Microsoft SharePoint use grows despite product maturity

SharePoint, introduced in 2001, isn't going anywhere, despite challenges from Box, Dropbox and other cloud rivals. A Microsoft Office pedigree helps, but it's adapting to new work.

The love-hate relationship within the SharePoint user base is starting to teeter increasingly toward the love side of the equation. As SharePoint use and the market start to drift further into hybrid and cloud deployments, and Microsoft continues to tweak it for easier use and setup, this content management platform has been making serious headway in market share from the enterprise on down.

According to figures from Microsoft earlier this spring, SharePoint grew its active user base by 90% in the last year, and the amount of content stored in the platform grew by 300%. As of May 2017, the number of new SharePoint sites created surpassed the 10 million mark.

A lot of that growth has been on the back of SharePoint online migration. According to a recent study conducted by the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, this year's market composition of users shows approximately 46% remaining as on-premises users, 22% as completely online users and 32% as hybrid users. That distribution will only continue to shift in the coming year --during the most recent Microsoft earnings call, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reported that SharePoint online usage doubled year-over-year in the last fiscal quarter.

Less to hate

This shift to online SharePoint use has diminished a lot of the obstacles to rapid adoption for the platform, particularly in smaller organizations without the expert IT resources necessary to set up the appropriate environment and settings to support a user base.

Historically, SharePoint has been a mixed bag of results. It can be complicated to set up, optimize and maintain. It's most often criticized for its aesthetic -- or lack thereof; end-users tend to be unhappy with the fact that SharePoint's interface doesn't "look like a website," said Tim Platt, vice president of IT business services for Virtual Operations.

"In recent developments," he said, "SharePoint Online has eliminated the need for small- and medium-sized businesses ... to maintain SharePoint administrator technical expertise and the hardware footprint needed. No more managing multinode server farms on site."

Bruce Dhara, lead SharePoint architect with IT solutions provider PCM, agreed.

"It's come around from being a product with the most complex way of installing, setting up servers and the like, to taking a minute to set up if you already have access to your Office 365 account," he said.

More to love in Microsoft SharePoint

Meanwhile, with a lot of these obstacles cleared, Microsoft continues to maximize the strong points of SharePoint that have helped build up an ardent following among the platform's power user base. Chief among them is what one SharePoint training instructor likes to call the platform's capability to give an organization "that one version of the truth" for any given document.

According to Samantha Gregory, a SharePoint trainer for a Big Three U.S. automaker, "Whether it's on the server at the company or the cloud, when they save documents -- whether its processes, procedures, user manuals or marketing plans -- they don't have to worry about conflicting copies of the same document going back and forth. There's not 10, 12, 15 copies around -- there's just one document, and people know it is the truest version of the document."

That Version control is what Geri Johnson, VP of operations for public relations firm SSPR, calls a "life-saving feature" for her firm's intense workflow. But what really makes her a big believer in the platform, and an evangelist for her company, is the metadata and search capabilities of SharePoint.

"With SharePoint, we can store documents based on our clients' industries, goals and so on. This allows for filtering, sorting, searching and different views," Johnson said. "Did I mention search? It's the best search engine, period. We're fast-paced, we need to find things [and] SharePoint delivers."

Gone are the days where this is the only product available and people have to use it.
Bruce DharaPCM lead SharePoint architect

In the past, the learning curve was steep for SharePoint users and power users alike. That still continues to some degree for less technically savvy users, said Gregory.

However, Microsoft has poured a lot of effort into streamlining the interface and improving ease of use, particularly with SharePoint Online, Dhara said.

"You don't need a technical background to share content, and you can customize the interface according to what you like," he said. "Earlier versions didn't have that capability. You had to send a note to the IT team with what you wanted and work with developers to fill your needs. Now it is the users who define what they want, and they can personalize it as much as possible."

Replacing SharePoint means feature shopping

Nevertheless, one area that Dhara said Microsoft has trouble keeping up is in matching features with up and coming apps from highly agile startups. Often, if an organization is going to dump SharePoint use, it's usually because of very specific feature requirements from its users.

"It's all about feature comparisons. Gone are the days where this is the only product available and people have to use it," Dhara continued, explaining that smaller competitors' launch cycle of upgrades tend to be faster than Microsoft.

"Microsoft has a reason for this, because it's an enterprise-level content management system where if you make any changes, millions of users are going to be affected," he said. "But I've seen a lot of growth in the RFP [request for proposal] requirements from large clients where they make us do the work to come up with five options, and do a proof of concept of exactly how it will look and feel, even before they're officially engaged."

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