What Makes You Rich Can Make You Poor
How SharePoint Has Become The Best and the Worst Thing Ever
SharePoint 2010 is supposed to address this chaos, but the jury’s still out, says Stacy, “We won’t even know for six months to a year, because the migration from 2007 to 2010 for larger organizations is going to take time. A lot of the attention on 2010 has been spent on the social capabilities... the wikis and blogs, for instance, which are vastly improved. But it’s not clear whether the governance issues have been fully addressed.”
Records management has been another missing piece. “One of the tenets of records management is you don’t want to have duplicate copies of content,” explains Miguel. “And SharePoint stores everything in duplicate. You can have versions that are sent to the ‘official records center,’ but copies of those documents can still exist in the collaboration workspace, libraries, etc.” That’s not good records management. Sharepoint 2010 to the rescue; it has what’s called “in-place RM,” which means that a document within the collaboration site can be designated as a record, and that is the official single copy.
So What’s the Matter?
So we come to the issue that’s big and gray and sits in the corner: If SharePoint’s so great, how come it hasn’t taken over the world? There was a time when we thought that, sooner or later, the “big guys” would finally decide to dominate the document, content and records management markets, absorbing those functions into their infrastructural platforms and it would be “game over” for the content management vendors.
The fact is: It’s not clear whether the embedded SharePoint capabilities are everything they should be. “I’m kind of shocked by the number of complementary products that have sprung up that appear to do what SharePoint advertises it should do out of the box,” Stacy says.
And thus, a cottage industry of SharePoint “enhancements” has emerged.
“In most cases, these add-on tools take on two important roles: the preventative, and the cure,” adds Rob D’Oria. “If you’re new to SharePoint, or migrating to 2010 and using that as an opportunity to re-architect, there are tools that prevent some of the challenges of the past from happening. But 2010 tools can also be used to cure some of the problems you’re already dealing with,” he says.
For example, 2010 has a “managed metadata” function. You create, in advance, a lexicon, or a metabase, of all the various terms that might be used for a particular business function. As long as your tag matches one of those, it knows what it is. Example: anything called “invoice number” or “inv#” is pointed to the same place.
But you can also lock it down from an admin approach to a pre-derived set of terms that must be used. “That’s where the governance comes in,” says Rob. “If you want to create a new field description, you have to ask for it. I know companies that have implemented very formal processes and workflows to do just that. And that is easier to do in 2010. But you still have to make a willful decision to apply governance.”
The relationship between existing content and document management providers and Microsoft, at the moment is “both tense and friendly at the same time,” says Miguel. “Many enterprise content management vendors compete with SharePoint, but at the same time partner with Microsoft to bring in something else on top. Someone compared SharePoint to a goose and a dog and a fish; it can fly, walk and swim, but doesn’t do them all correctly.”
The fragmented departmental implementation of SharePoint is not going to fix itself, either, according to Stacy. “You’re not going to convince a large organization that its product design group in Germany should use a tool in the same way your sales organization in North America is using it. So that problem is a weakness for SharePoint. It’s a broad solution, but it’s not focused to do specific things, such as a CRM system or even Salesforce.com,” she says.
Better Than It Was
Microsoft has never promoted SharePoint as a content management platform, so they haven’t really addressed the governance issue. “Microsoft puts out best practices articles, and points to partners who can help, but it’s still up to someone in the company’s organization to make the investment,” says Rob. “A lot of times, that doesn’t happen. There are multiple parties who have to agree on an architecture, etc.” There is more of that happening with 2010, because of the “clear-the-slate” nature of migration, and the seriousness with which IT groups want to adopt, and then control, the various SP farms and repositories. But as a general rule for companies that are still adopting 2007... it’s a free-for-all.
But... at least SharePoint is a consistent common denominator. Sure, there might be 25, 30, 100 SharePoint farms in an organization, but at least they “share” the same interface, platform, architecture. So, Rob argues, it’s better to have 30 SharePoint farms than to have 30 different ECM, WCM, CRM, ERP applications to integrate.
So there’s a path-of-least-resistance argument to be made for SP. “Regardless of how many SP farms you have, it’s the same interface. That’s a problem I won’t have to overcome. I won’t have to re-train users, I won’t have to create multiple integration layers...” It might not be great, says Rob, but it’s better than the alternative.
The one area we haven’t addressed is storage cost. SharePoint natively stores everything in SQL. Tier-one SQL storage, as it’s called, is the most expensive, most highly redundant of them all. For five terabytes of content you might need 30 terabytes of storage. But SharePoint 2007 and 2010 both allow for a solution; you can store the actual large stored objects (referred to as BLOBs) wherever you want, and simply point to them from the SharePoint SQL storage. That makes storage 90% to 95% smaller. That’s a big deal, and allows SharePoint to overcome its storage-cost issue pretty much.
So... SharePoint is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean it’s here to stay in its present form. Nor does it mean anyone has to rip out their legacy systems to replace them with SharePoint. In fact, that “would not be advisable,” as Miguel politely warns. But if there are any people on the planet who can guide you through the many decisions ahead, they are on the following pages. Please take the time to think this through. We’ll help if we can.
1. A little music trivia for you. Interestingly—and completely off the subject—this was the first all-digitally recorded album of popular music ever released. 1979. If you’re interested—and you should be—here’s a link to start with: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bop_Till_You_Drop. I bought it originally on vinyl, then CD, then downloaded it. So I have now lived with it for 30+ years, and it still holds up.