As everyone already knows, Microsoft SharePoint has helped create an entire cottage industry around itself. It would be as though the automotive aftermarket—which took decades to develop—erupted overnight. An unprecedented business event.
It's prominently called the "SharePoint ecosystem," somewhat spectacularly, and perhaps over-gilded. But the fact remains that SharePoint wouldn't have nearly the stature or market penetration if it weren't for the many independent software vendors that have emerged to support it.
Take, for example, NewsGator, whose focus on news feeds has led them to take the best of that technology and apply it to the inherent collaboration that imbues SharePoint. As Rich Blank points out in his article, "When it comes to activity streams on SharePoint, the out-of-the-box social functionality of SharePoint 2010 is limited when compared to LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter." He notes that vendors (such as NewsGator, of course!) have emerged to "address SharePoint's limitations by building consumer-like social capabilities within the platform."
Prateek Kathpal, of Accusoft, underscores the need to assert management over the many potentially random documents that can infect a SharePoint site: "Despite the best-laid plans to document and enforce a logical, intuitive structure for an organization's digital information, many SharePoint sites become unwieldy from an end-user perspective; hard to navigate and full of homeless documents that could add incredible value—if only the right people knew where to find them." The solution, Prateek insists, is an integrated, embedded viewer, so that all those "homeless documents" speak in a common parlance... a lingua franca, if you will. And there are greater business advantages to be had as well. "Imagine a workforce with the ability to collaborate on documents and process complete workflows without ever having to leave their SharePoint site, download specialty software, search tirelessly through email, or compile manual versions of team-member markups. It's easy to see why an organization with an end-to-end document management and collaboration solution in place can spend more time working with their extended enterprise to innovate, (my italics added for emphasis) rather than having to respond to gaps in their toolbox."
The Metalogix piece by Steven Murphy also underscores the business value to be gained from SharePoint: "Regardless of how you use SharePoint, it gives you the freedom and flexibility to change your mind as business needs and goals change." It's a matter of determining a basic organizational platform—and SharePoint fits that bill nicely—to "evolve into the ECM of the future and be truly effective." SharePoint can become that common underpinning that "should include as much data as possible from all parts of your organization." And to that end, he recommends migrating much (if not all!) of your current content stores into a common platform, such as SharePoint. "Evaluate why your current information silos, including file shares, legacy ECM systems and departmental SharePoint deployments, exist across the organization." Then "move content from SharePoint and other systems, minimize downtime and eliminate any impact on worker productivity."
But it's not all rainbows and unicorns. As my friend Martin Garland from Concept Searching points out, SharePoint adoption is not without peril. "Despite the rapid adoption of SharePoint, it has traditionally been used to solve collaboration, content and records management challenges at the departmental level, outside the view and control of a corporate IT function," Martin writes. "While this gives departments control of their content, it makes information governance more difficult for the IT staff, having no control of or insight into the content. From an enterprise perspective, this increases organizational risk, non-compliance issues and the risk of data privacy exposures, and impacts decision-making.
"The crux of the problem with information governance," he continues, "is the inability to rely on end users to accurately and consistently add metadata to content and process information according to policies. Poorly designed and managed repositories of content result in multiple versions of the same document and can cause decision makers to find and rely on inaccurate data. Unmanaged Web servers running SharePoint can deliver unanticipated results, such as security exposures, inconsistent regulatory compliance issues and non-declaration of records."
I like how Mike Hugos and Jose Almandoz talk about SharePoint as a solid, but limited platform, especially for communicating with people outside of your organization. Because, keep in mind, SharePoint was never intended for that purpose. It has been altered and jerry-rigged to do so, but that really isn't its greatest strength: "SharePoint was never designed to operate beyond the firewall," says Mike Hugo. "You need the right add-on because it doesn't come out of the box as an external tool." Jose Almandoz adds, "Making SharePoint secure for external content sharing can be extremely difficult. It has some weaknesses, such as inadequate auditing and access reporting, file encryption, document locking and protection limitations, and provisioning and supporting a community of external users... The challenge for CIOs with sizable SharePoint investments is to build on it as an existing foundation."
The Trouble With Tribbles
As we've already gathered, SharePoint is so ubiquitous in today's organizations that it has developed not only an "ecosystem," but also a language of its own. It's like the Na'vi in the movie Avatar.
One of the more common expressions is "SharePoint Sprawl." This refers to the unfortunate tendency of SharePoint websites—largely because they're so easy to create—to proliferate like the Tribbles in "Star Trek." Wonder what's gotten me onto this sci-fi thing? Anyway, SharePoint Sprawl is surely one of its least attractive attributes. The notion is that a SharePoint collaboration site can be created for a relatively short-lived project. The problem is: nobody ever tidies up afterward. So you have all these forgotten websites, which dangerously contain content, intellectual property, confidential matter... SharePoint Sprawl is a difficult and prevalent invasive species... sort of like... oh, never mind.