Microsoft SharePoint Syntex – Quick Take
When Microsoft SharePoint launched in 2001, it came as a big shock to the Information Management industry. The phenomenal success of the system to manage content also came as a shock to Microsoft. It rapidly became one of their most successful products of all time. Today, Microsoft is announcing the release of ‘Microsoft SharePoint Syntex.’ The fact that Microsoft is essentially updating its SharePoint product set should not come as such a surprise to the industry, but I suspect that the sheer ambition of this release will once again come with some shock and awe.
Under the banner of Project Cortex, Microsoft has taken a step back and essentially rethought, reframed, and rewritten the SharePoint experience. At heart, Syntex is an AI system that leverages Microsoft Graph, its data, and intelligence platform for Microsoft365. We will go into the underlying architecture in more detail in a follow-up report, but let’s say it’s impressive. But what is arguably more impressive is the scale of ambition from the Cortex team. Oddly enough, I think the well-known challenges of legacy SharePoint implementations provided the base point for rethinking. Though commercially very successful, SharePoint was implemented in massive numbers, but it is not well-loved. SharePoint is, for one thing, over-complicated and challenging to develop upon and administrate. Secondly, and somewhat ironically tricky to use effectively. Like many other legacy document management systems, SharePoint rapidly became another (though on an unusually large scale) unloved legacy repository system.
Syntex’s goal (and further new products to come out of Cortex) is to convert information into knowledge. A goal that takes some of us at least back to the heady days of the dot com boom when Knowledge Management (KM) was a BIG thing. The trouble was, though the ideas and theories around KM were good, the technology at the time could not deliver on the promise. And that is the point, the concept of KM was good, and today’s technology can deliver on the promise. In short, KM is the concept (as defined by Nonaka & Takeuchi) to socialize, externalize, combine, and internalize (knowledge). Or more pragmatically, to bring some order to information chaos, extract the good stuff and make sure it is available to the right person at the right time—good idea, hellishly tricky to execute on.
By leveraging the massive resources that Microsoft has in the realm of AI, the Cortex team has made a big step forward to making KM a practical reality, at least for Microsoft customers. Syntex provides companies with the ability to analyze and capture knowledge sources automatically. To recognize critical information, tag and categorize it automatically. In theory, we have been able to do this for some time. But few have done so due to sheer complexity and cost. By making this available as an add on for existing Microsoft customers, the cart is upended.
I am impressed by what Microsoft is releasing (availability October 1st, 2020) and what they have planned for future releases. As an industry watcher and advisor for many years, I like to think I know when something big is going down. But I am also a realist; once out in the open, Syntex will face the same challenges of adoption both technically and culturally that other systems do. Moreover, as Syntex is deployed en mass, its shortcomings, and without doubt, it will have shortcomings will be revealed. Then again, every enterprise IT buyer knows that Microsoft doesn’t get it right on the first release; it takes a few releases for things to settle. Even so, bumps and all, it’s going to be an exciting and disruptive ride ahead for those enterprise buyers who jump on board and, of course, to Microsoft’s competitors. It’s been evident for years that traditional Information Management doesn’t work as it should. Information Management desperately needs AI and automation at scale. Maybe the biggest shock is that it has taken this long for somebody to go all-in as Microsoft just did today.