Was the recent Syntex announcement at Ignite 2022 the most significant Microsoft news drop since the launch of SharePoint in 2001? The simple answer is a qualified yes; the launch of Syntex is a big deal for the world of Information Management. The more complex answer is that Syntex launched a couple of years ago (under the SharePoint banner), but as is often the case with new products, it took a couple of years to iron out the creases and fill in the gaps before it was ready for primetime. October 2022 is the primetime launch for Syntex; it will now get the complete Microsoft spotlight treatment. However, there is an even more complex answer: we will not know how big Syntex will be for a few years to come, as in the real world, things take time. It’s worth noting that SharePoint launched in 2001, but it wasn’t for a couple of years till people realized just how big this phenomenon was. Yet, for the past 15 years, SharePoint has dominated the document management industry, with revenues and a user base that is twice the size of all its erstwhile competitors put together.
So what is Syntex, and why is it potentially such a big deal? To understand Syntex, you first need to understand SharePoint and why that has been so successful. In the most basic of terms, in the early 00s, everyone was going digital, yet they had no idea how to manage the coming explosion in content (documents and files). SharePoint came along at the right time, offering a relatively low-cost and easy-to-deploy system that managed content. The timing was perfect, and the growth of SharePoints use was not only explosive, but its success also caught both Microsoft and the industry by surprise; the rest, as they say, is history. Or course, nobody at the time realized that the digital boom of the 00s was just a gentle prelude to the enormous explosion yet to come. Of course, the close ties between SharePoint and Microsoft Office, Outlook, and a general move to the cloud further accelerated its growth. Even so, document management systems in the 00s were designed and built to manage tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of files. Though that seemed ambitious at the time, organizations today manage millions of files and, in more and more cases, billions of files. What once worked well no longer works well at all, and a complete and utter rethink of how to manage what is rapidly becoming an information management crisis has become critical.
So what is it that Microsoft Syntex does? In short, it is a Content Intelligence system and set of tools that uses AI to do the work that humans cannot or won’t do. It tags content, organizes and categorizes it, and then processes that content in ways that bring business value. It can assemble documents for customer communications, it can dissect incoming documentation for processing, compare contracts, etc., etc. Using AI to categorize, understand and tag content is not new, but it’s not something many use; Syntex is designed to work at scale and its AI capabilities are highly advanced. So from one perspective, Syntex automates the work of an army of filing clerks to sort, collate, create and manage large volumes of content. That is in and of itself of value to many, if not most, organizations. Still, that organizational phase is just the first step for Syntex, as AI then makes connections between files and content utilizing a Knowledge Graph. As a result, even vast volumes of content are now navigable, and relevant information is connected to other relevant pieces of content. In addition, Syntex’s AI uses organizational data to enrich these point connections. So, for example, if I am working on a contract, it will connect to the last draft of the agreement I stored in another location. It will also know the three other people I am working with and the links between any negotiation-related documents used to inform the sales process. That is productivity gold, compliance, and discovery gold, and when you take an organizational content-wide perspective, it is an enormous cost-saving and productivity enhancement system.
Many organizations focus on where you store your documents and files. There has been an obsession with filing away all your work-related documents in one place and expecting employees to neatly label and file away their stuff in the right place. It was always a pipedream, albeit a well-intentioned one. In reality, this is busy work that nobody wants and never has wanted to do. Long gone are the days of filing clerks and secretaries ensuring everything gets filed immediately. In reality, folks have been dumping files into random heaps, storing them wherever they feel, be it their email system, laptop, file sharing system – whatever is easiest and quickest. But now, millions and billions of them are further accumulating at a terrifying pace. It’s the digital equivalent of a particularly nasty episode of Extreme Hoarders. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem Syntex offers to resolve and, by default, is its opportunity to thrive as a cornerstone technology within Microsoft’s customer base.
There are no magic wands, no fairy dust involved with Syntex. Suppose you want to get control over your content to operate your organization more effectively, reduce costs, or stop your company from getting into trouble. In that case, there will be hard work to undertake. Even so, if you are prepared to roll your sleeves up and do the job, then Syntex provides an extensive range of tools with automation of content identification and understanding at their core. Similarly, there is no guarantee that Syntex will be as big a success as SharePoint; in fact, it could be one of two ways; it could and should become popular and widely used quickly across the Microsoft community. That’s not an endorsement of Syntex; it’s simply a recognition that Microsoft dominates the market, and existing Microsoft customers, or at least those with digital landfill problems, should be using Syntex, as it’s a no-brainer.
On the other hand, Syntex could go the way of Windows Vista and fall off the cliff edge. If that happens, then Microsoft only has itself to blame for poorly explaining and marketing Syntex to its direct customers and partners. And it’s worth noting that the company already has over 250 partners in its Content Services (Intelligence) partner program. So in our analysis, Syntex will most likely significantly redefine how we manage information assets over the next five to ten years. And hopefully, it will help some, at least, to check and control data’s increasingly outrageous and unnecessary growth.
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