Sharepoint – One to rule them all

Microsoft is everywhere: 72% of all internet computers in the German speaking world is using Microsoft Office! If you look at enterprises the percentage is even higher and I would guess if you look at big enterprises the percentage is once again higher (this is just my guess). These stats are from webmasterpro and they should only provide some kind of orientation about the league we are playing in. Once you are going to truely embrace the Sharepoint technology I believe you will stick to it for quite some time. Let me explain why.

Chart Microsoft Office vs Open Office

Traditional/common IT structures

Let’s first have a look at some common IT structures. First of all, I’m not an IT infrastructure guy. This knowledge is just from what I’ve observed.

Central Fileserver

There’s a central fileserver. Every department has it’s folder where it can organize it’s subfolder. Mostly those folders are organized very hierarchical. A hierarchy might look like „Department > Group > Projects > Sharepoint Migration > …“. In the daily work, you open files, edit them and saven them on the server again. This is a simple solution to set up and for the users to actually use as they don’t need chance any habits.

The drawbacks of this solutions are obvious:

  • Collaboration is non existent. You take the document and you save it. Office is smart enough to tell lock the document once it’s open. What if I only want to look at the document, but my co-worker actually wants to edit it..?
  • Searching within documents? -> impossible.
  • Workflows? E-mail or paper will probably have to do. Obviously this is not what we want.
  • Keeping a history of the file is impossible. You have to make copies of the file and save them in the different versions.

Chart, IT infrastructure with a central fileserver

You are going to be very loosely coupled. You can run that central fileserver on Linux or Windows or any other system and it’s not going to be too much effort switching the system (I’m not a system administrator, but besides some technical issues not much else will need to change).

Exchange Server

So, who is not using Microsoft Outlook in their company? I guess Google Apps is a valuable alternative to Microsoft Exchange and there are actually some pretty big companies using it (for example Salesforce.com with almost 4000 employees). We were actually using it at my old employer. Basically the Exchange Server sends your e-mail, manages your calendar your task list and probably some other stuff.

The workflow is very much centered on the central fileserver. Documents are being sent by e-mail (as copy) or with a link to it. For example for creating a requirements documents: Business Analyst (BA) writes a first draft and sends it to the stakeholders with the please to give feedback. Those who feel like replying will reply, the others just ignore it. You’ll never have confirmation about who actually saw it and who didn’t. They might add some stuff (probably using word’s built in revision system) send it back to the BA where the BA has to assemple all of the feedbacks.

Again here: Systems are very loosely coupled. You can again easily replace you exchange server with another solution.

Intranet Solution

Well there are tons of different solution. Drupal is trying to get in to enterprises, and I bet there’s many more. I’ve also seen Typo3 as Intranet and then there’s some closed source projects to choose from and probably lots of company who have written their own intranet. Probably there’s some integration between those systems, that has been built over time: Maybe an Active Directory integration? Maybe some SAP integration? Maybe an integration with your central filesystem? Maybe an E-mail integration for some ticketing system? Maybe anything? Intranets are usually managed very decentral and have therefore a chaotic touch.

Sharepoint the Giant

It’s a beast (just look at the licencing costs and the needed hardware). So, what’s sharepoint going to do? It’s going to make your file library and your intranet become one big platform. It actually provides a framework for all of those little applications you traditionally find in an intranet: vacation planing tool, travel expenses, document approval workflows and anything you can think of. It’s easily integrated into office (the probably most used software for the normal office person), it fits perfectly into the whole Exchange infrastructure and hey, it’s Microsoft (they will stick around for a couple more years for support) and best of all: we can also use it for our extranet. One giant that does it all.

One to rule them all

Possible? At least for marketing people. In practice… umm. It can be a pain in the … . Let’s say building an extranet on Sharepoint. There are tools that do is just soooo much easier. Just take Drupal, Typo3 or even some closed source project. A bugtracker. Sure, take a sharepoint list, takes a couple minutes to set up and even has notifications out of the box. … maybe take 1 hour to install some open source tool, that is a true bug tracker, and people will be so much happier.

To come back to my initial statement: „Once you are going to truely embrace the Sharepoint technology I believe you will stick to it for quite some time.“ You’ll only rely on MS technology. You’ll loose knowledge in other technologies. Since Microsoft is not particularly famous for inovation, you’ll miss out on a lot of cool stuff that is out there in small tools. Getting knowledge (Linux, Java, PHP and that kind of stuff back is a long way). The Sharepoint guys will tell you every request: „Yes of course we can easily do that with sharepoint“ and four month they still be busy with your request, that some PHP freak would have completed in 4 weeks…

Documents will be in some sharepoint library, getting them out of there won’t be as easy, as when they live on some fileshare server.

Processes will change and rely heavily on what you can do with sharepoint. You can configure a lot but since it’s just such a giant it might also take lots of efforts or might even be impossible, so you’ll have to adapt your processes to what sharepoint provides you with.

Conclusion

After all it boils down to the question „Best of Breed“ or „Integrated System“. Whatever you choose: „Choose your love, love your choice“ because you will probably be sticking around with that solution for quite some time. If you set on Sharepoint, Bill Gates will be happy $$$$$