The last couple of years I have had many conversations with a broad selection of mid-sized to large organizations. Some of these are customers of mine or potential customers while others are conversations I have had, but all having the similar discussion about social tools in the enterprise. What follows is a collection of snippets from those conversations regarding Microsoft SharePoint 2007, most are not publicly attributed as they were not intended to be on the record.
One common element from all of the discussions is the frustration nearly all of these organization have with their experience with Microsoft SharePoint 2007. The comments are based on those spending one month to a year with the tool (the six month to one year club with tools offer best insight).
SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focussed on strict processes and defined sign-offs. Most organization have a need for a tool that does what SharePoint does well.
This older, prescribed category of enterprise tool needs is where we have been in the past, but this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization. These new approaches are filling gaps that have long existed and need resolution.
What SharePoint 2007 Does Well
Microsoft SharePoint 2007 seems to be in every enterprise I talk to, at least somewhere. It is used if a variety of different ways. When SharePoint is included with addition of Microsoft Office Online (MOSS) is a helpful addition for simple use of these older prescribed methods. MOSS is also good at finalizing documents that are the result of a collective, to group, to collaboration knowledge work process. MOSS and SharePoint are not great at anything but the last step of formalizing the document for distribution in another workflow.
A recent report from AIIM that was written-up by CMS Wire in Study Finds SharePoint Primarily Used for File Sharing states 47% use it primarily for file sharing (and/or as an internal Portal 47%).
How Did We Get Here?
There is one common point I have heard with nearly every company I have talked with over the last couple years, MS SharePoint 2007 is nearly ubiquitous in deployment. Nearly every organization has deployed SharePoint in some form or another. Many organization have tested it or have only deployed pieces of it. The AIIM survey reported by CMS Wire states: 83% currently use, or planning to use, SharePoint.
Organizations either sent their IT out for training on SharePoint 2007 and/or brought in consultants to help build an implementation that fit their requirements. Most of the requirements IT departments started with were rather thinly informed, as they have nearly all stated after using SharePoint for a month, most realize after six months or so, their requirements are vastly different than what their initial requirements were, as they have learned more deeply about social tools in the enterprise.
Many who deployed SharePoint, thought it was going to be the bridge that delivered Enterprise 2.0 and a solid platform for social tools in the enterprise is summed up statement, We went from 5 silos in our organization to hundreds in a month after deploying SharePoint. They continue, There is great information being shared and flowing into the system, but we dont know it exists, nor can we easily share it, nor do much of anything with that information. I heard this from an organization about 2 years ago in a private meeting and have been hearing near similar statements since. This is completely counter to the Enterprise 2.0 hopes and wishes they had for SharePoint. They were of the mindset that open sharing & having the organization and individuals benefit from a social platform.
MS Marketings Promise
The Microsoft marketing people seem to have performed their usual, extend what the product can do to the edges of its capabilities (and occasionally beyond) to map to customer stated desires. In 2006 and 2007 the advent of social computing on the web (Web 2.0) had entered the hormone raging stage gathering attention in boardrooms and IT departments who had been playing around with the ideas of bringing these tools inside the firewall in an official manner. The desire for social software to be part of the enterprise was an interest and desire.
The Microsoft marketing materials they focus on collaboration and social computing, which is more of a document management and workflow process tool that they put the more fashionable moniker on. But, it is this Microsoft marketing that engendered many organizations to the idea of the value and promise of social computing inside the firewall and Enterprise 2.0. Microsofts marketing legitimized the marketplace, but in typical Microsoft form did not exactly deliver on the promise of marketing.
Part of the promise of SharePoint is a malleable platform, which many developers who work across platforms complain is one of the least malleable and easy to develop on platforms. There are many constraints built into SharePoint and developers for SharePoint are not cheap. Development cycles for SharePoint as said to be about one third to half longer than most other options. At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this past Summer in Boston, Lockheed Martin had a session demonstrating what they had built on top of SharePoint and it was quite impressive. But when asked about costs and resources, they said: It took about one year, 40 FTE, and 1 to 5 million U. S. dollars. Very few organizations have those type of resources with availability to take on that task.
What Microsoft marketing did well was sell the value that social tools bring into the enterprise. They put the ideas in the minds of those building requirements (at a minimum to be included in pilot programs) as well as the values derived from using this new generation of social software inside an organization.
At various conferences, across many industries, I have spoken at I have been asked to sit in on the SharePoint sessions, which turn into something like group therapy sessions (akin to group therapy in the first Bob Newhart show). There is much frustration and anger being shared as people try to resolve how to share information between groups and easily merge and openly share information once it has been vetted. These groups consistently talk about going directly to their Microsoft support & SharePoint Experts with these problems only to be told it is doable, but far from easy and may break some other things. Finding relevant information or even the inkling that something is happening in some group is nearly impossible. The promise of setting up ad hoc open groups by employees across silos is nearly impossible with out getting authorization.
One of the largest complaints is the information is locked in SharePoint micro-silos and it is nearly impossible to easily reuse that information and share it. Not only is the information difficult to get at by people desiring to collaborate outside the group or across groups, but it is not easily unlocked so that it can benefit from found in search. The Microsoft SharePoint model is one that starts with things locked down (focussed on hierarchies) then opens up, but unlocking is nowhere near as easy a task as it should be.
SharePoint Roadmap Marginalized Over Time
Where do people turn that have gone down the SharePoint route? Well most start by adding solid functionality they had thought SharePoint was going to provide or wished it had. SharePoint has acknowledged some of this weaknesses and has embraced outside vendors that make far superior products to plugin as components.
Some common social tool plug-ins to SharePoint are Socialtext, Atlassian Confluence, and Connectbeam (among with many others). Then there are those who build on top of Sharepoint, like Telligent and News Gator Social Sites. While others are more prone to full platforms that deliver much of the functionality out of the box, like Jive Clearspace.
Plug-ins Extending Functionality to SharePoint
Microsoft makes great promises, or hints at them in its marketing materials for SharePoint along the lines of social software in the enterprise. The first step many organizations take with SharePoint after realizing it does not easily, or even with an abundance of effort, do the expected social software components is to start getting solid proven services and start plugging them in. Many tool makers have taken their great products an made it quite easy to plug them into the SharePoint platform. Want a great wiki tool, not the horrible wiki template, then Confluence or Socialtext is added. Need a great social tagging/bookmarking tool that ties into search (this starts enabling finding the good information in SharePoints micro-silos), then Connectbeam is added.
This list goes on with what can be plugged-in to Sharepoint to extend it into being something it hints strongly it is quite capable of doing. What one ends up with is a quite capable solution, but built on top of one of the more pricy enterprise platforms. In most cases the cost of all the plug-ins together is less than the cost of SharePoint. It is from this point that many organizations realize all of these add-ins work wonderfully with out SharePoint (however, getting all of them to work together as easy plug-ins to each other is not always easy).
Full-Suites On Top of SharePoint
Another option that organizations take is to move in the direction of putting a fully functional social platform on top of SharePoint. Tools like Telligent and NewsGator Social Sites. These are options for those who find value in what SharePoint offers and does well (but and therefore getting rid of it is not an option), but want ease of development and a lower cost of development than is the norm for SharePoint. These full-suites also provide the ease of not having to deal with working through plugging together various different best of bread solutions (this really reminds me of the path content management systems went down, which was less than optimal).
Not only is the Lockheed Martin example of building on top of SharePoint an example of expense of that platform, but the recent AIIM survey surfaces high cost of development as a rather common understanding:
Another area of interest is the required effort to customize SharePoint and integration other third-party solutions. In this case, 50% of survey respondents indicated custom solutions required more effort than expected (33% somewhat more and 17% much more). The integration challenges focused on a lack of training/documentation and integration with non-Microsoft based repositories and existing applications. From CMS Wire: Study Finds SharePoint Primarily Used for File Sharing.
Fully Replacing SharePoint
There is a third option I have been running into the last year or less, which is removing SharePoint from the organization completely. I know of two extremely large organizations that are removing SharePoint from their organization this year (once these organizations are public with this I can be). The reasoning is cost and under performing as a social platform and what is does well is easily replaced with other solutions as well. In one instance I know the people who brought in SharePoint are being let go as well as the whole team of developers supporting it. I am hearing business operations looking into having their IT department find something that is meets their needs and were promised by IT that SharePoint was that solution. This was echoed by Lee Bryant via Twitter [http://twitter.com/leebryant/status/1099413469]: […]problem is many IT depts just dont care - it is a simple solution for them, not their users
When removing SharePoint some organizations are going the piece by piece approach and stitching together best of breed or are going the route of full-service social platform, like Jive Clearspace. The cost per users of such solutions is less, the time to install to up-and-running fully is reportedly a about a third and maintenance staffing is also reportedly lower.
SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0
What is clear out of all of this is SharePoint has value, but it is not a viable platform to be considered for when thinking of enterprise 2.0. SharePoint only is viable as a cog of a much larger implementation with higher costs.
It is also very clear Microsofts marketing is to be commended for seeding the enterprise world of the value of social software platform in the enterprise and the real value it can bring. Ironically, or maybe true to form, Microsofts product does not live up to their marketing, but it has helped to greatly enhance the marketplace for products that actually do live up to the hype and deliver even more value.