Just back from an intense 3 days at the SharePoint Summit 2009 held in beautiful but snowy Montréal (yes even at this late date…), and although I’m tired it’s not because of Montréal-style partying (which I had to decline). It’s due to information overload!

I believe the Summit is on its way to topping the charts as one of the most interesting SharePoint events available. It attracted a fair number of top notch speakers and a business crowd that is very focused on results.  Any disappointments had to do with wanting to go even deeper into all topics presented, in other words maybe making the conference bigger or longer.

As was discussed at the keynote presentation yesterday, SharePoint, which started as an experiment at Microsoft with one initial client, has grown now (only 7 years later) into the fastest growing software on their SKU list, reaching over USD$1 billion in annual sales.  Considering they give away the WSS version for free, that is quite an accomplishment.  It is bigger than even they realistically expected, and for good reason.

It is a product with huge potential reach into the organization, from basic collaboration to full blown ECM, BPM, DM, KM, BI, (insert your acronym here), even though it is by no means a complete product. Given its scope, it simply cannot be and probably won’t ever be.  This is why the Microsoft channel of partners and service companies like us love it, as was expressed more than once by the many people I heard and spoke to: partners with expertise get to fill the “holes” (in Montréal we say we like to fill the potholes since we have so many of those).  Filling holes is a multi-billion dollar market, it turns out, and not as easy as appears in many cases, therefore requiring hard to find expertise.

I had the pleasure of spending lunch with conference co-chair Carmien Owen, owner of Collaboration Consulting and he explained how the overall spirit of the conference is to collaborate closely with presenters and attendees to stay close to the pulse of their needs – somewhat like a giant social networking experiment using SharePoint as a gathering point. It is obvious that rather than throwing a big party and hoping everyone attends, careful consideration is taken as to what is of interest for this Summit- and I commend the organizers for this approach. 

Many people mentioned how the business use cases are particularly important in such conferences. One of the questions I get the most often from clients is “how do your other clients do it?” – the reason I am asked is obvious: the business benefits. Nobody ever cares much about technology for its own sake. Those are tools like hammers or servers or SharePoint. Beyond the obvious like compatibility with existing infrastructure, people care about business results and how they can use technology to accomplish it. All the speakers agreed about this as well. This is a big topic that may differentiate this conference from others if it taken advantage of even more in future events.

Now back to the desk to catch up on e-mail – OK I admit it, I already did throughout the days there using my BlackBerry… There is a perfect example of being liberated by a collaborative tool when properly designed and used… A good lesson for all of us building solutions out of tools.