Microsoft SharePoint

Review Comments on CMSWatch's "The SharePoint Report 2008"

When Tony Byrne, Founder of CMSWatch, heard that I had written an independent assessment of the collaboration capabilities of SharePoint, he reached out by email and asked whether I would be willing to review their forthcoming tome on SharePoint. He did warn me, and rightly so, that it was a big document. Having just written 30 pages to explain one of the six aspects of SharePoint, I was ready to believe him. I accepted the challenge, and late last week my review copy of the report arrived. The report is entitled The SharePoint Report 2008: A Comprehensive Evaluation of SharePoint in the Enterprise.

I have not read the report word for word, but have scanned and skimmed through the findings, the analysis, and the recommendations a couple of times now. It has helped broaden my understanding of SharePoint in the enterprise in the non-collaboration pieces. Apart from disagreeing with one assertion — “We cannot think of a single piece of core SharePoint functionality that wasn’t built by Microsoft itself. Rather, Microsoft learns from the experience of its partners and recreates functionality in a subsequent edition.” on p.173, to which I immediately thought of the content management capabilities that were acquired with the nCompass Labs acquisiton in April 2001 — I found myself agreeing with pretty much all of it. It’s a great report … it goes into good detail about what SharePoint can do, and even better, gives vendor-neutral guidance about what to do to maximize your investment in SharePoint.

Tony was kind enough to give me a footnote, #12 on p.101, regarding the problems in synchronizing Outlook 2007 and SharePoint. That was based on the analysis in my white paper, The 7 Pillars of IT-Enabled Team Productivity: The Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Analysis.

The team at CMSWatch asked me for a paragraph of review commentary. Here’s what I wrote:

Microsoft tells you it’s wonderful, competitors tell you it’s awful, and there’s not a lot in between. CMSWatch’s latest report, the 190-page “2008 SharePoint Report”, does an excellent job of covering the “in-between”. The authors have done an outstanding job in documenting what SharePoint is (the six elements of the MOSS pie), in thinking about how and where it can be used effectively, and in giving prescriptive guidance to organizations that are considering SharePoint — both to embrace the good, and to avoid the bad. Every organization that is looking at SharePoint should purchase this report; it’s merely good governance to do so.

One of the points they make in the press release and in the report is that SharePoint runs the risk of becoming “the next Notes”. For example, the press release says:

SharePoint exploits traditionally underserved collaboration needs for information workers laboring within Office tools, and fulfills a common desire to easily create disposable workspaces, CMS Watch found.

Like Notes in a previous decade, IT often embraces SharePoint as a simple answer to myriad business information problems. But the platform can easily morph into a technical and operational morass, as repositories proliferate, and IT comes to recognize that various custom applications require highly specialized expertise to keep running properly.

I have some thoughts about that, and have commented on this topic before. The essence of my thinking in this regards is this: Notes holds wonderful promise for organizations (past, present and future) if you get it right — design the applications in the right way, harden the collaborative environment, provide user training in the right way, have the right governance model, and so on. Ditto for SharePoint. But if an organization doesn’t get these things right, then whether they are using what many see as the “old Notes” or the “new SharePoint”, disaster will result. The inherent flexibility of both platforms means that they can be used for great ends and to return great business and individual user benefits, or that same flexibility can result in really bad things happening. Many organizations have been down that route already with Notes, and many organizations are looking at SharePoint as a way of magically fixing all of those issues. It’s not going to happen, because the key isn’t in the technology … it’s in how it is introduced, embraced, talked about, trained on, and more. In general, if you can’t get it right in Notes, you won’t get it right in SharePoint.

In closing, two independent analyst firms have issued warnings about SharePoint in the last two months. I hope organizations are taking note.