Because Ars Logica specializes in helping clients choose or assemble content management products (CMS, DAM, CXM, portals), we often get asked how – and if – SharePoint should be integrated into an overall solution stack. Since no two customer implementations are ever identical, our advice is never exactly the same. But similar themes underpin most of our guidance on SharePoint usage.

Were we forced to reduce 10 years of working with SharePoint to one sentence, we would say, “SharePoint is good at providing controlled access to shared resources, and it is bad at managing process.” Too often, clients try to use SharePoint not only to manage access to the collaborative aspects of content/project management, but also to handle the interactive process itself. And they fail 90 percent of the time. Let’s look at why.

SharePoint Lets People Work Together

SharePoint is a Collaboration Tool. Since “collaboration” simply means working [labor] together [co-], it follows that SharePoint should excel at enabling people to work together – and it does. After all, it’s not just a jazzed-up shared network drive; it bundles a very rich tool set along with asset-sharing functionality – features such as commenting, change tracking, audit control, version management, document check-in/check-out, merging changes, and so on. Furthermore, SharePoint enriches other aspects of enterprise collaboration as well, including:

  • Identifying and assembling project-specific electronic resources (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, multi-media assets)
  • Indicating real-time availability of team members
  • Maintaining and displaying project-related e-mail threads
  • Using search functionality to link project-specific content to the wider body of enterprise content
  • Making basic project metrics available to other enterprise applications such as reporting software and business intelligence tools
  • Providing a user interface consistent with other Microsoft applications

In short, SharePoint provides a good deal of what people need to work together. What it doesn’t do is manage how people work together.

SharePoint Does Not Manage How People Work Together

So what exactly is the how of working together that SharePoint doesn’t manage? Let’s back up just a minute before answering this question. Most people expect enterprise software to automate, facilitate or even render possible either specific tasks (a spreadsheet for tracking budgets) or the coordination of multiple tasks (managing multi-channel marketing campaign with a CMS-CRM combination). SharePoint handles examples of the single-task type, even if there is a host of examples (commenting on a Word document, checking to see if Joe in marketing is available right now, assembling relevant domain expertise from a central repository) – but it doesn’t connect them.

For weaving together the series of tasks involved in maintaining a corporate intranet – to take an example where many organizations fall flat on their faces –SharePoint fails miserably. Far too often, we see companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on failed attempts to do just this. What they invariably end up attempting to do is to reproduce electronically the workflow (process) that normally happens between people. IT departments generate thousands of lines of code to link individual tasks together in a stream that approximates a business process. This is time-consuming, costly, and unscalable. Over time, IT will, in some cases, have undertaken dozens of similar projects with little overlap and zero reusability.

Final Thoughts

So once again, SharePoint as an enterprise application is well-suited to the execution of the multiple-but-individual tasks of collaborative file sharing. If we view these tasks as threads, the fabric of business process management must be woven by people, or by other enterprise applications (such as CMS, CRM, or BPM systems) that excel at automating complex processes.

Editor's Note: Additional articles on SharePoint include: