Is SharePoint too big for its own good?

  • 1-Jun-2010

In SharePoint 2010, Microsoft has created much broader management capabilities and better integration services. SharePoint now carries many more enterprise features, like business intelligence reporting and managed metadata.  The resulting package is an increasingly complex platform that may have become that very complicated tool it originally displaced -- namely the Documentums and Hummingbirds of this world (both acquired by larger competitors).

This begs the question: will SharePoint 2010 enjoy the same success as 2007, or will it collapse under its own weight?

One of the earliest criticisms of SharePoint was that it took a simplistic approach -- simple in implementation, simple in use, and catering only to simpler scenarios.  In fact, it was this straight-forward and focused approach that lay behind SharePoint’s early success. 

While SharePoint 2003/2007 didn’t solve every problem, it did a respectable job at providing accessible collaboration and document-sharing services at a time when competitors were underinvesting in those features. The strategy was so successful that some competitors have begun to use the same approach; c.f., Google Docs and Sites.

Over time, however, Microsoft has layered more functionality on the original core.  Most of the functionality has tried to address two shortcomings:

  1. Requests from largest enterprise customers and major integrator partners for greater depth, and
  2. Disconnect between Redmond's marketing of SharePoint as an omnibus information-management platform and significant functionality gaps in the package itself

Microsoft came to envision SharePoint as more than just a "product." It would become a platform upon which many more applications could be constructed. This has generated enormous enthusiasm in SharePoint's ample partner channel, but the strategy comes with real costs on the ground.

Case in point: recently a client came to me looking to overhaul their intranet.  They talked about social networking, document management, search, and integrating legacy applications -- all of the features you might expect in a modern intranet environment.  They asked whether SharePoint might make a good fit.  I presented how SharePoint could solve many of their needs, but the dizzying array of features and functions in SP 2010 can (and in this case did) lead to overstimulation and ultimately participant shut-down.

Now, maybe I could have presented SharePoint more clearly. But SharePoint 2010's ability to address so many challenges -- like finding content, surfacing key performance data, or assisting with document lifecycle management -- makes the platform so vast, that it’s a challenge to describe it in a coherent and meaningful way for business decision-makers.  While basic document management capabilities remain very accessible, trying to describe, for example, the interplay among documents, content types, and enterprise metadata management takes great patience, both on the part of the consultant and the client.

Subscribers to our SharePoint Watch research will understand that while certain features of SharePoint are "simple," the platform is anything but simple.  Customers should take the time to develop specific usage scenarios prior to diving in.  My client was understandably interested in generic features, but a large, complex platform like SharePoint will overwhelm those who don't invest in specific use cases.

It was precisely the sort of end users attending my presentation who were responsible for SharePoint's early success.  Unfortunately, it seems as if Microsoft may have forgotten that.

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