Perhaps SharePoint 2013’s real legacy will be that it was a gateway to the cloud.
While interest in SharePoint 2013 for its own sake continues to be high, some SharePoint experts are seeing customers who are using it as a means to an end—that is, a way to get to the cloud.
Not "Moving to the Cloud" But "Bringing the Cloud Down to Earth"
Deciding whether or not to use the cloud can depend on something as simple as the sensitivity of an organization’s data or whether a particular solution is available in Office 365. For vendors, “Our job is to be wherever you are,” noted Mike Fitzmaurice, vice president of product technology at Nintex.
As for IT people in Microsoft shops, they can’t be blamed for thinking Microsoft, vendors, and tech media see the cloud as simply “the next shiny thing.”
Attitudes in IT range from lambasting Microsoft for dragging customers to the cloud, to settling for “it’s inevitable.” As for SharePoint land, most people are, at the least, keeping an eye on Office 365.
“It’s important to be in the cloud and on premise,” Fitzmaurice said. “That’s how you stay current. That said, [SharePoint] 2013 is a means to an end, to get to the cloud.”
“Where there is reluctance is ‘Are we going to the cloud now? What’s our journey look like?’ added Ryan Duguid, vice president of product management, also at Nintex. The company recently unveiled its Workflow for Office 365 and Forms for Office 365—the former lets users, developers, and IT pros automate processes and the latter lets you build and manage forms that are web-aware, SharePoint-aware, workflow-aware, and mobile-aware.
“The E3 plan [in Office 365] has been purchased by most of our enterprise customers. Customers are asking themselves ‘Should I do x in Office 365 or on-premises?’”
SharePoint 2013: The Version of SharePoint That Tries Not to Be Different
There’s a price to be paid for moving to SharePoint 2013, it’s true. You need more RAM, you have to migrate to claims, but still, Fitzmaurice said, “You have people flocking to 2013.”
“People are definitely moving faster to 2013 than they were to ‘07 or ‘10. 2010 was the introduction of the Ribbon and improvements to records management. 2013 is a lot easier to use,” Duguid said.
“One of the big contributions of 2013 is something the [Microsoft SharePoint] team isn’t saying aloud,” Fitzmaurice said. “Namely, this is the version of SharePoint to not be different. If you look at how you’re supposed to build apps, it’s the Facebook model now--extensibility.”
With earlier SharePoint versions, to develop in SharePoint, developers had to change the way they think—and they knew they were doing something different, Fitzmaurice said. “Not now. The door got thrown wide open to allow a group of intelligent people to do SharePoint. It’s a sideways step now to move from being a web dev to being a SharePoint dev.”
How to Be a Vendor in the Cloud
Moving to the cloud isn’t always a breeze, even for technology solution providers. The hurdles to overcome to release a subscription service are often business related, not technology related, both Duguid and Fitzmaurice agreed.
Many ISVs are testing the waters, Duguid said, and it’s challenging to most to make the move from being a box solution provider to being a cloud solution provider, requiring changes to commerce and pricing models, even billing systems.
Although Nintex has had to make changes on the business side, technology-wise, “the developers are doing fine,” and the company has been in the cloud for more than two years, Fitzmaurice added.
He demoed a piece of an earlier on-prem Nintex workflow product that lets you select an option to interact with services in the cloud. An investment by the company two years ago resulted in being able to separate out the structure that talks to those various services, he said.
Duguid summed up what could pass as a motto for many vendors: “Where the customer chooses to be, we will be there and our partners will be there.”
And where is that "there"? It's now a store.
“Because everything is a subscription service,” Fitzmaurice said, referring to the Nintex Store as well. “The goal is if you just need to create a workflow for onboarding, you get the onboarding tools. We are a lot more use-centric.”
Change, IT, and SharePoint (And Should One Even Ask About the Future?)
IT employment predictions over the years have tended toward “the sky is falling” variety. For an IT pro, “Every five years I was told I’d be out of a job,” Duguid said.
Odd how cloud computing continues the meteorological metaphor.
Still, given the radical changes that Microsoft itself has made to its strategy (moving to a different release model, calling itself a Devices and Services provider), one can’t help but conjecture how the future will change for SharePoint admins and devs.
“The cloud is getting added to an organization’s repertoire,” Fitzmaurice said, but “there will always be a market for people who can deploy things in data centers.” Nevertheless, “SharePoint can’t stand still. Deployment will become less important than governance--simple deployments go to the cloud.”
“The days of making big dollars around SharePoint farm architecture are going away. People are moving up the value chain,” Duguid said.
“App devs will have a market,” Fitzmaurice said. “But everything custom will have to compete with solutions in app stores.”
Fitzmaurice recalled Gartner’s term “citizen developer” that describes a user who uses shared services and tools to create apps in environments blessed by corporate IT. “We called it ‘Workflow for everyone’ way before that.”
What we are seeing, perhaps, is the evolution of the user, even more so than the evolution of IT. Fitzmaurice didn't exactly confirm that but did leave me with an interesting quote. "What we're seeing," he said, “is the rise of the empowered individual who can use a tool to glue things together.”