What Makes You Rich Can Make You Poor
How SharePoint Has Become The Best and the Worst Thing Ever
There’s a great Ry Cooder song: “The Very Thing That Makes You Rich, Makes Me Poor.”1 That should be on the iPod of every IT guy who is coping with SharePoint right now. Because SharePoint has turned into the biggest “the good news is... the bad news is...” story of the decade.
How We Got Here
Full disclosure: I was blind-sided by the rapid and now nearly ubiquitous adoption of SharePoint. So I convened a small roundtable of experts to explain to me how this relatively minor-class Microsoft product has suddenly—to me anyway—become the darling of business and the scourge of IT shops worldwide.
For historical perspective, I went to Miguel Rodriguez, senior product manager for ASG Software Solutions. And he’s the right person to go to, by the way. Miguel was a beta user of SharePoint—”So I was not only a user; I was a victim,” he laughs—in 2001, when the product was first released.
“There were two flavors of the first version,” remembers Miguel. “Windows SharePoint Services, which was free, and the portal/server side, which was not free. The two sides were completely non-integrated... completely separate. That’s the reason it wasn’t very popular at that point.” And why, I assume, Miguel calls himself a victim of the era.
“The second version was even more painful, because some features were removed,” says Miguel. “But the tipping point came a few years ago when SharePoint 2007 was released. Microsoft learned from their mistakes, and was determined to capture a lot more market.”
I suggest that a free version of software from Microsoft in 2007 was pretty much guaranteed to acquire marketshare. “I guess so. But the free version of SharePoint was like any free-version software... similar to the software that comes with your desktop scanner. For your basic needs, it’s good enough. So it was deployed at the department level, and people got a chance to try it out.” But as we’ll learn, as soon as companies tried to make it an enterprise standard, it was necessary to go to the “paid” version. There was a certain drug-pusher aspect to it all.
“It was sort of a perfect storm of many things,” recalls Stacy Monarko, director of product management for Vivisimo. “Did I predict how big it would become? No. But I can also say I’m not surprised. Organizations have always looked for ways to promote collaboration and information sharing. Then two or three years ago, the walls came down from a cultural perspective. So the need for a user-friendly technology that was easy to adapt quickly grew,” she says.
The cultural shift Stacy refers to is the growing adoption of social tools, and the acceptance of information exchange, that we’ve talked about in these pages before. Up until recently, Stacy says, “Document management was more in the domain of the librarians. But with this cultural shift, there became a need for everyone in the business to share information. And an intuitive, easy-to-use collaboration product was already in place—SharePoint—and Microsoft had just the right experience to get it out there. I did not predict it, but it makes sense now.”
The Viral-ness of SharePoint
SharePoint was quickly adopted into departments, whether it was R&D or marketing, or wherever. These business unit teams were able to deploy SharePoint on their own, and that’s now where the struggle is: these silos of SharePoint need to be dealt with before it can ever be thought of as an enterprisewide standard.
Thus SharePoint is a double-edged sword. Its strength—ease of deployment—is also its fault—multiple, redundant deployments that must be brought under governance. The irony is that this “non-IT” tool is now burdening IT groups exactly because of its “non-IT-ness.”
“There is a positive side,” says Miguel. “It IS very easy to deploy by departments, without the need for IT to get involved. But (and this is a big “but” as we’ll learn) as organizations try to adopt it as a corporate standard, they’re ending up with all these uncontrolled workspaces, libraries, site collections all over the place that IT has to take care of.”
Rob D’Oria is chief technology officer at StoragePoint, and is one of the sharpest pencils in the box when it comes to SharePoint. He helps explain how this dynamic has been allowed to occur: “SharePoint is so approachable, from both the end-user and the IT perspective, that it gets into departments and spreads. Then suddenly it’s: ‘Whoa, now we’ve got governance problems and a lack of control.’ It’s a double-edged sword; you can manage unstructured content, but it’s becomes disorganized. There’s no information architecture, there’s no taxonomy, there’s no common metadata. So in one repository it’s ‘invoice number,’ and in another it’s ‘inv #.’ There’s no consistency. A whole lot of vendors have popped up to provide solutions to normalize and create a form of control and consistency,” over SharePoint, Rob says.
Miguel has the same message. “When a department implements SharePoint, they don’t think of it from an information architecture point of view. They say ‘OK, it fits my collaboration, or document management, or small portal needs... I don’t care what is in that SQL server database. Someone in IT will take care of that.’”
But that’s the rub. When IT has to take care of those multiple, huge storage layers, that’s when the costs and enormity of the effort comes into view. And that’s what’s happening around the world right now. That inexpensive portal platform that Microsoft practically gives away is suddenly a lot more... uh, well it hurts.