CMSWire recently published a disturbing article, one that equates SharePoint to crack cocaine. The crux of the author's argument is that enterprises, which now use SharePoint, are destined to fall victim to the same problems suffered by heavy users of Microsoft Access and Lotus Notes, namely that what “started out as the next generation of sharing and collaboration technology turned into a loathsome mess that has stuck around in large enterprises without enough commitment to sunset it, despite the earnest pleas of a tortured workforce”.
While the author does make a couple of compelling arguments, he completely misses the point. The point he misses is that no tool, no matter how compelling or feature rich, will fix a broken process. If any organization decides to install Chatter, some fictional future Google Enterprise Suite, or Facebook’s never-going-to-happen SaaS platform without giving thought to the problems of information management, they are doomed to repeat the same exact pattern with ever-evolving user interfaces.
Setting the SharePoint Record Straight
Revisiting the original article, the valid arguments advanced by Mr. Fishman are:
- SharePoint does not solve every problem, despite Microsoft marketing campaigns that seem to indicate the opposite. Microsoft’s product development policy is to create an 80% solution and to leverage its extensive partner network to fill the remaining 20% gap. This means that if you are not a particularly savvy consumer of this type of technology you must either rely on help or accept the risk that you may “do it wrong”. Even with professional assistance, that which is right for today may be wrong for tomorrow. This is true of SharePoint, other Microsoft products, Oracle products, IBM products, Autonomy products and the 1,001 open-source options. Regardless of chosen platform, failure to plan means that you are planning to fail.
- SharePoint’s out of the box user interface leads users towards isolated information silos with independent security settings. This is actually by design and requires forethought and planning to meld distinct data environments into a seamless whole. SharePoint offers tremendous scalability and integration capabilities but these complex options are hidden from casual users. The intent is one of empowerment, with safety rails.
- SharePoint can be done well, but is frequently not. The author incorrectly blames a drive for functionality. This is actually a drive towards user empowerment and flexibility. SharePoint offers a dizzying array of options starting with an installation process designed to get users up and running with departmental servers quickly. It should not be surprising that the engine capable powering some of the largest websites in the world may require some specialized skills to configure correctly.
- SharePoint is not ready for enterprise use because of its reliance on Internet Explorer. While this is patently untrue to begin with, especially for the most recent version of the product, which has been available commercially for the better part of two years. While pointing to the five-year-old version of an application in comparison to modern applications is unfair, I’d say that the five-year-old version of SharePoint works a hell of a lot better than the five-year-old version of Salesforce Chatter (released June 2010) or Google+ (released publically September 2011).
- Poor design decisions which are annoying or even bad at small sizes get to be really bad at large scale. I agree, although this is not a problem restricted only to SharePoint.
Unfortunately, immediately after identifying some valid arguments, the author takes a turn into the realm of fantasy with his hopes for solutions by the end of 2012.
- Facebook launches a private SaaS-based social network. No way. Facebook monetizes based on advertising the same way Google does. I just do not see an Enterprise SaaS model as part of the DNA of an organization which now owns your digital life, whether you want them to or not. Furthermore, Forrester agrees -- social business just does not register as important with nearly 80% of users of social software.
- Google integrates applications like Gmail, Docs, Apps and Google+ into a comprehensive suite. While application integration may occur, it probably will not occur for a LONG time. Again, we’re dealing with a corporate DNA problem. Google builds apps, not platforms by their own admission: Even if the tools were to be packaged as a suite, how is this significantly different than a tool like SharePoint or Oracle Portal? The problem here is that these tools may be great at the 80% solution, yet they do not offer the flexibility of tools like SharePoint for enterprise specific customizations the way SharePoint does. Additionally, he again points to Google as a way to get rid of an IT headache -- meaning it will be by nature an unmanaged environment. There is no software system in the world, which is not, at some point managed. Either it is managed by IT (inevitably causing headaches) or is outsourced (causing headaches to someone else’s IT staff while at the same time reducing your flexibility).
Let’s introduce a dose of reality to the conversation. Is SharePoint an invalid platform selection because it can grow into a siloed, uncontrolled mess like Notes and Access before it? Of course not. That’s not a platform or technology problem, it’s a governance and user behavior problem. Millions of users like Gmail, but the measured audience is only 20% of the total internet audience (among users of Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and Gmail).
Google offers no innovation in its messaging and collaboration services with respect to the control of sprawl that Microsoft hasn’t been offering for the better part of a decade. Google Docs as a file repository is exactly the same as a My Site (available in SharePoint since the 2003 product version). There is no enterprise content management capability here.
Salesforce Chatter? That’s basically enterprise content management by Facebook and Twitter. How can something which relies on an activity stream as the main interaction point be a viable solution for a large enterprise? (An in-depth comparison of Chatter v SharePoint is available). My favorite observations include: Chatter users MUST be Salesforce CRM users, no single sign-on, ONLY available in a hosted model, and HOW DO YOU GET YOUR DATA BACK OUT? Oh, and Chatter’s license model starts at $180/year/user for a feature set which minimally competes with SharePoint yet is three times as expensive as Microsoft’s most premium SharePoint offering. SharePoint has a server fee and a per user fee, but the feature set which competes with Chatter is available from Microsoft for free (SharePoint Foundation).
Just Say No?
Is SharePoint like crack? Yes. Is that actually a bad thing? Ignoring the fact that almost every large enterprise and most small to mid-sized enterprises already own SharePoint even if they’re not using it, the author’s biggest complaint about SharePoint is that users like it, that it spreads through an enterprise organically.
Instead of bemoaning that a tool may or has become unmanageable due to popularity, understand that SharePoint is a multipurpose tool which must be correctly configured for the scenario in which you plan to use it. A corporate communications portal does not and should not behave the same way a collaboration environment or Enterprise Content Management environment does.
Define and architect for the scenario and then invest in the guiderails known as governance. Create a plan and make it actionable. If you don’t have the staff or the expertise to make it actionable, invest in a tool to do that for you, such as AvePoint’s forthcoming Governance Automation toolkit.
The author of the SharePoint is crack article does make some valid points, but they should serve as object lessons for organizations seeking to implement any portal technology platform. Treat the corporate intranet as a core business system by investing in data protection, governance and expertise. Educate yourselves about the great applications and capabilities available to SharePoint. As the article [almost] mentions, the power of SharePoint is that it makes a tremendous amount of functionality available to the end user without requiring IT intervention. Any system handled casually will yield less than optimal results.
Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading:
- The Art of SharePoint Success: 10 Reasons Why SharePoint Projects Fail
- 3 Data Access Problems, 6 Ways To Achieve Full Data Governance
- The Art Of SharePoint Success: Governance -- How to Do It