Monday, April 28, 2008

SharePoint - Dream or Nightmare?

To answer my question in the title; it depends on which side you are on, if you are on the provider side or the customer / user side.

I myself have been having some nightmares as I have been on the user side for almost a year now. During this period, I have had two assignments where I needed to collaborate with colleagues located at other offices. As we have tried to minimize traveling and face-to-face meetings unless they have been absolutely necessary, we looked for support in our SharePoint 2007 installation. Our primary need was support for creating and sharing MS Office files with each other. Given our needs and the promised capabilities of SharePoint 2007, we should have been hand in glove.

Michael Sampson recently shared his notes from a web seminar by Tony Byrne from CMSWatch entitled "Evaluating SharePoint from a Business Perspective". Here are some excerpts and my own comments:
"Tony said that the key strength of SharePoint is in file sharing. Other types of collaboration -- project/task tracking, social networking, enterprise knowledge management, collaborative authoring and review, discussion and collaborative filtering, and synchronous collaboration and communication -- have varying degrees of out-of-the-box capabilities vs. custom development required"

If file sharing is the strength of Sharepoint when it comes to collaboration, then anyone having thougths about using Sharepoint for collaboration should seriously reconsider. There are simply much more simple and convenient ways to share files than using SharePoint. SharePoint is more about file storing than file sharing. File sharing requires easy access, such as the possibility to access files from any computer with Internet access. For this, there are many web 2.0 apps which are better suited.

According to Michael Sampsons notes, Tony Byrne have the following answer to what SharePoint really is:
“Myth ... 'out of the box product' to fit most information management needs"

"Reality ... the most 'finished' pieces still revolve around file-based collaboration. And it's very user-friendly for this."

"When you get beyond that, it becomes a development platform ... or 'consultant friendly'"

The best thing with SharePoint is that it has a lot of capabilities out of the box, ranging from ECM to collaboration. A bad thing is that it underperforms in more or less all areas and that a lot of custom development is required to make it perform. This is why SharePoint is a dream for consultants and why Microsoft has an army of consultant firms that help them sell SharePoint to potential customers. But the worst thing is that SharePoint fails in usability. I disagree with Tony Byrne when he praises the usability of SharePoint when it comes to file-based collaboration. And potential customers need to keep in mind that usability is not something that comes out of the box from projects run by SharePoint consultants.