The SharePoint Phenom
Exploring the Services Platform of the Century

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you straight up that what I know about SharePoint could fall through a Cheerio without touching the sides. Luckily for all of us, I have a pretty good Rolodex. So I called up four of the best advisors a boy could have.

Dan Holme is a self-described SharePoint “evangelist” who has a company called Intelliem (and is enviably based in Maui, Hawaii!), but is closely affiliated with AvePoint.

Chris Geier works for Global 360. When you ask him what his title is, he says “that’s a very good question.” I decided to leave it at that.

JB Holston is CEO and president of NewsGator, a company which, since 2004, has been exploring new ways to deliver information to people via the Web (big on RSS feeds) and as of late is working hard to help people derive business value from social networks.

And finally, Paul Doscher is the US CEO of Exalead, and is putting a capital “S” on search by federating the myriad backend content and knowledge repositories so people can bring relevant information to the SharePoint desktop

If there’s a group anywhere who can represent SharePoint, it’s these guys. So I’ll let them do most of the talking:

Andy: Let’s first get a level-set in terms of definition. How do you describe what, exactly, SharePoint is?

JB Holston: We see it as a platform for richer, deeper things rather than a set of  applications itself, that is meant to be used particularly for content management and collaboration. It can do a lot of things, but most large organizations are trying to extend and expand what it can do out of the box. As organizations move their stuff to the cloud, SharePoint becomes even more important for companies that want to collaborate around content.

Dan Holme: SharePoint allows you to get your work done online, in a browser, regardless of what type of work that is. That’s its benefit to the user. And it allows companies to do what they already need to do and make it more efficient by putting it online.

Paul Doscher: SharePoint is a broad-based collaboration platform that integrates multiple content sources. The purpose is to develop information applications that provide a way for people to get this aggregated content in some contextual relevance so that subjects such as customers, products, parts and sales information can all be collected into one repository that the non-technical—the non-power user—can use to make more effective business decisions. It’s the evolution of BI, enterprise search and content management... that’s what I think Microsoft is trying to do.

Chris Geier: I describe it this way: It’s a platform on which you can create sites that can be internal to your company to share ideas and do all types of applications, but it can also be used externally to create a significant number of sites or applications. People have become accustomed to going to all sorts of websites with different functionality, whether it’s to buy a dress or to rent a car. SharePoint has that degree of versatility... just applied to business needs.

Andy: I can see this is not going to be easy. Let’s move on. Seems to me that SharePoint arrived and conquered remarkably quickly. Was I absent that day? 

Dan Holme: SharePoint’s been around in some form or another since 2001, and there were many similar competitors before that. So the idea is nothing new—the concept of a portal where you cram applications into one place has been around for a while. The fact that the 2010 release contains applications that people have been clamoring for has something to do with its newfound popularity. Plus, anything Microsoft puts out there... well, you know. They can really do a great job of marketing. And, there’s a groundswell of community support, such as user groups, “SharePoint Saturday” events. The community and the “ecosystem” of support organizations out there is the number-one reason SharePoint is so successful. There’s a SharePoint event at least every other week. Also, with the new features in 2010, SharePoint can now compete with more expensive alternatives. People can’t justify the cost difference between it and big enterprise applications like Documentum or FileNet. So, it’s hitting on all cylinders.

Chris Geier: Yes, Microsoft always makes its products in such a way that requires that ecosystem to fill in pieces. They create a wireframe of functionality, but you need to add your own color, supporting beams and glue. This is why the ecosystem around SharePoint is so huge... every business wants its own little tweak to that wireframe. That’s why Microsoft is so successful; so many people can make so much money off of them!

When I talk to a potential customer, I always make them aware of the hidden costs. When Microsoft goes into an organization, they’ll show a huge, awesome demo that is amazing and blows people away. What they don’t realize is all the moving pieces and all the time it took to build that. In the high-end applications like BPM, services to software is usually three-to-one.

Most humans get it out of the box, and they say, “Wow, it’s shiny and new and it’s neat.” Then they use it for a while and say “you know, I love it, but if it could just do this...” Then they get that, and then they say, “that’s great, but if we could just add this.” That’s a cycle that never ends.

Dan Holme: It’s like the Ginzu knife concept; you buy it for one reason, but you get all these other things thrown in. You can justify it based on a single business reason, but the icing on the cake is all these other features. It’s hard to turn away from.

Paul Doscher: They (Microsoft) are a selling machine. They have 100 million paid seats of SharePoint worldwide; 50 million free on top of that. They walk into an organization and say, “Hey, you already have an enterprise agreement with us. It’s a three-year agreement. You get lots of wonderful things as part of that. If you want more than two of them, you might as well take them all.” Part of the reason SharePoint is such a phenomenon is that Microsoft is so good at selling! People understand that it’s not free, but there IS a sense that they already have it, so getting more utility out of it is a smart thing to do.

Dan Holme: There are levels of SharePoint that are free, and levels that are not. People are a little too hasty to assume that everything they need from SharePoint has to be done on SharePoint Server. Microsoft pushes hard on that, because that’s where they make money. But there are a lot of organizations—large ones even—that are using SharePoint Foundation (which is free) and are getting exceptional business value out of it. You need SharePoint Server for enterprise search, but there’s an 80/20 rule that applies to remote office collaboration that can use the free SharePoint Foundation. Some of these implementations of the free version can be massive. Of course, what usually happens is that they turn to look for ways to add additional function and governance, and that’s when they become SharePoint Server customers.

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