I came across a blog article entitled “SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools” which has caused me to shake my head in disbelief (and write this entry). Not necessarily for the article itself as it really wasn’t making much of a statement but rather the retelling of IT horror stories from SharePoint.
SharePoint is a lot of things and like a lot of “suites” it does a lot of things pretty good. Some pretty good, some great, some not so great. I liken it to the analogy of buying stuff for your home and lifestyle. You go out and buy the best car, the best house, the best home theatre system, the best wife, whatever. So great, you have the “best of the best of the best” of everything. It’s only cost you your life savings and now it’s time to integrate everything. Try hooking that futuristic plasma touch screen to your uber-sophisticated Bose home theatre amplifier, or your state-of-the-art computer, or get your shiny new sports car to interact with the new $8,000 garage door opener.
Having problems with integration? I thought so.
While you can own the best of the best these things are the best but mostly on their own. In the grand scheme of things and how everything fits together is where you’re really up the creek.
SharePoint is probably, as a whole, mediocre. Egads, the SharePoint guy is saying SharePoint sucks. No, I did not say that and mediocre is a term that needs to be taken in context. It does some things well and others not so well but taken as a complete unit and integrated with your desktop client tools (i.e. Office) it works pretty darn well. When users are informed and empowered to work their sites rather than relying on IT to modify permissions for them on their own lists, it works pretty well. When you stop comparing the less-than-stellar features of the SharePoint Wiki markup language with MediaWiki, it does the job.
The point here is that take it as it was meant to be used and stop bastardizing it. It is not a source control system. It is not a drop-in-walk-away replacement for file shares. You pay one price for the whole enchilada and there are a whack of features there for you to use but you have to accept it’s not a 9 course prime rib meal. It’s also not 9 boxes of Kraft Dinner either. It’s something in between. It’s the typical compromise of unlimited time, resources, and money versus the pragmatic spending on projects that happens in every organization on the planet, Microsoft is no exception.
I’m starting a position as a SharePoint advisor next week with an energy firm that has truly shown me there are still sane and intelligent IT people in the world that use SharePoint. They haven’t turned on every feature known to man just because it was there and only turned things on and provided capabilities to users when they themselves got the technology wrapped around their head and had a business driver to use the feature. They’ve also empowered their users to take responsibility of their own content and sites, from the office assistant up to the CTO. They’ve made me believe that SharePoint isn’t completely and absolute evil as one would think it is and re-confirmed my believe that, while it has it’s flaws and will continue to do so, it’s a powerful tool when used appropriately.
Another theme that seems to be coming up is around governance and more directly, information architecture (or the lack of it). The article keeps harping on the fact that SharePoint isn’t ready for “Enterprise 2.0” yet was marketed that way. Frankly, I don’t know what this “Enterprise 2.0” crap is before I read the article, thinking it was some Internet meme (like Web 2.0). I found a conference on Ent2.0 which says “Enterprise 2.0 is social software and tools for businesses.” The rest is marketing crap (do more with less, agile, buzz, buzz, buzz). I don’t recall SharePoint being marketed as anything like this and frankly, I don’t think anyone has really nailed down any kind of business need or definition or desire for “social software and tools”. We can barely describe the difference between Facebook and Twitter these days and the only explanation anyone has for “Web 2.0” is flashy ajax-like sites that have big rounded corners and pastel colours.
I know there’s a big push for “social networking in the Enterprise”. I’ve been watching the movement for a few years now, trying to figure out what we’re actually trying to achieve. Communities are not built up overnight and neither will yours in your company, SharePoint or no SharePoint. Facebook happened because there was nothing else (well, unless you count MySpace) and it was pretty good at what it did. Still is to this day. Pretty good. Not stellar, there are places it could be improved and frankly the fact there are over 12,000 applications on Facebook shows this. Facebook is the SharePoint of the Internet. It does a lot of things pretty good but nothing that you would want to write home about. Some people love it, some people hate it and there are many people (like myself) that bitch and complain about the lack of features the platform has for application development, just like SharePoint! Facebook has a purpose and fills that niche pretty well.
Communication and Collaboration (two things SharePoint did market) is a huge and important thing. Business users do need to talk to colleagues, customers, and vendors and need to be effective and efficient in those goings on. SharePoint does provide a good infrastructure and set of tools for this OOTB. Alerts, presence information, Live Meeting and meeting space integration, Outlook connectivity. It’s all there and doesn’t need some additional vendor product to make it work. The Enterprise 2.0 blog just seems like a giant vendor site to me.
Does SharePoint get it right? Or complete? Is there room for additional tools. Sure, there always is. Again, how much are you willing to spend for something you can already work with. Is it painful to collaborate in SharePoint? Hey, it’s not the cats meow as I’ve seen with some “live document exchange” systems but it works and gets better with each version. You could go back to buying the best of the best of the best, then get out your big ball of twine and try to get everything working with each other. You might even be successful at it. Bully for you. I’ve been exposed to places that tried that and involved in a few failures of patching things together with bubble gum and bailing wire and it’s not pretty and it’s pretty expensive. So go for it.
There is a silver bullet here for you to take away. Ready? Here it is:
There is no silver bullet.
Stop trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and stop trying to make SharePoint do what it wasn’t meant to do well. If you’re entertaining a relationship with SharePoint, like any relationship, you wouldn’t want your partner to change for you to match your wants. If SharePoint isn’t Mr. Right for you, move on and get over it. It’s not the be-all and end-all for everyone and every situation. You need to determine that, and not through a marketing session with a bunch of glossy brochures.
Like Uncle Ben (smart man, shot in the back, very sad), said “With great power comes great responsibility”. I take it you will do the same with your own SharePoint solutions.