The Services Are The Platform

I can’t take credit for the idea; I got it from something James Urquhart wrote for GigaOM. But I’m going to paraphrase it, extrapolate from it, and talk about what it could mean for Office 365.

The cloud is teeming with infrastructure as a service (e.g., Rackspace, Azure VMs, Amazon EC2), platforms as a service (e.g., Azure .NET, Google Cloud Platform), storage as a service (e.g., Amazon S3), and full-blown software as a service (e.g., Office 365, Salesforce.com, DropBox, Box). There’s a battle going on out there for the hearts and minds of developers and architects, and there are pundits betting on winners.

I’m not sure there’s going to be an out-and-out winner, and I don’t think it matters. An inflection point is coming after which business apps won’t be built on one platform. They’ll be built using the most appropriate services from what may well be a variety of vendors. In other words, the array of services that best fit a need will be the platform on which a solution is built.

Companies that understand this can profit from it. IFTTT does a good job of this with consumer services. Nintex is embracing this for business-focused cloud services in a big way. Several companies are waking up to this, and who wins is likely to involve a combination of pure cleverness, ability to execute, and partnering prowess.  Those that offer services of substance and make them easily accessed via APIs lend themselves to being mixed-and-matched by these kinds of tools.

SharePoint is an interesting case. The whole point of SharePoint has been to provide multiple workloads (e.g., ECM, collaboration, search, BI, etc.) on a common infrastructure. The individual services didn’t need to be perfect (although some of them were great anyway) as long as the overall package was superior to (and cheaper than) buying multiple standalone one-off solutions.

The cloud, however, makes that advantage nearly moot. If I can assemble a set of content, BI, collaboration, and discovery services to do what I want, I won’t care whether they come from a common server platform.  To address this challenge, the services that make up SharePoint will need to be compelling even when standing alone.  You can see this happening with OneDrive for Business. Ditto Project Online. Yammer, too. The BI stuff all but begs to be made available for those who want that and only that.

In fact, to ensure further success, it may be necessary for SharePoint to be carved up for parts. Given that the Office 365 brand is the one that has all of the attention, the services might become the platform there, too.

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