Twenty-three thousand technology professionals gathered in Atlanta this week to learn about Microsoft's vision for the future

A constant theme throughout the Ignite conference was Digital Transformation. Exponential growth in data and content, and advances in mobile computing are driving organizations of all sizes and industries to transform from being an organization that uses digital technology, to being a digital organization. 

Advances in cloud computing bring with them a tremendous opportunity to transform every aspect of business, spanning how organizations engage their customers and stakeholders, empower their employees, optimize their operations and transform their products.

As expected, Microsoft Ignite was all about cloud computing. But this year Microsoft emphasized new dimensions: security and productivity. Security was a key topic at many sessions and keynote speakers demonstrated how Microsoft is continually advancing the security and reliability of its cloud and OS products. But the digital transformation will not be complete without enhancements in productivity. 

So where did Microsoft’s journey to improve productivity start?

A Look Back at SharePoint

Let’s look back to the mid '90s, with Microsoft’s first entrance in the productivity marketplace with a little known product called Microsoft Exchange. 

Back in those days, email wasn’t as prevalent in our business lives as it is today and organizations were moving fast to embrace this new form of communication. Besides its focus on email, Microsoft Exchange had a new feature called Public Folder which allowed for a group of people to collaborate. 

Public Folder included a shared mailbox, a shared calendar, a shared task list and a place to store shared documents. Sound familiar?

While those public folders proved handy, something was missing. To access it, you had to go through your email system and it was often hard to store large amounts of content. During the dot-com boom and the explosion of the web browser, businesses became keen to stand up websites as a way to enhance productivity. 

In 1996, Microsoft released Site Server, the first attempt to help businesses stand up an internal website quickly. This release saw a rapid transformation in the marketplace. By the late '90s the concept of an intranet had fully emerged being driven to a large extent by questions of productivity — providing employees with easier access to information. 

During that time Microsoft was hard at work on project name “Tahoe,” a new set of technologies to bring portals to businesses. And in 2001 we saw the first release of SharePoint. 

Nobody at that point would have imagined the product (it was actually two different products with the same name: SharePoint Portal Server and SharePoint Team Services), would have the success it has seen to date. The product had many flaws: the SharePoint Portal Server took its root from Microsoft Exchange with an architecture that wasn’t scaling and SharePoint team services was based on unproven new technologies. 

Yet, the common goal to provide businesses with tools to drive better productivity still moves forward. To this day, companies and organizations are using SharePoint intranet solutions to drive and enhance people’s productivity.

SharePoint Grows Up

With every version over the last decade, SharePoint has continued to mature, adoption soars and Microsoft addresses the flaws. 

Over my 13 years of experience with SharePoint, I have seen many of those issues. While SharePoint became increasingly popular and widely used, it continued to suffer with a challenging user experience, a perception of being hard to use and a feature set that wasn’t keeping up with the advances in technology. 

With Office 365, Microsoft started reinventing collaboration and communication in the new cloud era. Over the past few years, we have seen hundreds of businesses move to the cloud with the goal of increasing agility and minimizing risks. 

Today, Microsoft wants to provide individuals and businesses with a set of powerful tools that connect enterprises, empower users and give options. While many people in the community were calling for an end to SharePoint, I talked at length about my love and hate relationship with it. 

Ready or Not, Digital Transformation Is Happening

At Ignite this week we were reassured of Microsoft’s continued commitment to business productivity. Microsoft announced new capabilities to drive digital transformation. 

Digital transformation starts with a secured cloud platform. Microsoft showcased how Office 365 security can be enhanced with its renamed Enterprise Mobility and Security product. Azure workloads continue to be released at a fast pace, with Artificial Intelligence playing a central place in this transformation. Satya Nadella demonstrated Cortana Intelligence and Enterprise Bots Framework.

So what’s new with Microsoft’s core collaboration product SharePoint? SharePoint is here to stay: we’ve been reassured of that fact several times this year. While the brand seemed to be disappearing a few years ago, it is now central to the Microsoft cloud collaboration platform. 

SharePoint is being integrated into the new core Office 365 offering such as Office Groups, Yammer, PowerApps, Flow and more importantly SharePoint is getting a new user experience with modern team sites and a new SharePoint Developer Framework.

Microsoft has a great vision. The boundary between its traditional products is disappearing and converging into a unified cloud platform that will assist in businesses digital transformation.