Remember the song “Creep”? 

In 1993 it was impossible to escape the loser-anthem by the weirdly-named British band. Creep took the charts by storm but was, at its core, a mopey poor-me alt-rock-power-ballad-by-numbers.

Would anyone have projected that the artists behind a hit as predictable as “Creep” would go on to produce something as offbeat and weirdly-compelling as "Amnesiac," let alone the gorgeous "In Rainbows" or other platinum albums that followed?  

Radiohead have historically refused to rest on their laurels, and it’s the primary reason they’ve remained relevant even today.

SharePoint’s career arc is a lot like Radiohead’s. (Yes, I went there. And I’m not looking back.)

Bill Gates Is to Thom Yorke as ...

If I had a dollar for every time someone tried to predict the future of SharePoint, I might not be able to retire comfortably, but I’d have the seed money to found my own startup.   

This product — properly a platform, now — has evolved from a glorified file system (2003) into a content management repository (2007) to a valid platform for intranets and even public web sites (2010) into an all-consuming intranet monster (2013) to what it is today: one plank in Microsoft’s cloud-based digital platform that is transforming the internal operations of thousands of companies and organizations. 

That’s quite an evolution, and like Radiohead’s discography it’s followed a certain logic that’s only visible in hindsight.  

SharePoint's Trajectory, In Hindsight 

The pattern of Radiohead’s album releases has essentially seen them getting weirder and odder, before hitting a zenith of strangeness and settling into a comfortable groove of surprisingly pleasant sonic experimentation melded with occasionally familiar song structures.  

SharePoint, meanwhile, has grown closer and closer to the rest of Microsoft’s productivity stack over time. They say if you want to know where you’re going, take a look at where you’ve been.  

With that in mind, consider these examples:

  • 2003: First “jellybean” presence integration with Office Communication Server (briefly Lync, now Skype for Business)
  • 2007: A bit premature, but Microsoft buries SharePoint in the new name, “Microsoft Office SharePoint Server” letting everyone know that those Word, Excel and Powerpoint files in your document libraries were actually boss (and not the other way around). Also the first edition of SharePoint to be packaged within the horribly-named BPOS (later Office 365) suite
  • 2010: Office Web Apps premiered, making it possible (albeit clunky) to create and edit your Office files right there in the browser. SharePoint Online became slightly more viable but remained plagued by enterprise diffidence
  • 2013: SharePoint Online finally achieved parity — from a reliability and key feature standpoint — with the other key forerunner of the Office 365 suite, Exchange Online

No Surprises in SharePoint Strategy

Things start to make a lot of sense in the rearview mirror, don’t they? Also like Oxford’s finest, and especially when viewed through the greater context of Microsoft’s overall strategy for its enterprise business, there have been few real surprises when you look back.  

This author is on the record for more-or-less sound prognostications as wide-ranging as:

Aug. 2013: The SharePoint brand will go away and be subsumed into Office 365. This was fairly close — the platform is cloud-first, and the SharePoint product and feature set has essentially been subsumed into Office 365, but the brand name lingers on. Good luck finding it if you don’t go looking for it. 

March 2015: Intranets will transform into a collection of apps, not unlike an iPad home screen. This prediction is also closer to a fully-realized truth than not. Unless you subscribe to a strictly conventional understanding of an intranet (“It’s a collection of HTML pages—now get off my lawn!”), a collection of productivity apps is essentially what the Office 365 home screen gives you. Just drop a newsfeed and a carousel in and you’d have an Instant Intranet™ even stuffy tech traditionalists would recognize.

June 2015: Digital platforms in the cloud (i.e., Office 365 and Azure) will transform the way people work. Microsoft is telling everyone this today. I’m glad they caught up; my colleague Michael Porter and I were calling it eighteen months ago. SharePoint Online has a key role to play in any enterprise digital transformation, but it’s not a standalone role — it’s part of a broader fabric that helps people securely work smarter and more efficiently from anywhere, at any time.

June 2013: Microsoft will integrate Yammer and SharePoint into a full-featured, community-focused intranet product. I apologize for this one. A lot of us struck out on this point. People were excited about how Microsoft would integrate Yammer into its own offering, and it still could happen (see below). But I think back in 2014, everyone thought this would have been a done deal by now. Kind of like how people get excited whenever Jonny Greenwood actually just picks up a guitar again.

How Does Microsoft Keep Up the Momentum?

A lot of great things have come to pass for SharePoint, but like any great recording artist, how does it keep on churning out — not hit singles, those are too pop — but exciting, innovative new evolutions? 

This is a lot tougher now that SharePoint is essentially one piece of Office 365, but it’s also a lot easier. Microsoft, in general, is doing pretty much exactly what it says it's going to do, and it's doing it in fairly regular updates to the cloud functionality. Just ask Jeff Teper:

    Today at Microsoft Ignite, we announced the next wave of innovations. Here are some of the highlights:

    • A significant update to the OneDrive browser experience, so that you can find, access, share and collaborate on all your files in Office 365
    • OneDrive sync preview for SharePoint Online document libraries and folders shared with you
    • Team news to keep your team up to date and informed of what matters
    • People cards in SharePoint and OneDrive for Business that intelligently surface content and details from your colleagues’ profiles
    • New integration with Microsoft Flow, PowerApps and Yammer
    • Preview of the SharePoint mobile apps for Windows 10 Mobile and Android
    • Enhancements for developers including new sites and lists APIs in Microsoft Graph
    • New security controls including site classification and conditional access based on location and device
    • Feature Pack 1 for SharePoint Server 2016
    • Expanded FastTrack services and tools to support hybrid configurations and migration

    — Jeff Teper, Office 365 Blog, Sept. 26, 2016

Every last innovation in SharePoint leverages its integration with other core features and services of the Microsoft cloud. Mobile accessibility, intelligent / predictive content, and closer ties to other productivity apps are the order of the day.  

Even the on-premises version (represented here by Feature Pack 1) is precisely what Microsoft has said it would be — functionality “born in the cloud” that’s been optimized to work with the on-premises server product.  

What Comes Next? 

With all of this in mind, and the benefit of hindsight across 16 years of product/platform evolution, predicting the future of SharePoint is as easy as predicting the feeling of the next Radiohead album. 

Thom Yorke and Co? They’ve gotta be weird, so it’s a safe bet their next album’s going to be another weirdly pleasant sonic exploration.  

Microsoft SharePoint? It’s got to be part of the overall strategy, so it’s going to be tied deeper and more closely into the rest of the Microsoft cloud platform.  It really is that simple.

Now if I could just predict the result of the World Series, I could go found that startup ….

Title image "Radiohead" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Fanni Blake