The Law of the Instrument states "...if the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail."

When you examine the content management world's zeitgeist, the tool that has all the buzz is the shiny hammer of SharePoint. Yes, SharePoint, a fascinating "free product" that supports an $8 billion a year -- and growing -- ecosystem. By fully embracing Microsoft enterprise site licenses, IT administrators have used SharePoint to justify stable budgets for IT and doubled down their bets on on-premise software. I admit, there is some appeal in having a single vendor to work with, a single price to pay and being able to physically hug your server, should you so choose. But given the benefits of cloud computing like redundancy, cost savings and speed of deployment, is it worth the trade off? Is SharePoint really the only strategy you need?

SharePoint and the Cloud

To me, this point became abundantly clear about a week ago as I sat in the appropriately named "SharePoo" office at the Box.net headquarters in Palo Alto. While most of the industry has tried to carve out niches of their own where SharePoint can't reach, the team at Box.net has a different approach.

For some smaller companies, they can cut the cord completely and migrate to a cloud system like Box.net, and for many organizations the cloud could potentially be all that is needed. For other companies though, especially those who have legacy ECM systems, these types of migrations can be challenging. It's not like you can just flip and switch and migrate your infrastructure from one platform to another.

Sure, marketing departments and fancy sales people would have you believe that transitioning is that easy, but you know that there is always hard work in changing platforms. It just doesn't pass the smell test. One of the other major SharePoint challenges is providing secure access to files and content to external users and members of the public. For the cloud, sharing and collaboration are baked into the platform.

Typically, two scenarios are encountered when migrating to cloud systems:

  1. Legacy content has grown unchecked for years and many organizations have no idea what lurks within their repositories. Two words for you: team sites.
  2. Some IT departments are unwilling to relinquish control of information and servers, throwing out excuses to prevent innovation. We all know the type: organizations where everything is blocked, people get provided a Dell desktop and Blackberry, and users are forced to use their own devices and technology to actually get work done.

In most organizations, the strategy of embracing the cloud has more to do with culture and change management than it does with a technology platform.

Sometimes Progress Means Coexistence

Is there hope for making it work? I think that the world of cloud content management and legacy systems can coexist peacefully, and actually compliment each other. I realize that this is as radical a notion as Brett Farve staying retired, but there is room for them to work together.

One of the most promising ways that companies can accomplish this is using a tool like Box.net's recently announced ECM Cloud Connect product. It allows you to provide secure access in the cloud to local files stored in a SharePoint (and other) repositories. It also embraces existing security models and provides users with easy access on mobile devices like an iPhone or iPad. I've personally been working on tools that help people migrate InfoPath forms over to a cloud based eForms application.

This "Sharepoint &..." strategy starts to make a lot of sense since it blends the tools and access that users want, with common security policies and the redundancy that IT departments demand.

So, is this a perfect solution? No, but like trying to solve a border dispute in the West Bank, sometimes progress means coexistence. The desktop dominance of Microsoft was built over decades, so dismantling the empire will take time. By embracing a combined strategy and moving to the cloud and onto mobile devices, users for now can at least enjoy the best of both worlds. Please leave a comment or a tweet and let me know what you think about this approach.

(Full disclosure, I'm a Box.net customer, and I develop applications for Box and SharePoint.)

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