If you've visited the Microsoft website lately, you might be wondering what happened to SharePoint. It hasn't disappeared altogether, but it's certainly harder to find. Is this somehow related to Microsoft’s recent reiteration of its "device and services" strategy? I think it is.

Where's SharePoint?

In a July memo to employees, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer re-emphasized the importance of social collaboration in Microsoft’s future. He said:

Social communications are time-intensive, high-value scenarios that are ripe for digital re-imagination. Such innovation will include new ways to participate in work meetings... We can reimagine email and other communication vehicles as the lines between these vehicles grow fuzzy, and the amount of people’s digital or digitally assisted interaction continues to grow. We can create new ways to interact through hardware, software and new services. Next-gen documents and expression are an important part of online social communications.”

From Ballmer’s memo, it is clear that social communication is more important to Microsoft than before. And since many of the enabling technologies mentioned by Ballmer were traditionally delivered by SharePoint and email, it’s clear that SharePoint is not going anywhere soon. So what’s going on?

What’s happening is that SharePoint is experiencing a metamorphosis as it evolves into an integral element of Microsoft’s cloud collaboration platform. How so?

Take a look at the Office 365 Enterprise website. The site details the components of the Office 365 Enterprise offering, including the following:

  • Office applications (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note, Access, Project, Info Path, etc.),
  • Email and calendaring (Exchange)
  • Instant messaging, unified communications, and webconferencing (Lync)
  • Mobile access to applications (Office Web Apps)

Where’s SharePoint? Isn't it part of Office 365? Now look again. It’s there alright, because Office 365 also includes:

  • File storage and sharing, and
  • Team Sites

But “File storage and sharing” is listed under SkyDrive Pro and “Team Sites” appears simply as an Office 365 feature. SharePoint, per se, is mentioned only within the context of unified data e-Discovery, administration and accessing data via mobile devices. What’s happening?

It’s simple. The ability to share documents within the context of social collaboration is no longer a product; rather it has become a single component within a grander enterprise collaboration experience.

This was corroborated by a recent Microsoft survey of almost 10,000 enterprise workers from 32 countries that identified the top two uses of enterprise social tools as “communicating with colleagues (by 68% of respondents)” and “sharing documents (by 50% of respondents)”.

Sharing documents (SharePoint) and communicating with colleagues (Exchange, Lync, Yammer) are no longer standalone capabilities. Working together with colleagues means reaching out to them using the most convenient collaboration modality for the situation. This could be email, instant messaging, discussion boards, document sharing, telephone, videoconferencing … whatever. All of these capabilities are just components of a broader collaboration experience, and they should be viewed as such. And that is why SharePoint is disappearing and becoming more strategic for Microsoft … at the same time.

Is Office 365 Ready For Prime Time?

With Office 365, Microsoft presents a grand vision for social collaboration. In practice, the offering is not yet complete. Presently, there are three gaping holes in Microsoft’s ability to deliver on the social collaboration vision; mobile access, Yammer integration and a consistent user experience across all devices and services. Let’s look at each one in turn.

Mobile access

When Microsoft says it is focusing on “devices and services,” it means providing complete services on a host of Microsoft devices. Largely, this leaves hundreds of millions of iOS, Android and BlackBerry users out in the cold. This is intentional. During a recent interview on CNBC Bill Gates specifically stated that