Since Satya Nadella took the reins at Microsoft two years ago, Microsoft watchers have been asking themselves some questions: 

Is Microsoft’s focus on a "mobile first, cloud-first" world working? 

Is it even realistic?

And where do Microsoft’s flagship SharePoint product and Office 365 fit into the new paradigm?

What's Really Going On

Although Microsoft is quick to share the number of companies with SharePoint or Office 365 installed, not much is known about how these companies are using the software or what those businesses are planning for the upcoming SharePoint 2016.

Enter Stockholm, Sweden-based Rencore, founded in 2013 by Microsoft MVP Mattias Einig. 

Rencore's main product — the SharePoint Code Analysis Framework (SPCAF) — provides a comprehensive code analysis suite for SharePoint and Office365, giving insight into how SharePoint is used and how effective that use is.

In late 2015, Rencore surveyed 1000 professionals whose jobs involve modifying SharePoint platforms to find out how businesses are really using SharePoint.

The survey focussed on those people who have the largest impact on SharePoint and Office 365 use in a business. Their roles can be broken down as follows:

(A side note: the research found that the SharePoint community is, by and large male dominated — which probably comes as no surprise — making up 88 percent of the respondents except for in the US, where 22 percent of the respondents were women.)

Rencore released The State of SharePoint and Office 365 Development 2015 (registration required) report earlier this month — and for SharePoint aficionados, it is 24 pages of SharePoint goodness. To find out more, we asked Einig why it had carried out the research and why now.

“With Microsoft’s focus on a ‘mobile-first, cloud-first’ world and the growing change of how SharePoint and Office 365 is customized, the purpose of the survey was to see whether its vision rang true and to gather an understanding of the current state of SharePoint and Office 365 development,” he told CMSWire.

“We’re very much in the middle of the cloud revolution, so we wanted this research to offer an invaluable insight and provide a means of understanding how the two Microsoft platforms are being developed and extended today."

What the research revealed is telling. While some of the trends were “more predictable” others were less so:

“For instance it emerged that Microsoft’s ‘mobile first, cloud first’ world vision is currently far from the reality. The report also found that SharePoint customization is still a varied discipline,” he said.

“Another somewhat alarming finding is that governance and day-to-day management are still undervalued. And finally, we were able to put numbers behind the community’s collective impression: the Office 365 and SharePoint community ARE thriving."

The SharePoint Mix

The research found most organizations are using a broad mix of Microsoft’s current and legacy software.

You might, for example, have an HR department using SharePoint 2007, Sales and Marketing on Office 365 and the whole business using SharePoint Online to collaborate on documents.

The report made this distinction clear — the fact that a company uses Office 365 does not necessarily imply company-wide use. More often than not companies take a granular approach to the cloud, making a platform decision based on a very specific operational purpose.

“Because Office 365 is much more than just SharePoint Online, the high percentage is misleading as many companies focus initially only on moving the Exchange workload to the cloud,” Einig said.

Small-to-medium businesses buck this trend, with the research finding the cloud-first approach gaining ground in that sector, perhaps due to the speed with which companies can be up and running.

Hybrid SharePoint

Enterprises with SharePoint infrastructures already in place tend to be larger than SMBs. Office 365 does not — yet — add as much value to their working environment, so moving to Office 365 is not as common.

Given recent announcements from Microsoft related to SharePoint 2016, the future of on-premises and the future role of hybrid cloud environments, it comes as no surprise that the research found a quarter of organizations had hybrid strategies.

However, this does not mean that their overall IT strategy is hybrid:

“According to our findings, many, if not most, organizations are currently running more than one SharePoint or Office 365 platform. Many ‘hybrid’ organizations continue to use legacy platforms. The decision to go on-premises, hybrid or cloud-only is often closely tied to specific needs within a business unit or even team,” Einig said.

Customization Features

Customization plays a big part in an organization's decision whether to migrate to newer versions of SharePoint, including the upcoming SharePoint 2016 release, with higher levels of customization in existing deployments conversely affecting chances of migration.

Generally speaking, the more software is customized, the more difficult it is to migrate. But customization capabilities attract developers. It allows them take out-of-the-box features and configure them to the needs of end-users.

However, the release of Office 365 changed the traditional methods in which developers have extended and sometimes 'hacked' the platform.

“When SharePoint was released as a standalone product, organizations could do what they wanted with it and some abused it in a way making it almost impossible to migrate to a newer version without immense effort. With cloud services such as Office 365, we see the typical routes to customizing the platform have altered significantly,” Einig said.

This means developers now have to alter the focus of the changes they make, building add-ins rather than changing SharePoint as a whole.”

Deploy Or Not?

Overall, though, SharePoint deployment rates depend almost entirely on the type of organization and what the platform will be used for.

For example, the health industry holds large amounts of private data which it's loathe to risk by placing online — either for safety reasons or legal.

“This is backed up by the data — only 35 percent of health organizations were using Office 365 or SharePoint Online. By contrast, 79 percent of the consulting firms were. So taking all factors into consideration, using cloud services like SharePoint Online or Office 365 may make very much sense. In other cases it is not an option at all,” he said.

One final item of note is the role of governance in the SharePoint set-up. Einig points out that with many people focusing on business targets, governance can easily fall lower on the priority list.

“While governance is not top priority, our report shows that it is still on everybody’s agenda. So we are not talking chaos or vulnerability here. The issue lies more within the efficiency of established processes,” he said.

“Manual processes are by far and away the most common approach taken by organizations. Manual SharePoint governance is not necessarily problematic. However, ensuring that you have a well-documented and rigorous approach is essential."

The report covers even more ground and is unique in the size, sample and profession of those surveyed. It's worth a look for those considering SharePoint, or with SharePoint deployments already in place.