The Challenges of Sharepoint Collaboration

SharePoint architecture, which is not inherently collaborative, is based on a much older model of “publish and subscribe.” It is very top-down and hierarchy supportive, more like a Web 1.0

SharePoint architecture, which is not inherently collaborative, is based on a much older model of “publish and subscribe.” It is very top-down and hierarchy supportive, more like a Web 1.0 (or pre-Web) application than today’s Web 2.0 social applications. SharePoint is really a Web 1.0 tool more focused on content than people.

SharePoint’s architecture comes from a time of “non-transparency” where security was more important than sharing. Each site can be its own mini-silo and can’t see any others (based on topology and access settings); Microsoft recommends a “governance framework” to fix this. SharePoint sites are, functionally, ASP.NET 2.0Web applications that are served using IIS and an SQL server database as a data storage back-end. If you are not technical, all this means is that there are lots of I.T. guys behind the curtain making sure things work.

It is also hard to figure out a topology for SharePoint sites, which can be expensive to set up and can require a lot of I.T. resources. It is often hard to find documents on “sites”—sometimes even for the people who created those documents. One of the issues with SharePoint is the proliferation of sites, many of which are “abandoned,” have not been updated, have been deleted or archived. This is more of a policy problem than a technology problem.

Additionally, the search functions in SharePoint (MOSS search provides the ability to search metadata attached to documents) are very limited. Microsoft has focused on fixing this in 2010 by adding FAST search technology to make search not only more useful but more granular. Even so, it is often hard to find specific information in SharePoint unless you are in a site at the top level of the hierarchy.

Challenges

SharePoint has quite a range of functionality. Yet here are some common issues:

>>When you save a file back to SharePoint from your desktop, it does not delete the old version, which can cause confusion and a proliferation of documents.

>>Write directly on a wiki (edit and save): easy to compare old and new versions. Microsoft wiki template is very limited in these abilities and not strong in many others.

>> If you choose to “deactivate” a site, you lose all the customization information in that site.

>> Can only add “list” templates to “list-based” sites.

>> Can only add a picture from a Web address; can’t browse your desktop to do it.

>> Often difficult to trace a path back to the document.

>> Most I.T. shops have to send representatives out for SharePoint training or bring consultants in.

>> Not an easy platform to develop applications for; its development cycle is 50 percent longer than most other options.

>> 50 percent of users find that the development of custom solutions require more effort than expected (AIIM report, 2008).

>> SharePoint 2010 is only offered as 64-bit server and requires all new 64-bit servers to support it (64-bit Windows Server 2008 or 64-bit Windows Server 2008 R2). It also will require 64-bit SQL Server 2008 or 64-bit SQL Server 2005—a rip-and replace exercise if you don’t already have these servers for the 2010 version.

>> SharePoint uses Web parts (like widgets) for customization. A number of third-party Microsoft partners build templates and widgets. Microsoft does defray some of the partner support costs through the SPDS program.

Good…Bad

SharePoint 2010 is relatively new, and many companies are looking at upgrading their 2007 servers because Microsoft offers the upgrade free as part of its enterprise license. However, the initial cost for the software often is the least expensive part of TCO.

Although SharePoint 2010 claims it is able to create communities for large enterprises, many enterprises choose Jive or other more community-oriented tools.

Most enterprises today are more externally than internally focused. With cloud-based collaborative services (CBCS), there is no longer the need for expensive server-based solutions like what Microsoft and IBM/Lotus offer.

Without any bad intentions, most I.T. departments take the path of least resistance (in this case SharePoint). The smart ones look at adoption and usage six months later. What often is easiest for I.T. is not the best for the business. But because the collaborative solution I.T. chooses does perform some of the functions needed by the business, the enterprise will often adopt SharePoint because it has I.T.’s blessing.

These days, I.T. is an appropriate resource for ERP applications, but absolutely the wrong resource for what I call “situational applications”— that is, applications you need right away for specific purposes and that may be used for only a short time or a specific situation. Many of today’s 2000-plus collaboration tools fall into this category, and many of them are free to try and inexpensive to subscribe to. This moves collaboration from a line item in a budget to a monthly expense. So many groups, departments and teams in the enterprise are finding their own collaborative solutions that fit their needs rather than following the choice of I.T.

SharePoint still only runs on Windows, and it was not originally built as a collaboration tool, but Microsoft keeps bolting on collaborative functions and calling it a collaborative tool. As I said, the marketing is pretty convincing — but you make your own decision.

—The author, David Coleman, is an expert in collaboration. For more info, visit the Website www.collaborate.com, phone (650) 342-9197, e-mail davidc@collaborate.com, or visit dcoleman100 on G-mail and Twitter.

— Learn more about the Collaboratory Workshop at www.elceshow.com/workshops

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