Today, 150 Microsoft customers, developers, and partners descended on San Francisco to discuss the present and future of SharePoint, the team-collaboration tool for the workplace – with another 17,000 tuning in for the webcast.
At that event, Microsoft announced a smartphone version of SharePoint is imminent, with a new design coming to the main product.
Since its inception in 2000, SharePoint has always occupied a weird psychic space among the Microsoft Office suite.
It’s one of Microsoft’s most-hated products, and quick searches on Google and Twitter for “I hate SharePoint” turn up plenty of results. You’ll often hear groans of malcontent when it’s brought up to a cubicle-dweller.
But with 190 million individual user licenses sold, 40% of whom are users of the Office 365 cloud suite, SharePoint is wildly popular. And Microsoft says that there’s a $10 billion economy of developers and IT experts who help customers install, manage, and customize their SharePoint sites.
And all of that grumbling doesn’t bother SharePoint’s superfans. In fact, it energizes them.
“Any product that can have that much of an emotional response from people is a great product,” says Benjamin Niaulin, a SharePoint specialist with Montreal-based Sharegate, a popular tool that’s helped customers like SpaceX and Warner Bros. migrate to and manage the platform.
The point of SharePoint
The whole point of SharePoint, says Niaulin, is to be the center of a team’s working life, helping them swap documents, communicate with each other, and generally stay up-to-date. It’s basically a repository for files, combined with integrations with other Office apps, to make sure everything is in the same place.
That means that more than any other single Microsoft product or service, a SharePoint team site has a huge impact on a worker’s day-to-day life.That kind of familiarity breeds heightened feelings, he says – if you love it, you’re going to really love it. But if you hate it, you’re going to really hate it.
“SharePoint really brings out some of those emotions,” Niaulin says.
A big part of the appeal of SharePoint, he says, is that it lets even non-technical people be the heroes of their companies. A well-done, super-customized, squeaky clean SharePoint team site can make a big difference for a working team – and it can make the SharePoint expert who designed it into a workplace hero.
“People’s careers have changed completely,” raves Niaulin.
It’s led to that thriving community of SharePoint fanatics, “a very very large family,” all over the world, Niaulin says: People go to meetups to swap tips, find new tools and integration options, and generally network.
Those parties are how Niaulin actually got into the SharePoint business: Four years ago, he drove the 5-some-odd hours from Montreal to Toronto to check out a “SharePoint Saturday” event after hearing about the opportunity it could create. He became enamored with the idea of having an impact without having to be a coder.
“I didn’t have to be this super-powerful IT pro,” he says.
Those parties are rarely sponsored by Microsoft itself, he says. Instead, companies like Sharegate throw these parties to boost the global ecosystem for SharePoint while also pushing their wares and services. Those kinds of services include deployment assistance as well as custom apps and integrations.
An individual engagement – getting customers onto SharePoint or helping them migrate from an older version to a newer one – can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he says.
As for Sharegate itself, it’s grown into a global operation, with thousands of customers. Sharegate sells its software and services for as much as $7,000 per customer.
And that SharePoint community shows no signs of slowing. Just last weekend, Niaulin says, a SharePoint Saturday event in Minneapolis drew 500 people – even while the rest of the city celebrated the legacy of departed rock legend and famous local Prince.