Recently I was invited to a meeting with a prospect who wanted to know the true ability of SharePoint to function at an enterprise level. Put this question to some industry experts and they would come up with ‘It can do anything you want’ type of answer and overwhelm you with case studies, facts and figures that indicate how SharePoint has helped various organizations. If a person does a bit more research into organizations who have implemented SharePoint, they may come up with opinions that are much more toned down and not an insignificant number tending towards frustration.
The impact of implementing SharePoint, I feel is not a black and white answer. The software is just one of the many factors that determine the success of failure of a project. Then too, is the definition of success standard across organizations? Everyone loves to bask in success, so if a vendor just provides a small component to a larger project which has been declared successful, the marketing team goes into overdrive to publish case studies which seem to imply that success was due to the component.
For people just starting off the exploration into SharePoint while trying to figure how it should fit into their organization, there would be doubts on if SharePoint is right tool or will it just be a dark spot in the corporate IT history with everyone trying to forget it. But is that not the same for any technology being implemented in an organization.
Since I have come across various projects in SharePoint, I will try to lay out my thoughts on the abilities and strong points of SharePoint with focus on the current version SharePoint 2010.
Firstly what should be understood that the strategy that Microsoft took with SharePoint was focusing on the breadth than depth. I think that is one of the major selling points of SharePoint. An enterprise has various needs – Content Management, workflow , search, collaboration etc.. One way to implement this is to get the best of breed for each of these and figure out how to integrate them all (this seems to be more of a DIY approach more suited for people who just want the best of everything) or get a tool that has elements of all and build on top of it if there are specialized requirements ; the SharePoint ISV market is flooded with vendors providing various plugins and extenders for SharePoint. In addition a lot of external tools that actually may be competitors for some parts of SharePoint have connectors for SharePoint enabling easy integration. So what this actually implies that the plain vanilla install of SharePoint may not take your organization to the level which you want it to ; some of the features of SharePoint may not match up with what specialized product vendors provide, which actually be ok. The flip side of this is that one needs to properly wade through the marketing info to know how best to expect when the rubber hits the road.
Another aspect that drives the adoption of SharePoint is the extensibility it provides. Almost any web application you think of can be written on top of SharePoint. Since SharePoint runs on the Microsoft.Net, acquiring skills for developing applications on SharePoint does not typically involve a huge learning curve. One point to be noted is that just because an application is hosted on SharePoint it does not necessarily that it leverages any feature of SharePoint or that using SharePoint helps in the application development or its functionality. There are applications that are built on top of SharePoint that just leverage the SharePoint as a host or container; however some of them have such rich functionality that the availability of these tools helps influencing decisions to purchase SharePoint.
Given these, I would like to highlight some of the aspects that I would present three categories of SharePoint usage:
The ‘Most bang for the Buck’ uses
- Intranet sites
- Corporate Intranet site hosting policies, news, announcements
- Team / Project sites
- Document sharing and versioning – reducing mail floating around with documents attachments
- My site
- Personalized space displaying user profile
- User Profile edits – entering information about your self
- For content both within and external to SharePoint
- FAST which comes with the Enterprise edition is a useful addition that helps in user adoption of SharePoint – relevant for the Google (or Bing 🙂 ) generation
- Leverage the default authentication mechanism and with the plethora of plugins and connectors, it makes a good fit as a home page or dashboard of information from various sources
The ‘OK, works fine but could be much better’ features
- Internet Facing sites – digital marketing
- Social tool
The ‘Has a lot to improve upon features’
- SharePoint as a repository for large content – For eg. 200Gb is the recommended limit per DB. More than that upto 4TB is also supported, however with a lot of buts and ifs. That said we can have multiple databases for a SharePoint installation, but the drawback is that each needs its own site collection, which means that the content needs to be spread across multiple URLs which is not so great from a usability perspective
- Scenarios needing Multi-farm deployments – possible, but currently no good solutions for cross farm collaboration or content synch across farms.
As mentioned, these are just my thoughts, and broadly aligns with the thought of some other people I have interacted with who are not advocates for Microsoft :). Pls post your thoughts if you think differently or feel that there are additional aspects that can be added to the lists above.