Jeff Fried’s Top 10 Predictions for 2015

This is the traditional time of year for us ‘experts’ to look ahead and make predictions, as well as look back on whether last year’s predictions were on track or not. I’m new to this habit, so I can’t report on whether my crystal ball has been working or not….but no time to start like the present.

We live in exciting times, and I think 2015 will be a very interesting year. Here’s my top 10 predictions:

1.    Enterprise Software segment won’t crash – I hear people saying that the market for enterprise software is ‘overheated’ and that the rash of new entrants and investment in 2014 is a sure sign of a bubble that will pop and leave us all gasping by the side of the road. I don’t think this will happen.

We’ll continue to see new, innovative solutions aimed at enterprises from apps to SaaS services that business groups can adopt easily through ‘retro’ on-premises traditional software. Best of Breed specialists are on the rise and this will continue in 2015.

One of the most interesting developments to me from 2014 was the deal between Apple and IBM to collaborate on the next generation of enterprise apps, in particular mobile enterprise apps. I predict that this duo will gain major traction in enterprise software in 2015. This will leave Microsoft scrambling and trying to make mobile apps for SharePoint effective for users.

2.    Resurgence of Portals – over the last few years, the term ‘portal’ has been assailed as outdated and passe. Analysts have published “the Portal is Dead”, “Don’t Build Portals” etc. But reports of the demise of the portal will be discredited in 2015. I expect to see a series of next-generation portal offerings from Microsoft, IBM, HP, Adobe, and others – and an uptick in projects that create destination sites aka portals.

Along with this resurgence will be a further consolidation of B2E portals onto a handful of platforms, first and foremost, SharePoint. Rather than creating a heavily customized UI for a product, you surface it in SharePoint, give people a single URL to visit, and let them use the SharePoint tooling if they desire customization. For B2C applications, I think Adobe will solidify their position; I predict Microsoft will complete their retreat from hosting public sites in Office 365 early in 2015 and concentrate on sites in Azure.

3.    SharePoint deconstruction – SharePoint will get deconstructed into services and progressively subsumed into Azure. The next on-premises version of SharePoint will come out near the end of 2015 and prove that Microsoft still cares about its long-time enterprise customers. There will be a commitment to SharePoint 2018, but it won’t feel like a platform so much as a collection of services that need to be connected to the cloud to do anything interesting.

Increasingly, SharePoint will become an interaction layer and business logic will live outside of it. Near term, I predict we’ll see SharePoint in Azure IaaS getting more attention, providing a mechanism for public sites in the cloud and a way to handle customization, WCM, etc.  Mid Term, I expect that Microsoft will take SharePoint components and services piece by piece into an Azure-hostable model; I predict we’ll see the beginning of this within 2015.

4.    Hybrid becomes the norm – we already hear a lot about hybrid cloud, but 2015 will be the ‘tipping point’ year for hybrid SharePoint.  The pace of change leaves many medium and larger organizations in an interesting predicament: On the one hand, they have significant investments in on-premises infrastructure, and the talent and ecosystem that goes with it. On the other, Microsoft is offering an enticing option to move to the cloud at a fraction of the cost – and introducing a variety of ‘cloud-only’ capabilities. Hybrid offers a solution. The OOB hybrid solution from Microsoft may never be ‘good enough’, but the building blocks like federated identity now work well so that partners can field strong solutions that really work.

I predict we’ll see a slew of success stories in 2015 around deploying hybrid SharePoint. I predict we’ll see a pattern of people using SharePoint in Azure IaaS coupled with Office 365 to field ‘pure cloud’ applications that are actually hybrid inside. I also predict we’ll see a new wave of confusion and “SharePoint at a Crossroads” rhetoric as Microsoft introduces additional hybrid mechanisms and moves the bar on us with the vNext introduction in 2015.

5.    App model will keep morphing – The app model introduced with SharePoint 2013 and Office 2013 (‘agaves’) seems here to stay, despite Microsoft’s history for repeatedly changing development models in this area.  However, lots of people are still struggling with this model – both with its limitations and with the fact that it is morphing in real time. In 2015 we’ll see yet more big changes and yet more frustration on the ground. While in the big picture there will be great progress, it will come with a lot of pain as features and APIs get deprecated and new shiny models and tools roll out prematurely with big fanfare.

Introducing the app model back in 2013 was a big bold jump. Microsoft’s goal is clearly to make development with office easy & widespread – and it really is dramatically easier and safer to create SharePoint apps than traditional full-trust farm solutions. I can now recruit someone out of school to write Office apps and SharePoint apps and have a good success rate. They work with mainstream techniques, tools and technologies like javascript, and can get up to speed remarkably fast. Microsoft says there are over 1000 apps with 3.5 million downloads from the Office store. That may seem small compared to iPhone apps but it is incredible for business software.

However, lots of people are still hitting their heads against the wall trying to build on top of the Microsoft business software suite. Auto-hosted apps were killed; Sandboxed solutions were killed, resurrected, wounded, and killed again. Suite-level apps were launched with new APIs and cross-platform tricks. And this is on top of features being added and removed in the platform.

It is fascinating to see Microsoft really make this transition.  It is cool to see the Office 365 API be born, and to have it inherit so much from SharePoint (Files API, Video API, Office Graph, and more). At the same time the illusion of velocity created by continuous, incremental, and incomplete changes to the development model is something we all hoped would settle down by 2015.  It won’t.

6.    Office Graph will cross the “Trough of Disillusionment” – the Office Graph was one of the most interesting developments in the SharePoint sphere in 2014.  It’s still evolving and making very rapid strides, with new capabilities such as cards or video being added monthly. But it has also been labeled “overhyped”, and many analysts and critics are waiting for it to fail. I predict it won’t fizzle or fail, but will start to visibly deliver business value to users this year.

If you’re not familiar with the “Trough of Disillusionment”, it is used by Gartner in their “hype cycle” reports to identify where a given technology is in its lifecycle. After a “peak of inflated expectations” (overhype), technologies go into this trough, and those that survive climb the “slope of enlightenment” to the “plateau of productivity”, where mainstream adoption takes off. Applying this lifecycle to a single offering or product is a slight twist, but the Office Graph is really quite a unique animal. I predict it will be past the post-hype disappointments of the “Trough of Disillusionment” within 2015, and into the “Slope of Enlightenment” where more applications and patterns of use come out, and where benefits become more widely understood.

7.    More & different Search engines – the Enterprise Search market went through a major period of consolidation and commoditization for a number of years including the acquisition of FAST by Microsoft, Endeca by Oracle, and Autonomy by HP.  By 2013 the cost of high-end enterprise search was less than 1/10 of what it had been in 2008, analysts had dropped coverage of enterprise search, and FAST was fully incorporated into SharePoint. Game over? No way.

2014 saw a resurgence of new innovation, including 6 new entrants in the field. Open-source enterprise search continued to make strides, although the Lucene community seems to be splintering: Solr now has multiple variants, and Elasticsearch saw huge growth and major milestones at Microsoft introduced Azure Search (based on Elasticsearch). There are new reasons for organizations to look at employing different search cores, and reasons to use multiple different search engines in the same organization.

I expect that 2015 will see another set of new entrants even larger than 2014’s and that specialty search applications will be back in the spotlight at many organizations.  We will have more variety of search engines to consider, and some mashing of search, text analytics, and big data into interesting solutions.

8.    Digital Assistants will cooperate – in 2014 we saw the battle of the digital assistants: Siri versus Google Now versus Microsoft’s Cortana. As a former speech recognition developer, I watched this war closely. By the end of the year, there were 4 serious bakeoffs published – and an acceleration of new releases  and improvements by all three players. In my opinion, Siri was leapfrogged and is rushing to catch up. Microsoft is spreading Cortana into its CRM 2015 and rumor has it that Cortana will be bundled into “Spartan”, the new browser expected to be released with Windows 10 this fall. Any way you look at it, this technology is past the tipping point and the battle will serve to increase awareness and adoption.

I want more. I don’t just want my personal digital assistant, I want it to coordinate with others’ assistants. Scheduling meetings is a classic example – it often takes 3 rounds of email to find a common time that works. Meanwhile ‘intelligent communicating agents’ have made their way out of computer science research into real-life applications. I don’t expect these multi-agent systems to show up on my phone this year, nor do I hold out much hope of an interoperability standard for digital assistants in the near future. But I do predict that we’ll see some cooperation between digital assistants in commercial offerings within 2015.

9.    Cognitive Computing will move from buzzword to implementation – most people date this term back to the 2008 DARPA cognitive computing contract that IBM won, putting resources and focus towards the now-famous Jeopardy! win in 2011.  2014 was a year of high hype for cognitive computing: a $1B funding announcement from IBM to issue in a “new era of cognitive computing”, the first cognitive computing conference, and more. (Disclosure – I am a member of the cognitive computing consortium, which also started in 2014). Watson has come a long way since 2011, but it’s still early days. Mike Rhodin, head of IBM’s Watson business unit, said last month “Eras are measured in decades. We are in year three. Every day we are finding new things we could be doing.”

It’s an easy prediction to say that we’ll see more hype and more fascinating potential in cognitive computing in 2015. In the Microsoft stack, machine learning is entering the mainstream (the Azure Machine Learning preview and the analytics behind the Office Graph are two examples of this). I also predict that we’ll see some mainstream cognitive computing applications from multiple players. Personally, I’ll be a bit wary about claims of these applications working seamlessly, at least this year – no way I give Microsoft or IBM the keys to my car!

10.    Beautiful designs reach the enterprise – we have all seen how quickly good design has taken hold, especially in mobile UI design. I take delight in using great apps, and I have noticed a continued rise in the prevalence of amazing user experiences. The trickle-down from consumer experiences to enterprise experiences is well underway, but we ain’t seen nothing yet.

I predict that 2015 will be the year that the SharePoint mobile story becomes complete, and that we will see some beautifully designed apps built into Office 365 and rolled out. I mentioned in my first prediction that the Apple/IBM partnership will leave Microsoft scrambling this year, and the bar has gone way up. I predict that Microsoft will clear it, and we’ll all benefit from better design.

There you have it: my top 10 predictions for 2015. Now I’m on record. Feel free to hold me up to these predictions in a year; I’ll report back!

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