Advice for (prospective) SharePoint customers

SharePoint (MOSS 2007) is robust solution, but it's not for every organization. Here is some practical advice from Prescient and the authors of CMS Watch's "The SharePoint Report 2008."

“What began as a simple collaboration utility in 2001, and morphed in a portal product in 2003, has become – at least in Redmond’s eyes (home of Microsoft) – a full-blown information management platform,” write the authors of CMS Watch’s The SharePoint Report 2008, which included Shawn Shell of Consejo Inc., and a cadre of CMS Watch analysts (including founder Tony Byrne and Janus Boye).

“However, what remains less clear more than a year after the launch of SharePoint 2007 (MOSS), is where the product actually fits into the enterprise,” adds the report.

As intranet consultants we are continually confronted by or with Microsoft SharePoint – be it the 'full on' MOSS or its less sophisticated little brother, Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). Sometimes SharePoint is mandated as an option on an RFP. Sometimes the ‘free' WSS is already in use and so MOSS is an automatic no-brainer combined with Microsoft’s aggressive licensing 'deals' for upgrades from SharePoint Portal Server 2003 (or the use of SharePoint Client Access Licences as a part of other arrangements).

More often than not, however, most companies that have selected SharePoint have done so because they are already Microsoft users and it simply makes sense to them. So, these organizations are often ‘sold’ SharePoint by Microsoft, rather than ‘choosing’ it as a solution to address specific requirements.

Whether you think it’s the best thing since the invention of sliced bread, the spawn of the devil, or simply have not made your mind up yet, one thing is for sure: you certainly cannot ignore SharePoint.

The Sharepoint Report 2008 (TSR) is perhaps the most thorough analysis of the solution to date and is based on real-world use of the product within numerous organizations and it is "designed to assist both Business and Technology Managers figure out where, why and how to apply SharePoint."

The Good

MOSS is a powerful and complex solution, which according to Bill Gates, has more than 100 million licensed users. So, the technology is popular and will not disappear anytime soon.

For those that have adopted .NET and other MS products as a standard, MOSS makes a lot of integration sense. As well, it is a very good collaboration tool with a lot of light-weight, easy-to-use bells and whistles for small to medium sized organizations (or departments in larger organizations).

Other strengths:
  • Blogs are built into every My Site
  • Wikis are out of the box
  • Reports – the ability to display and work with data from an Excel worksheet.
  • Simple to use out-of-the-box
  • Search is very fast
  • Contributing content is simple
  • Direct integration with Office (XP to 2007)
  • Most functionality 'exposed' through web services (e.g. all content can be subscribed to via RSS)
  • Mobile views via a PDA or phone is out-of-the-box
  • Alerts and workflow (though limited to email notification)
  • WSRP and SAP integration is included

The Bad

“SharePoint does a lot of things, but it does very few things very well,” said TSR’s principal author Shawn Shell recently at the Enterprise 3 conference in San Diego. “Do not consider SharePoint for best-of-breed applications.”

While it comes with lots of features, most organizations don’t want to implement an off-the-shelf solution with the standard look-and-feel and no customization. In fact, every organization is different and has different needs. However, customizing SharePoint can be difficult – and expensive.

Microsoft has also been criticized for the lack of in-depth documentation (although it continues to improve via various whitepapers, etc.) and the unending imagination of their marketers when it comes to what SharePoint technologies can or should be used for. Sure there are a bunch of 'community' sites and blogs a plenty, but these tend to have a techie focus for developers and system administrators (one of the many reasons why, starting at just $1450, TSR is a valuable source of information for those considering SharePoint).

Other weaknesses:
  • Light-weight content management (far below the robustness of most big name vendor solutions)
  • Light-weight document management (far below the robustness of most big name vendor solutions)
  • Non-existent records management and digital asset management
  • Light-weight web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs (that appear to be late addition ‘throw-ins’ by Microsoft)
  • SharePoint does not support AJAX
  • Analytics are very, very simple
  • True enterprise search outside of SharePoint pages has yet to be seen
  • Team site or page sprawl is difficult to contain without a well documented and enforced governance model
  • Non-Active Directory authentication capabilities
  • WSRP and SAP integration is not terribly strong

    The Ugly

    I’ve yet to see an effective implementation of SharePoint as an enterprise intranet platform for a medium to large-size organization. It’s simply not a mature enough or robust solution…yet. SharePoint began as a simple collaboration tool, not as a complex, enterprise portal solution. Therefore, it barely compares to the likes of an IBM WebSphere Portal. However, Microsoft has said it will launch a new version of SharePoint in a couple of years (perhaps early 2010). But that is a long time to wait for larger organizations with massive market and competitive pressures.

    To buy a copy of The SharePoint Report 2008 for a more in-depth look at SharePoint, visit CMS Watch.

    The SharePoint Report 2008 (TSR)

    The report contains chapters on:
    • Core MOSS technology
    • Customising MOSS and using it as a development platform
    • The 8 business services scenarios that MS suggest MOSS fulfills
    • Key advice to customers
      As Microsoft has a habit of using words with normally standard meanings in a completely different context for SharePoint, the report also contains a useful glossary.

      The report looks at each aspect of MOSS from three contextual viewpoints for implementation:
      • Small to Medium Business (SMB) — a single organisation with up to 500 people
      • Departmental — a single department in a larger enterprise, with up to 1000 people
      • Enterprise — a highly distributed organisation with a minimum of around 1000 people
        TSR provides useful in depth technical information for the IT Manager while also providing a good overview for the non-technical business manager who wants to know where MOSS will be useful in solving their business dilemmas. This higher-level treatment includes lists of 'do's and don’ts’ and highly readable tables summarizing the suitability of MOSS for use in various scenarios.

        To quote TSR: “SharePoint has long-term consequences for any enterprise that commits to the platform without setting clear boundaries for where, when and how the product gets used. SharePoint is truly a collection of individual components that interact together to varying degrees, but require extra work to weld into a cohesive package.”

        To learn about Prescient's SharePoint planning services, please contact us directly. To learn more about our intranet planning services, see our Intranet Blueprint service.

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