Anyone interested in Microsoft SharePoint will have by now seen the new version. SharePoint 2013 is packed with lots of new and exciting features.
Users can experience the revamped MySites, with FaceBook style activity feeds and the ability to ‘follow’ pretty much anything. Developers have ‘apps’ to get their teeth into, allowing them to create SharePoint components in pretty much any language they wish. Then there's the new interface, the ‘Modern UI’ (as we must now call it), with its stripped back look and feel. The list of new features goes on and on.
For consultants like myself, and those involved in the SharePoint community, it is easy to get carried away. All of these new features are very exciting, but what do end users make of it all? Will they actually notice? Will they get a better experience? I’m not so sure.
What Does SharePoint Do Well?
In the vast majority of cases SharePoint is used to build Intranet systems (not every SharePoint project is an Intranet, but I’d argue many are). What do people look for in an Intranet? Well many things obviously, hence the need for requirements gathering and business analysts. But two things always stand out: document management and communication.
Document management is the usual thing (check in/out, versioning, etc ...) but also increasingly collaboration and shared online editing. Communication is things like news stories, announcements and staff talking to each other.
SharePoint does both of these things very well. Indeed the document management side of SharePoint is very strong. Since Office web apps were added in SP2010 shared online editing has been possible and works really well. The first time you see one user editing a document in a desktop version of Word and another editing the same document online, it is hard not to be impressed.
Communication is also covered well. Old school style news announcements and discussion boards have been standard for a while. SharePoint 2013 adds social networking features to help users communicate with each other (and follow, and like, and so on).
SharePoint Needs to Go on a Diet
The issue is that SharePoint also provides a wide range of other features as well, and as a result spreads itself too thinly. It provides support for workflows, information rights management, content management, records management and more. Not all of these features are as mature as document management or the various collaboration tools.
To compound the issue SharePoint packs a complex and sophisticated (sometimes complicated) user interface to tie everything together. The end result is a little too much, and an end user's experience is all too often patchy. They may enjoy using SharePoint to manage their documents, but get frustrated trying to add page content. They might be able to master an announcements list, but then find navigating the ribbon to set up views harder than it should be.
SharePoint tries to be everything to everyone, and as a result fails a lot of users. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Instead of adding yet more functionality in SharePoint 2013, Microsoft could have taken the opposite approach. They could have trimmed the feature set, and pared the product back. They could have focused on just document management and collaboration. This might have given them more time to work on the interface kinks (why still after all these years do updated views not automatically get pulled through by webparts?) and make the tool a bit more user friendly.
Things like workflows and information rights management could be hived off to separate modules, that plug into the main product. Turned off, or not included by default, they would be available to users who need them but the majority would never miss them.
SharePoint is a great product, but it is flabby, bloated and creaking a little. SharePoint 2013 could have meaner a leaner meaner revolution. Looks like we will have to wait for the next major release, and cross our fingers.
Editor's Note: Chris Wright does not lack for opinions on SharePoint. To read more by Chris: