I caught up with Eric Swift, general manager of SharePoint product management at Microsoft, for an exclusive interview on SharePoint 2010—the value for admins, customer reaction to the product, and what the road ahead looks like.
Molnar: You’re relatively new in your role on the SharePoint team. I know our readers would like to get to know you better. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Swift: I started my career working in data warehousing and sales force automation, and I worked on integration software. I jumped at an opportunity to move to Microsoft and started on the e-business server team: BizTalk Server, Commerce Server, and Content Management Server, at that time. I worked closely with the SharePoint team because Content Management Server moved over to the SharePoint side. We strategized about how the SharePoint offering would cover both internal collaborative apps and intranet sites in addition to external dotcom sites and extranet sites. Then I moved to Unified Communications and worked on Communications Server and Exchange Server. In February of 2010, I was asked to come back over to SharePoint. This was a great opportunity because it connected some of the things I’ve done in the past with that passion for making business more effective with software.
Molnar: That sounds like a logical path to SharePoint. Tell me how SharePoint 2010 is doing in the marketplace.
Swift: The SharePoint Conference \\[October 2009\\] where we first made the disclosure was a tremendous success. That took us by surprise. We knew it was going to be a great product, but we had no idea how much interest and enthusiasm there would be in the marketplace. There were a tremendous number of early adopters and customers who put the product in production—doing everything from the core workloads for their content management portals and dotcom sites to building innovative collaborative apps on top of them. So when we released the product, in the late spring \\[of 2010\\] we had a tremendous amount of customer and partner evidence about people who were using the product.
Molnar: Folks in the SharePoint vendor ecosystem are telling me their research indicates a wave of SharePoint 2010 uptake coming in 2011. Are you seeing a wave coming?
Swift: Definitely. We have a tremendous amount of customers who have licensed the product and deployed it for just the base workloads—document sharing and storage. Now we’re seeing a couple of different areas of growth. New customers are joining every day, but also those who have purchased the product already and who have deployed it for those base workloads are building more collaborative applications on top of the platform. SharePoint is moving beyond being just a place to store your documents and collaborate, to a place where you can add document workflow, collaborative workflow, and connectivity in the back-end systems—everything from dashboards to extended search capabilities across SharePoint information or corporate file shares, line of business (LOB) data, and business intelligence (BI) applications. So we’re seeing growth with the new customers but also the depth of capabilities with our existing customer base.
Molnar: Are you seeing a lot of interest in migration from WSS or MOSS?
Swift: Yes, definitely. We worked hard to make sure that we had the right migration tools, and a good documentation experience, so that organizations move there as effectively as possible. We gave guidance early on about what you can do to optimize your experience. And almost every conversation we’re having with SharePoint 2003 or 2007 customers includes looking at a migration strategy.
Molnar: Migration is something our readers are very interested in. Do you see a lot of interest in organizations moving from other collaborative platforms to SharePoint 2010?
Swift: We see a lot of people replacing competitive offerings because SharePoint offers a better solution in a specific area. SharePoint is a broad platform, so now they can have a common infrastructure, a common set of tools, and a common development environment where they can not only replace those individual point solutions, but have a complete platform for building additional capabilities on top of them.
Molnar: We’ve heard that SharePoint is one the fastest growing server products in Microsoft history. What are your plans for reaching your next growth milestone?
Swift: We’re looking at growing the SharePoint opportunity by adding more value to customers. In SharePoint 2010 we added more capabilities around Internet sites. That’s one area of growth. We took the advantages of using SharePoint internally and pointed them outside in extranet scenarios, to partners and close customer groups, and dotcom sites. We utilized content management capabilities to create a better publishing environment for external websites. Another growth area is deeper workloads—things like building out BI solutions such as dashboards, KPI reports, and using Excel services to provide deep and robust analysis of very large data sets right in the SharePoint environment.
Molnar: Since the release, have you learned anything about SharePoint?
Swift: We did a survey of people who deployed SharePoint and asked them what was most satisfying and what had the most business value. We found a high degree of satisfaction across all users of SharePoint. But the ones who were the most satisfied were in organizations that decided to use SharePoint as a platform for collaborative applications. When the IT department built specific applications for users in the SharePoint environment and trained their users how to configure those applications, we found that they were the most satisfied of all customers.
Molnar: We’ve been hearing about “the consumerization of IT” from Microsoft as workers bring their expectations from home into the workplace. How do you see the consumerization of IT playing out in the SharePoint space?
Swift: SharePoint, especially 2010, really delivers with social capabilities we’ve added. We can bring the best of what people are used to in consumer environments but also provide it within a corporate environment that’s managed, that’s scalable, and that provides those security protections that IT demands. So you can store your documents, collaborate, have conversations, build out wikis, tag content, rate it, and yet do these things in a way that isn’t outside of IT’s visibility and searchability.
Molnar: Visual Studio has recently announced developer products geared toward non-developers such as LightSwitch. There’s a trend at Microsoft toward technically empowering business people. Down the road do you see more SharePoint admins and business people developing on SharePoint?
Swift: We definitely see that as one of the major opportunities for growth in SharePoint solutions. When an organization decides to make SharePoint their platform for collaborative apps, their developers can then create the basic building blocks whether they are workflow actions, connectivity to back-end systems, and connectivity for search connections. It really works out positively when IT and developers get together to create the right underlying infrastructure components, and then work with the business teams to design applications. Business users can do a lot of that development without having to know the details of the back-end systems and the details of .NET development because they’ve got the components right there. They can just configure in SharePoint Designer and other tools in the design environment.
Molnar: What’s next for search in SharePoint?
Swift: We’re not communicating specifics on the road map right now, but we are seeing that that ability to search all your content and have a single place regardless of where it’s located has just been a tremendous value. We worked with a technical company that was highly distributed and incredibly siloed. Knowledge about specific product lines, technical specifications, recommendations, and architecture was spread across the company. They used their SharePoint rollout to break down those walls, starting with the value of search, both people search and content search. Once you find what you needed, you could find out who worked on it, who the expert was, and then you could start collaboration from that point forward. We’re looking to continue our investment in search and take the solid foundation we have and the innovative FAST technology to the next level both inside the firewall and for search on outbound sites.
Molnar: How do you see the SharePoint marketplace shifting over the next five years?
Swift: There are a couple of places where we will see a shift. One is the move to consumer-driven demand. As we drive to the next generation of the web and the next generation of mobile devices, we see the market continuing to shift that way. Another area is online. Organizations that previously haven’t had the staff and resources to provide all of the capabilities to their end users now can use an online service to provide the base capabilities and the base applications. In the next five years we’ll see a major shift of work that has been done traditionally by IT at the infrastructure level moving online, which will allow IT to expand and increase the depth of their expertise and their value by focusing on those higher-level capabilities.
Another big shift will be to bring the consumers’ experience in mobile into the corporate environment. Many of us use mobile devices to access our email and our calendars—that will continue to be invested in and improve, but also other types of applications will be corporate-focused.
Molnar: Do you have any advice for IT pros and developers on getting started with SharePoint 2010, if they’re not already there?
Swift: There are a couple of things I’d recommend. Look at what you’ve done in previous versions of SharePoint and see how that can look in SharePoint 2010. You can do a straight migration. But you may want to enhance or modify what you’ve done so that it takes advantage of the full power of SharePoint 2010.
There’s a couple of areas that will be of really high value to SharePoint professionals going forward—BI capabilities because they’re important in corporations and organizations for understanding and analyzing business data. Then there’s connectivity into back-end systems with BCS, and that includes not only the core capability, but things like InfoPath that use it for Forms Services. Then take a look at mobile capabilities and how they will be developing over time. What can you do to stand out and show SharePoint in a different light than has been done traditionally?