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First, let me start by saying I am a huge fan of the new MS Cloud Show podcast by Andrew Connell and Chris Johnson.  Since the beginning of the podcast, the content has been spot on, and I look forward to each episode. Kudos to Andrew and Chris for an awesome job!   However, (you saw that coming, right?)  Episode 035 of the Microsoft Cloud Show podcast left me wanting.  Andrew Connell asked some thought leaders in the SharePoint community about the future of SharePoint, and I felt a little disappointed at the end.

While I agree with many of the opinions from the episode, I felt like there was something missing from many of the respondents comments.  Perhaps the questions “Where we think the future of SharePoint is going and where we kind of want it to go?” may have influenced the answers, but I think a broader scope of the future of SharePoint and Microsoft 365 was left unaddressed.  Specifically, how SharePoint and Microsoft 365 fit into the landscape of “The Internet of Things” in a 2-5 year landscape.  This is why I was a bit disappointed.  

Yes, the responses were thoughtful, but I think they were somewhat short sighted.  A couple of the respondents talked about the old “SharePoint Wheel” and how the SharePoint services that we used to “build on” are now becoming services which we consume to compose solutions.  These solutions can now cross the SharePoint and Office boundaries and extend into non-SharePoint technologies as well–think Yammer and Microsoft 365 cloud apps, but also think integrations with LinkedIn, Salesforce, Heroku, IFTTT, and many, many more.   These scenarios are emerging, but I think they’ll be prevalent in the near term, 6-18 months and maybe a bit longer.  As an example, we have been involved in integrations of this type for more than 5 years in the social collaboration space between some of the biggest social products and SharePoint.  In my opinion, these kinds of integrations are not necessarily new, they’re just changing to meet some new technological capabilities for authentication and authorization.

Maybe disappointment is a bit strong; it is their podcast after all, and they can ask any questions they want. Nonetheless, the answers to the questions did get me thinking about where SharePoint and Microsoft 365 fit in the burgeoning “Internet of Things” world.  Andrew and Chris have asked for some feedback on the show, so let me say this, what I would like Andrew and Chris to ask of some guests, and what I think is more intriguing, is “What will SharePoint and Microsoft 365 be in the next 2-5 years?”

In my opinion, the “new Microsoft” is ahead of the competition when it comes to providing the infrastructure for the 2-5 year timeframe.  Microsoft Azure, the emerging ASP.NET vNext, Roslyn and many other innovations from Microsoft are pushing boundaries at all levels.   My colleague, Sean Hester, called SharePoint a platypus in a recent SharePoint Saturday Atlanta event.  All of the preceding Microsoft advances only serve to underscore that statement even more!  Does anyone really think SharePoint will be “rebuilt” to utilize ASP.NET vNext?  If you do, Andrew might have some swamp land in Florida for you to invest in!   Amazon and Google have the storage and bandwidth capacity and ability to make IT Admins happy, but I don’t think they have the same momentum in providing an infrastructure for developers and integrators to create innovative solutions to support the “Internet of things.” This is where I think most of the respondents to Andrew Connell’s question missed an opportunity.  Again, I agree with almost everything everyone said about the near term.  And, while I understand the comments may have been made on the spot, with little preparation, I think there was a real opportunity missed to mention what SharePoint and Microsoft 365 might look like in the more distant future.

One of the most interesting responses was from Mike Fitzmaurice, but his response may have been missed if you listened to the podcast episode in the car like I did (and had to jump back to the comments).

“Microsoft doesn’t get to get away with that […having services on one server…] for much longer, the services have to stand alone and every indication we’re seeing is that the services are being enhanced so they can stand alone.” (Mike F., 6:40 into the podcast)

This is a VERY important point.  With Microsoft’s Mobile-first, Cloud-first strategy–and specifically the abundance of Azure capabilities–SharePoint and Office “services” are poised to dramatically transform many of the most common business problems and solution patterns. Obviously  cloud scalability, CapEx elimination, OpEx optimization, and other much mentioned benefits apply to storage, other infrastructure, and many Inter/Intra/Extranet applications. However, the more interesting situation to me is the impact of teasing out the component services (i.e. Search, BCS, Managed Metadata, Workflow, Storage, Documents, Content Management, Social…) so that they stand alone. Then they become “compose-able,” enabling integration across entirely new service stacks to consume, process and expose data from small sensors, all the way to BI dashboards based on Big Data analysis. That’s powerful!

By the way, I asked earlier if anyone thinks SharePoint will be rewritten to use ASP.NET vNext earlier, but maybe the better question is, “When will SharePoint’s services be rewritten as ASP.NET vNext pipeline components?”

My answer to the question I would like Andrew and Chris to ask would be the following:

“I am really excited about what is coming in the next 3-5 years.  Yes, there is a great deal of change, but we all need to embrace the change.   As an individual, I have been trying to solve business problems in a modular way for more than 20 years with primarily Microsoft technologies.  As a company, ThreeWill has been building solutions on SharePoint for the better part of 9 years.  We have seen some of the best and worst SharePoint had to offer and have dealt with all of the pains with which anyone with any level of experience in SharePoint implementation and development can attest.  The all too often water cooler conversations that start with ‘SharePoint is constraining us, ‘this’ [insert relevant platypus issue here]  just doesn’t fit in SharePoint , it would be easier in [pick your more relevant and evolved framework or technology],” should all but disappear.

“I think the future means the following: Want to create a solution that uses MongoDB to store user information, and use BlobStorage to store the documents, index these documents in the cloud, and use a custom Office Web Apps to edit them by pulling in relevant resources (people or data)? No problem. Want to reference an object in a a social graph and be able to track the work flow of a type of content across organizations, and even external vendors, to improve your processes? No problem. Want to ingest large amounts of sensor based data from your factory floor or retail store, queue all of the input for scalable processing, use a functional language to provide scalable processing and visualize a dashboard built from large data? No problem!  Want to enable global business processes, in low bandwidth regions, on any device at any time? No problem.  Want to provide location based marketing campaigns and customer loyalty programs to hundreds of thousands of users and provide a near real time dashboard of consumption analysis? No problem!  This is what the future of SharePoint and Microsoft 365 look like to me. Only I think we’ll be dropping the “SharePoint”–at least as a distinct brand–from the conversation pretty soon.”

What do you think?  Let me know by replying here or via Twitter by mentioning @threewilllabs and using #iot.

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