SharePoint: What’s Good, What’s Bad

At a base level, whether you use SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2013 doesn’t really matter. Since the differences are mostly changes in degree rather than kind, it’s possible to make some fundamental judgments about SharePoint that are irrespective of the version. And this was just what Tony Byrne did during his presentation at Intranätverk 2014.  

In 2001, Tony Byrne founded the analyst firm CMS Watch, which later became the Real Story Group. The company specializes in evaluating digital marketing and digital workplace technologies, and SharePoint is almost always part of the conversation. Why? Because it can be a jack of many trades. Tony explains that when SharePoint gets into an enterprise, it becomes part of the conversation for almost any sort of implementation that’s intended to be done.

Pros and cons with SharePoint (the words of Tony Byrne)

On the plus side, SharePoint is an extraordinarily rich development platform. The problem is that many people, particularly business people, have a very contradictory perception of it; that it’s a simple product. That contradiction often causes a lot of friction and problems. The other issue is that although SharePoint is a jack of many trades, it’s arguably a master of none. This also brings in conflict between business and IT.

Platforms vs. products

Perhaps the most meaningful pro and con with SharePoint is the fact that it’s demonstrably feature rich but application poor. SharePoint is definitely a development platform, which means that with enough time, money and ibuprofen, you can get it to do whatever you want. In the broader technology world, though, customers face a spectrum between platforms and products. Products tend to be more out of the box but not necessarily very configurable or extensible. This means that you can reach a ceiling with them, although they’re usually very simple to implement and can do one or two things very well. On the other end of the spectrum is “platform”. IT people tend to like platforms, not just because they’re fun or particularly lucrative, but because it means that they never have to say no to the business. They only have to say “how much”: how much time and how much money do you have to get this done right?

Make sure to have the funds

There’s no doubt wonderful things can be done with SharePoint. It’s just that it takes a whole lot of time, money and ibuprofen to accomplish that. According to Microsoft, for every dollar spent on SharePoint licensing, the average enterprise spends 6 to 9 dollars on services. By services we can refer to a lot of different things – it could, for example, be some very essential user experience. Also, a lot of it is going to go into implementation and customization. (The actual median dollar figure for what an enterprise spends on the initial implementation is about $250,000.) This is not an unusual ratio for big enterprise implementation. But the fact is that you’re going to spend up to nine times your licensing fees in terms of services. So the way people perceive SharePoint to be cheap and simple could be a huge problem. They license it and later realize that they haven’t budgeted for the enormous amount of work necessary to create real applications out of it. Since SharePoint is a platform, people may expect it to do wonders automatically. There’s no doubt that SharePoint could do great things, but you need to have the resources to fulfill its potential.

SharePoint – the best alternative?

When a problem comes up, you can answer it with SharePoint. In need of portal services, better search, or a content management system? SharePoint can help you. But the issue is: is SharePoint good at all of these or good enough? A great deal today revolves around the social aspects as well as being able to collaborate on the intranet. In terms of these two things, SharePoint is very feature rich in terms of core services like blogs and discussions. But, as mentioned before, it’s actually pretty application poor. So in the end it’s really a question of what you’re trying to accomplish. SharePoint might be the best alternative, but there could also be better options. If you’re interested in finding out more about when SharePoint could be the best option and in which cases it’s not that useful, please have a look at Tony’s presentation at Intranätverk 2014 in this video.

Extend, supplement or complement

If SharePoint is going to be your foundation, you have to figure out how you’re going to take this vast toolkit of services and convert it into applications. Fundamentally, you have three choices, which we call “extend, supplement or complement”. So, how do you turn SharePoint features into business applications? Since it’s a platform, you can customize and extend it. There’s also a possibility to supplement it by licensing something above SharePoint, which can be a SharePoint add-on that’s designed to plug in to a SharePoint directory. And, of course, there are also several ways to complement SharePoint with complimentary platforms like Jive, Atlassian, and even Microsoft Yammer, which today runs in a completely different technology stack than SharePoint.

More information

Still not certain if SharePoint is the best option for you? Check out Tony’s presentation (video) for more in depth information. Or feel free to contact Tony and have a discussion about it.

Bio Tony Byrne

Tony Byrne is the original author of the Real Story Group’s Web Content Management research, a former journalist, and a 20-year technology industry veteran. Prior to 2001, when he founded CMS Watch (now Real Story Group), he managed an engineering team at a systems integration firm. Tony now focuses his own research on Enterprise Social and Collaboration software, SharePoint, Mobile, and Web Content Management.