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 itsstrongest.  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 sameinternet-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 wasthe fact that the cost justification for investing in an enterprisedeployment 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 oflegacy SharePoint silos from SP2003, 2007 or 2010. Peopleare still overloaded by email and have difficulty finding experts and information easily. Yes, here we are in 2013 ... and so many of usare 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 arecent Forrester report, they referred to social collaboration as being one of "SharePoint's least successful workloads." If yourorganization is still drowning in email and hasexperienced all thepains, expense and concerns relating to end userperception, 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 ofglobal and mobileconsumers, employees, contractors, partners, andsuppliers.Now morethan 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 significantdisruption both outside and inside the firewall causing businesses tostop 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.

The cloud allows any organization to leverage best of breed solutions from innovative vendors who offer the best products, best user experience, service, agility, security, integration and real measurable value to the business. In a BYOD business world, tablets, smart phones and the generalconsumerization of IT have all caused users to expect more value, moreagility and a better overall experience.

Now Microsoft wants you to migrate SharePoint to the cloud.In fact they want to take all the same tools workers have been using for many years and host them somewhere else.

As a CIO or business leader thinking about the future, you have to ask yourself if this migration makes sense for your business in the long term.Will SharePoint in the cloud provide anything more innovative or change how people work? I have tremendous respect for Microsoft and their entire ecosystem, but the critics continue to be tough when it comes to answering that question ...

Learning Opportunities

Microsoft has followed the strategy of not trying to be the first to innovate, but the first to profit. The company intends to make money by selling its own versions of new technologies as opposed to building new things from scratch. This used to work when Microsoft was bigger and stronger than its rivals, but that's not the case anymore."-- The Problem With Microsoft, Motley Fool, March 20, 2013

Okay, What about Yammer?

Yammer, with its freemium model, is little reminiscent of that WSS freemium model that got us into this Sharepoint conundrum in the first place.One analyst described Yammer as the "software giant trying to fill a gap" and another was quoted as "Microsoft is too late to the social party ... you cannot get into a leadership position by imitating the leaders." Not my words, but more tough words by tough critics.

Lots of confusion and a lot of discussion continues within the Microsoft community and with customers.Bloggers are saying "don't expect Yammer to survive as a standalone product" and "Microsoft needs to evangelize a vision that has not yet been articulated." Lots of uncertainty remain ... except one thing. Microsoft buying Yammer was an indirect admission of the failure of SharePoint as a collaboration platform and a clear message that SharePoint isn't the future.

It is clearSharePoint just isn’t part of the game. If nothingelse I guess thiswill stop people calling their Intranets SharePoint."  Reflecting on Yammer and O365: SharePoint is Definitely Dead, CMSWire, March 20, 2013

Now in an attempt to clarify some of the confusion between Yammer and SharePoint, Microsoft said in a recent blog post "just go Yammer" when choosing between the 2 disparate news feeds. Yet we are continuing to hear things like "theexact way in which Yammer is being integratedwith Office 365 stillposes a lot of questions."

Instead of Microsoft inspiring and illuminating us all, we are again left with uncertainty about the future because we all know that social collaboration is much more than just a newsfeed.

Decision and Choices 

The reality is that customers have many choices today for moving into the future. And I recognize that each organization thinks differently about the future workplace, the cloud, mobile and enterprise collaboration.

The cloud may not be an option for everyone. Fair enough. However, even in an on-premises world, there are many options beyond SharePoint for collaboration. With that said, it isn't dead yet and one can imagine a similar legacy like its distant relative Notes.

Again, SharePoint has its use cases and to quote Rob Koplowitz once more: "SharePoint has deep roots." However, we also heard from Forrester that "with more viable alternatives toSharePoint increasingly coming to market, CIOs need to take a criticallook at the product and make sure they will get what they need fromMicrosoft."

When it comes to collaboration in the cloud, you have to decide if your path forward will be game changing and propel your business into the future. If SharePoint is part of that equation, there are fortunately many cloud options for integrating where required.

For some, the O365 cloud bundle and Yammer's expected integration might seem like the path of least resistance. If history is any indication, decisions based on short term cost savings and big promises often fail to deliver the value we expect and fail to change work as we know it today. When making decisions about social, mobile and the cloud, the last thing you want is "business as usual" just hosted somewhere else.

So Where Do You Go From Here?

We've heard from critics, experts, analysts and even Microsoft over the years about the promises, issues and challenges around collaborating with this platform called SharePoint.And history is usually a good reference point when it comes to planning for the future.

Today, CIOs are expected to be more forward thinking about strategic technology investments that meet the high expectations of consumer-driven business users. And the "nimble and modular landscape" of the cloud changes the game. The cloud offers more favorable economics and choice when it comes to integrating innovative solutions than ever before. At the same time, you also need to be thinking about how social and mobile enable your organization to get the most value out of your technology investments.

Making short term decisions based on low cost features won't translate into solutions that drive high business value.If you don't consider these things, your competitors will.So remember your history, demand innovation and real business value, and think best of breed in the cloud when it comes to technology investments for the future.

Image courtesy of infocus (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: This isn't the first time Rich tackled SharePoint. See his Got SharePoint? Start with the End User in Mind