and leadership teams alike to be able to capture, track, and represent what is happening within their collaboration platforms.
Social interactions and BI dashboards and data visualizations are increasingly the "norm" in how we share complex data. As SharePoint evolves to meet the needs of shifting customer demands, the goal for organizations is to make business processes and data more user-friendly and consumable for stakeholders, focusing less on the platform and more on business productivity. Organizations that can make this shift will find themselves to be more nimble and responsive to changing customer needs, and will have a distinct advantage over their competitors in their ability to meet market demands.
Chief Evangelist at Metalogix
SharePoint Server MVP