Has the massive investment in SharePoint lived up to its promise as the uber-collaboration platform for the enterprise?

Has it delivered the measurable business value everyone expected? How do your users feel about SharePoint?  Are they still working like its 1999? Is SharePoint 2013 a platform that will take your organization into the future? What about Yammer?

SharePoint Has Its Use Cases 

In full disclosure, I recently joined Jive Software, but I write this from the point of view of experience. I have spent the last seven years working with SharePoint, time with a Microsoft partner, and years working with related platforms like Notes, eRoom and Documentum. And anyone who has worked with SharePoint would likely agree that there are some use cases SharePoint is better at addressing than others such as general web publishing, portals, document management, workflows and forms.

Yes, SharePoint has its use cases. Collaboration has never been its strongest.  And over the years we've seen many organizations spend significant costs in addition to the base platform license on third party add-ons, support and services just trying to change the UI and user experience in an attempt to make SharePoint live up to its promise and vision as the uber-collaboration platform for the enterprise.

Unfortunately, for so many organizations, SharePoint has simply failed to live up to this promise.  Let's explore a little history and understand why.

Promises and Criticisms 


One of the early challenges of SharePoint was simply defining it. Back in 2007, we were told SharePoint was a Swiss army knife, a "multi-tool of content technologies." Microsoft's Jeff Teper was quoted as saying,

In the past you had to buy a separate product for document management, web publishing, portals, search, blogs and wikis, and SharePoint 2007 brought all those capabilities together in a single platform."

And we were told by Microsoft that SharePoint is "easy for the information worker," has "best-in-class usability" and will provide "supreme user acceptance." And the great SharePoint sprawl began largely due to the WSS freemium model available with Windows Servers at the time.

As SharePoint sites starting popping up in organizations, much was written on the lack of governance as many organizations wound up with an information mess on multiple versions of the platform. Analysts said it can do everything but not everything all that well.

A strong technical community did emerge around SharePoint, yet among end users SharePoint suffered from low adoption and poor perception. Everyone in your organization probably knows the word SharePoint, but not everyone loves it or uses it. Some users simply view it as the intranet portal or sites for uploading project documents. Later, Teper acknowledged that Microsoft "may have oversold how simple SharePoint was to deploy."

History Repeating Itself

It's 1996 and Fortune Magazine quotes Ray Ozzie talking about Lotus Notes: "people in business need to collaborate with one another and share knowledge or expertise unbounded by factors such as distance or time zone differences.” The article goes on to say “That's a pretty good description of a product so multifaceted and versatile that it defies precise definition ...” 

Hmm ... sure sounds a lot like SharePoint.

So why is Notes relevant in this discussion? For those who remember, the SharePoint predecessor was also criticized for its usability. Furthermore, as the Internet exploded, Lotus Notes seemed out of date in spite of efforts to port it to the web. And here we are in 2013 witnessing a similar tsunami of the same internet-like magnitude driven by mobile, social and the cloud. Yet some organizations are still stuck in the past as they try to sunset hundreds of legacy Notes applications or even migrate them to SharePoint. 

One of the interesting things about SharePoint's enterprise evolution was the fact that the cost justification for investing in an enterprise deployment was, in so many cases, based on consolidation of information silos and vendors. Now cost savings through consolidation is a valid justification for IT.  However, less doesn't always equate to more value for the business.

Short term cost savings and big promises haven't exactly resulted in a measurable expected return or changed business user perception. Organizations are still dealing with hundreds if not thousands of legacy SharePoint silos from SP2003, 2007 or 2010. People are still overloaded by email and have difficulty finding experts and information easily. Yes, here we are in 2013 ... and so many of us are still working like it's the 1990's!!!

The Problem with SharePoint

The problem is that SharePoint was never about people and the way they need to work and the way they want to work.  At its core, SharePoint is all about content -- a "multi-tool of content technologies."  It has always been such an "IT-centric" driven platform that has never been all that easy for end users.

In a recent Forrester report, they referred to social collaboration as being one of "SharePoint's least successful workloads." If your organization is still drowning in email and has experienced all the pains, expense and concerns relating to end user perception, usability and adoption of SharePoint over the years, you'd agree. Although if you read this recent article from contributor Joe Shepley, he'd say SharePoint can't do records management either.

All this is further complicated by the platform's limitations and challenges evolving and adapting to the ever changing business world.  Today, organizations are a network of global and mobile consumers, employees, contractors, partners, and suppliers. Now more than ever, collaboration happens on a mass scale.  Today's enterprise is driven by consumer-minded end users who demand a future BYOD social mobile business world in the cloud.

Mobile, Social and the Cloud

The cloud, along with mobile and social, have been a significant disruption both outside and inside the firewall causing businesses to stop and rethink their IT strategies for the future.  In particular, the cloud "offers a modular and nimble landscape" in the words of Rob Koplowitz of Forrester.