Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SharePoint in the hot seat

SharePoint has been in the hot seat for a couple of weeks. It started with Thomas Vander Wal's post "SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools" which evoked a lot of reactions and a pretty intense discussion in the Enterprise 2.0-corner of the blogosphere about SharePoint's fitness for Enterprise 2.0. Here are a few highlights from his post:
The Microsoft marketing people seem to have performed their usual, extend what the product can do to the edges of its capabilities (and occasionally beyond) to map to customer stated desires...What Microsoft marketing did well was sell the value that social tools bring into the enterprise.

...SharePoint has value, but it is not a viable platform to be considered for when thinking of enterprise 2.0. SharePoint only is viable as a cog of a much larger implementation with higher costs.

It is also very clear Microsoft’s marketing is to be commended for seeding the enterprise world of the value of social software platform in the enterprise and the real value it can bring. Ironically, or maybe true to form, Microsoft’s product does not live up to their marketing, but it has helped to greatly enhance the marketplace for products that actually do live up to the hype and deliver even more value.
Although I agree with some of Thomas Vander Wal's points, it is very important to stress that Enterprise 2.0 - as Michael Sampson makes clear - is not primarily about specific products:
Enterprise 2.0 is NOT about specific products from specific vendors. I think the people at the front of this thing called “enterprise 2.0” have shifted from a tooling focus to a strategic focus...Enterprise 2.0 is a way of describing a particular view of business process, culture, organization, and structure.
I cannot agree more: a business cannot achieve the promises of Enterprise 2.0 without putting new glasses on and transforming its ways of working, culture and structure.

Still, specific tools and technologies - and how they are designed, developed and deployed - play a central role in an Enterprise 2.0 business transformation. They are key ingredients in the Enterprise 2.0 recipe and if you take them away or use the wrong or bad ingredients, it will be much harder to achieve the promised business benefits of Enterpise 2.0.

Considering the current market penetration, it is clear that the marketing department at Microsoft has done an extraordinary job to market SharePoint 2007. What is unfortunate is that they seem to have convinced many buyers that they get Web 2.0-style collaboration tools out-of-the-box with SharePoint.

I have personally nearly two years of hands-on experience of using a more or less out-of-the-box implementation of SharePoint for collaboration and this much is perfectly clear to me; SharePoint / MOSS 2007 is designed for the (Windows) desktop and for collaborating on office documents inside the corporate firewalls. It is not designed for collaboration in broader terms - not even for simple file sharing if it goes across corporate firewalls. Furthermore, it is not designed for the web, it has only rudimentary Web 2.0 features and tools (such as blogs and wikis), it is not built with Web 2.0 technologies, and it lacks core Web 2.0 qualities such as ease-of-use. Despite all this, SharePoint is platform with a lot of capabilities which can be extended and leveraged through customization, third-party tools and complementary products and services. The key problem is just that many of the companies that have bought SharePoint 2007 believe they got more than just the basic capabilities out-of-the-box. They might not be ready for additional investments. This will most likely hold back the value they can get from their original investment in SharePoint.

Here are some other voices about SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0:

James Dellow:
...the measure of SharePoint's Enterprise 2.0 worthiness is in how it is used and how users are allowed to use it. And there is where, from looking at the SharePoint product suite and my experiences in the field, that I have a problem with SharePoint.
Mike Gotta:
So my advice - let's get off the "what is" debate about products and features and focus on "how used" when it comes to E2.0.

SharePoint can be used in ways that create an anti-pattern of sorts when thinking about E2.0 - but it can also be used in ways that are well-aligned with E2.0 goals. Yes, often those success stories rely on partners that extend the capabilities of SharePoint as a platform. But the platform is leveraged and some capabilities (e.g., search/social distance, MySite) are credible. I have clients on both sides of the debate with successful and unsuccessful stories to tell.

The inconvenient truth is that the product does not eliminate the overwhelming influence that cultural dynamics has on how well an organization can leverage E2.0 concepts.
Michael Sampson (again):

SharePoint is what it is -- and can become more through third-party add-ons...If an organization has deployed SharePoint with the sole purpose of implementing an “enterprise 2.0” vision, then it’s made the wrong decision. But if the driving reasons are much wider, and take into consideration team collaboration, content management and more, then SharePoint may be a good base platform.


  1. Great post. I agree that SharePoint should not be selected as a social computing platform. This is one of the weakest aspects of SharePoint. Thankfully, SharePoint is so much more. For companies that can justify SharePoint based on the other value-added capabilities, and can live with the weak social computing capabilities for now, it is not a bad choice.

    Here's a link my blog post on the same topic: