As you would expect, Microsoft is being predictably tight-lipped about the next release of SharePoint, but that doesn’t mean we’re not all anxiously awaiting SharePoint 2013/14. In January 2012, two years after the release of 2010 and five years after the release of MOSS, dynamic document management is at an interesting crossroads.

  1. Those of you who have SharePoint 2010 in place (particularly if your footprint is large or usage is mature) are wondering whether you should continue full-steam ahead or wait for some indication of where Microsoft is taking the product with the next release.
  2. Those of you who have older versions in place (MOSS, WSS, etc.), and are feeling the increasing pain of being a version (or more) behind, are wondering whether you should bite the bullet and upgrade to SharePoint 2010 or continue limping along to wait for the next release.
  3. And those of you who have no SharePoint in place (all six of you), are wondering whether you should finally dive in now (and begin reaping the benefits of using SharePoint rather than shared drives) or stick it out a little longer until the next version.

Although the answer to each of these will depend on many factors peculiar to your organization, I feel there are some clear right and wrong answers and, despite being a strategy consultant, I’m going to shoot straight here and tell it like it is.

#1. SharePoint 2010 in Place

Of the three, the right answer to this one depends on how you’re currently using SharePoint 2010.

If you have a fairly vanilla install with little customizations or third-party add-ons (NewsGator, KnowedgeLake, etc.), then you can continue supporting and extending your SharePoint 2010 environment with low risk that this will make the move to the next release more difficult -- as long as you don’t change your approach to begin customizing or deploying third party add-ons.
If you have a highly-customized environment or use third-party add-ons, things are going to likely be more difficult when you move to the next version, so you have to think long and hard about extending your SharePoint footprint (if that entails more customization or add-ons), as the gains you might get in the near-term will have to be weighed against the difficulty in moving to the next release.

A prudent thing to do would be to evaluate the customizations and add-ons in place to determine whether they are truly necessary. Especially for folks who moved to SharePoint 2010 from MOSS, WSS or even earlier versions, you may have ported over customizations or add-ons that were needed in those earlier versions but could be replaced with SharePoint 2010 functionality -- if you knew that when you moved versions. You may also find that you created customizations early on that are now provided by add-ons, which, if they’re from a viable, reputable vendor, will certainly have new versions when the next release comes out. The same can’t be said for your customizations, so it’s worth evaluating a move to these newer add-ons to sunset homegrown customizations.

#2. Older Versions in Place

This is perhaps the easiest dilemma of the three to my mind: stop reading this post and move to SharePoint 2010. Now.

Here’s why: will it be difficult to move to SharePoint 2010? You bet. Whether you decide to upgrade your current sites (if it’s even possible) or just start from scratch and migrate, there will be big pain involved.

But will it get easier to move to the next release of SharePoint? Not a chance. And if you think it will, believe me, you’re kidding yourself. If the track record of other enterprise software is any indication, the path forward only gets increasingly difficult with each new release of a software product, and the further behind you get, the more weeping and gnashing of teeth it will take to move to the latest version.

I haven’t done all the math (and I’m not even sure it could be done), but I think if you took all the costs and effort of moving to SharePoint 2010 from your current version and compared it to the cost and effort of supporting your current environment over the next 18-24 months added to the cost and effort it will take to move to the next version of SharePoint, there’s no way it wouldn’t be cheaper to move now.

#3. No SharePoint in Place

This one’s a close second to #2: stop reading this post and get SharePoint in place. Now.

Here’s why: won’t the next release of SharePoint have way better functionality than SharePoint 2010 and won’t I have to do lots of work to move to that version once it comes out (or to the next version after that in 2017/18)? Sure.

But if you look at the volumes of unstructured content you have on your shared drives and hard drives and the likely increase over the next 18-24 months, the support costs (online, offline and archive storage costs, plus cost of FTEs to support) alone should tip the scales.

Add to that how increasingly cumbersome it’s going to get to find documents on your shared drives and hard drives given the likely increase in storage volumes, and the decision gets easier still.
And, the last nail in the coffin, as lawyers get more sophisticated in their e-discovery requests over the next 12-18 months, we’re going to see an steep increase in shared drives as an in-scope repository for e-discovery. When that happens, your e-discovery costs and risks are going to go through the roof. Managing your content more effectively using SharePoint isn’t going to make these discovery requests go away, but, if you use SharePoint properly, it will help you reduce them substantially.

The Final Word

There you have it: my take on what you should do about SharePoint at the crossroads. None of my advice will be easy, but in the end, it will be easier than doing nothing (or doing the wrong thing).

As always, would love to hear what you all out there think -- so dive in, and let’s get the conversation started.

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