Toppling a Giant: SharePoint 2010, the iPad & Social Business Software

6 minute read
Joe Shepley avatar

First things first: before you all accuse me of cooking up a title that incorporates both SharePoint 2010 and the iPad in a shameless attempt to get more clicks than Barb Mosher’s What is SharePoint 2010? Vision and Reality, let me give some back story on my interest in the topic…

I got an iPad 2 for my birthday this April and have been on a mission to replace as much of my laptop work with it as possible.

And I was initially disappointed: out of the box, it probably did 60% of what I needed it to. The lack of Microsoft office support seemed to be a real Achilles’ Heel. Even products like Documents to Go only get you so far on the iPad: if you need to edit final form Office docs, good luck.

But as I continued to work with my iPad, I found the lack of Office tools less and less of a problem because I developed other ways to work…many of them easier, more productive, and better suited to my tasks than Office ever was. In many cases, it turned out I was using Word and Excel for things that tools like Evernote, email and IM are much better suited for. And if you add to this all the social media capabilities you get with a Dropbox or Box.net, a post-Office world becomes more and more plausible.

So this experience got me thinking: if the iPad could disrupt Microsoft’s hold on desktop document creation, could it eventually do so for its hold on document management (i.e., SharePoint)? And if the iPad could do it, what other potential disruptors are out there ready to challenge Microsoft’s dominance of the documents in our lives?

PCs are Dead

The first problem Microsoft faces is that the PC is essentially dead -- or at least the bells are tolling its death knell as we speak. This is true in the US, but even truer when you consider the issue globally, because in many countries folks have skipped over PCs completely and transact all their business on mobile devices.

Essentially, mobile computing is to PCs what PCs were to mainframes, and Microsoft is definitely late to the mobility game.

Apple, on the other hand, got into the mobility game early, and in terms of the tablet, they all but created what is shaping up to be a massive market for a product that, before the iPad, was essentially a non-starter. And while you can cry foul about their not supporting Flash or Office or how closed the iPad ecosystem is, roughly 25 million iPads have been sold through June 2011 with no signs of a slowdown anytime soon.

There are other tablets on the market, of course, but in my weekly travels to clients and industry events as an enterprise management strategy consultant, I can count on one hand the number of non-iPad tablets I’ve seen, yet I routinely see iPads all over the place.

So, if Apple continues to dominate the tablet market and continues to keep Office out of the game, it’s not difficult to imagine a time when a significant portion of workers are operating in a post-Office world. And while it’s not a sure thing, this wasn’t even something you could hypothesize about four years ago -- not a bad accomplishment for Apple.

Too Big for Their Britches

Beyond the threat they face from mobility and the iPad, Microsoft also faces challenges with their dominance of the dynamic document management space.

We all know how they essentially took over the space with the release of MOSS in 2007 and have grown astronomically in the four years since then. And this was despite the relative weak features and functionality of SharePoint vis a vis “big” ECM systems like FileNet, Documentum and Open Text.

By and large, this was because Microsoft hit the “good enough” sweet spot for end users. Turns out they didn’t care about the most complete feature list or most enterprise-worthy technology. They wanted something fairly easy to use that didn’t have an impossible UI. And SharePoint mostly provided that.

Learning Opportunities

But in the latest release, SharePoint has begun to go beyond “good enough” and is becoming more like “big” ECM than it was previously, both in terms of total cost of ownership (TCO) and complexity of implementation.

This has opened the door for new “good enough” solutions to step into the breach, most notably Box.net, which not only provides the kind of lowest common denominator document management SharePoint once did, but adds social media and collaboration capabilities that SharePoint can’t touch. It’ll be interesting to see whether organizations can overcome their fear of hosted solutions and cloud content management to embrace the kind of approach a Box.net offers.

The Old Double Reverse

As if all this weren’t enough, “big” ECM vendors are positioning themselves in two interesting ways as part of their continued attempts to outflank SharePoint.

First, they’re pouring significant effort into making their desktop integration as seamless and robust as possible. If they can get an end user to save an Office document directly into their repository (and allow them to open it just as easily) from within Word, PowerPoint or Excel, they can cut SharePoint out of the equation.

Second, some of them are working hard to develop social business software (SBS) products to enable Enterprise 2.0-type collaboration and interactions at an organization. In theory, these SBS tools would allow end users to collaborate and connect outside of Microsoft products (much like my iPad did for me), all the while keeping the content safe and warm in their traditional ECM repository.

Now the jury’s still out on both of these, particularly the latter, but they do both hold out the promise of a post-SharePoint organization…something it was difficult to imagine in the anxious months leading up to the release of SharePoint 2010 last year.

The Final Word

So there you have it, my emerging thoughts on why we might be heading for a post-Microsoft world and what it might look like. I’d love to hear what folks out there think -- I’m always up for a good heckling!

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About the author

Joe Shepley

Joe Shepley is a strategy consulting professional living and working in Chicago. In his current position as Managing Director at Ankura he focuses on helping organizations improve how they manage Privacy risk through improved processes and technology.