Saturday 21 March 2009

SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0

Like anyone who works in the enterprise social computing space, Thomas Vander Wal's post about SharePoint was essential reading. He concludes:

"What is clear out of all of this is 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."
However, the responses have been just as interesting, like Mike Gotta, Michael Sampson, Oliver Marks, Dion Hinchcliffe, and Todd Stephens (Sharepoint versus the World, Sharepoint Bites Back and Another Sharepoint Myth Debunked).

And what about me? What do I think?

I have to say that there is certainly a ring of truth about Vander Wal's analysis, but... I'm not entirely convinced about the basis of his arguments.

The test for Enterprise 2.0 isn't cost or a list features, although we do expect it to be built using Web technologies and ease of use is important. However, even in those cases Web-based doesn't just mean Web browser based and I would claim 'ease of use' is in the eye of the beholder. No, 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.

Out of the box, there are trade offs in SharePoint that make it a passable document-collaboration tool, but in doing this it is structured in such a way that it also silos and constrains users and information. Beyond document-collaboration, other potentially interesting portal features, like the Business Data Catalogue, require the intervention of administrators and visionary IT management. So its a user-driven environment only within certain limits.

I'm also not convinced that SharePoint has heralded the era of Enterprise 2.0. What is has done is provided a low barrier of entry to a Collaboration capability that has been lacking in the majority of organisations and in that respect it has opened the door to Intranet 2.0, but in most cases SharePoint is deployed in a way that is very far removed from Enterprise 2.0. At this point we do start to find that the complexity in the SharePoint suite and its technical and information architecture become a barrier to using it as a platform for Enterprise 2.0 in the future - and its here Vander Wal's arguments start to play out. Unfortunately IT professionals only have themselves to blame if they deploy SharePoint haphazardly and get bitten by it later!

Still, there are off the shelf options that can help enrich SharePoint as a social computing tool - ReadWriteWeb covered a few of them last year - but even with these in place you will only have affected one part of your overall information workplace. That is, you've added some social features to your intranet (and they might have an impact), but you haven't really evolved into Enterprise 2.0.

So, being pragmatic, what can we do about SharePoint to make it as Enterprise 2.0 friendly as possible?

  1. Implement strong foundations for Enterprise 2.0'ness - Plan your infrastructure well and implement the right governance model so you have a platform where open information access is encouraged ('access' means you can also find information and know about it, not just have the rights to see it) and agile development practices can be used to help quickly meet new business requirements, but all under controlled conditions (because a wild SharePoint isn't good for anyone);
  2. Have a realistic budget - Accept the fact that you will need some additional Webparts and third-party extensions to achieve the first goal - and budget for it from the beginning; and
  3. Remember the big picture - In the process of doing all this, don't forget to also focus on people, process and content and not just the technology.

And if all this sound too hard, well perhaps SharePoint isn't the right choice for your organisation after all.

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  1. Anonymous12:05 am

    Two points:
    1) One of the issues with Sharepoint is that IT thinks it has E2.0 when it implements it, so stops looking for something better, and because it's what they're used to they will install with a very structured file-centric hierarchy ... and

    2) if it's so hard to beat SP into E2.0 shape, why wouldn't you just use something better suired?

  2. couldnt agree more. almost all SharePoint provides out of the box is document management, let alone advanced enterprise 2.0 functionality. it is a powerful platform, but not quite the "end user's best friend" as its being made out to be. it is especially not suitable for the small to mid sized segment, even as a collaboration platform, because ease of implementation, and "push button" functionality and customization are critical for this segment.

  3. Anonymous7:49 am

    Sharepoint *absolutely* does not provide Document Management in any form. Just because its stodgy and not very Enterprise 2.0, does not mean it fills the role of a DocMan application.

    Its appeal is in its low-entry cost, and the ability to provide a shiny new thing for I.T. to play with until its bored. Then, once it becomes drudgery, at least the ongoing costs to make it usable can be charged back to departments, and allow the gradual accrual of new IT headcount. So its a real winner for I.T. They don't actually have to use it.

  4. Anonymous5:39 am

    I spent months testing "Intranet in a box" vendors only to discover that none of them could be customized enough to meet the scope of the project. Everything with power sucks out-of-the-box. What else is there?

    If you can define the scope of your project as a simple collaboration tool that does not need to integrate with anything, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a framework with extendability, Microsoft could work with some customization. The other option is to look at IBM or Oracle.

  5. Sharepoint has appropriately been criticized for the limits and clunkiness of its collaboration technologies. The fact remains, however, that Microsoft actually included primitive wikis blogs and social profiles as built-in features and thereby has alerted and even (dare I say) inspired many people to take a look at these knowledge-sharing and collaboration structures.

    I agree that having some governance structure helps, perhaps partly because it helps Enterprise 2.0 champions explain and sell what is happening with these tools. It's also important though to have formal encouragement of use of the tools and also a low bar as to what might be an appropriate purpose for a wiki or blog. You don't have to have the highest and best use of a tool if it helps reduce email. And you have to be careful not to have the governance structure get in the way of the users' own contributions to the structure and meaning of the content.

    I agree even more that the cultural and business processes need to be addressed and leveraged in any E 2.0 rollout.

  6. Completely agree with ric.hayman's comment. Spot on!


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