The Blessing and Curse of SharePoint's "Grandma's Attic" - Part 1

Notwithstanding Microsoft's recent purchase of Skype, some pundits have started to question its relevance in the long term (in view of the ongoing consumer mobile devices and/or social media success of Apple, Google, Facebook, Oracle,, etc.).

However, there are still many Microsoft products that are quite relevant. One of them is undoubtedly Microsoft SharePoint or Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS). Until the recent runaway success of the Kinect for Xbox 360 “gesturing entertainment platform” (which Microsoft hopes to deploy well beyond the juvenile games playing use, say, in harmful industrial environments), SharePoint was the product that reportedly grew the fastest to the US$ 1 billion mark in revenues (and it had been the fastest growing Microsoft technology for three straight years before the advent of Kinect).

Some even speculate that SharePoint’s current annual revenues within Microsoft could be slightly larger than the revenues from the entire Microsoft Dynamics portfolio of business applications. Often, these two Microsoft offerings (and divisions) drive each other’s revenues, to the parent company’s delight. Indeed, at the recent Microsoft Convergence 2011 conference I learned that more than half of Microsoft Dynamics AX users subsequently go for an enterprise-level SharePoint license.

The primary reason for this cross-sale is reportedly SharePoint’s portal-based scorecards, reporting, and dashboards performance management features that have come from the recently discontinued PerformancePoint product (former ProClarity). Also a frequent use of SharePoint by Dynamics AX users is in case of stringent quality assurance (QA) documentation requirements, where SharePoint comes in handy with its document management capabilities. For more information on how Epicor and SYSPRO leverage SharePoint see my recent blog series.

In any case, the interest in Microsoft's SharePoint offerings is great among enterprises of all sizes and types worldwide. Gartner repeatedly conducts user wants and needs surveys at hundreds of companies representing a cross-section of industries, company sizes, and geographies. In the most recent survey, 40 percent of respondents indicated that they believed Microsoft was the strategic infrastructure (stack) vendor that is best positioned to satisfy their organizations' basic enterprise content management (ECM) and collaboration platform needs in the near future. Moreover, 50 percent of midsize businesses are either using a for-fee MOSS or free SharePoint Foundation in some fashion in their enterprises.

For its part, Ultimus, a well-established business process management (BPM) providers’ recent survey of its existing and prospective customers has shown that 45 percent of them already have SharePoint. As to the question of how they are using it now, 33 percent of those are using it for document management, 54 percent for team collaboration, and 45 percent for project management. As for what these companies would want to learn more about SharePoint, the highest interest was to learn how it is used, how it integrates to other systems, and how SharePoint’s workflow engine compares to BPM.

Why SharePoint?

The success of SharePoint can be attributed to the following three phenomena:

  1. Microsoft includes SharePoint Foundation (formerly known as Windows SharePoint Services [WSS]) in its ubiquitous Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 operating systems (OS) as a free add-on, so it is distributed widely and free. This “freebee” product provides a Web portal offering with commonly needed features that is frequently utilized by individual users of many Microsoft-centric enterprise resource planning (ERP) products, e.g., Microsoft Dynamics, Epicor, Infor, etc., and not necessarily with internal IT organizations’ involvement.

  2. The full-fledged and non-free MOSS product has sufficient appeal "out of the box" in terms of document management, collaboration, enterprise portal, local and enterprise search, content management, workflow, business intelligence (BI), and social media tools, and is easy enough to set up, so that a competent business user can get it running across a department or enterprise. As another example, a large number of Microsoft Dynamics CRM users harness SharePoint for contextual document management, say, in customer service case management scenarios.

  3. SharePoint is a viral collaborative product: internal teams can start a collaborative social media (Enterprise 2.0) project with several members and if they have had a good experience with the tool, they will promote its use for their next few projects, each with other few new members, and so on and so forth. The figure below shows the possible scenarios of SharePoint use depending on the team scale.


The drivers for adoption of SharePoint largely center on companies being able to quickly realize greater workplace and process efficiency, end-users’ productivity, and fostering ad hoc teamwork. In addition, the product’s reasonable price makes buying decisions easy with seemingly a minimal risk. The product is well-integrated with Microsoft’s technology stack (especially within Microsoft Office), while many “good enough" capabilities and familiar Windows user interface (UI) metaphors are also tempting to prospective users.

Some notable endorsements of SharePoint by major enterprise software vendors would be Saba Software’s recent SharePoint Connector for the Saba Live social media and learning management platform and the joint work between SAP and Microsoft on Duet Enterprise (where SharePoint is the front-end for SAP ERP).

For its part, PTC’s Windchill ProductPoint and Windchill SocialLink are solutions that, by extending the capabilities of SharePoint, enable the sharing of computer-aided design (CAD) and other structured data among product design teams through social computing and associated Web 2.0 technologies. Here is the long list of exhibitors at the SharePoint Technology Conference in Boston in June 2011.

How Did SharePoint Come About?

Microsoft's SharePoint family of products and technologies is in its fourth major release since the initial WSS (“foundation”) product’s emergence in 2003, which, as previously described, comes included free of charge with Windows Server OS. The intranet portal product has since been widely distributed as a viral no-cost download for holders of a Windows Server 2003 r.2 (and later releases) client access license (CAL). Due to Microsoft's presence on the desktop from Windows OS, email client and server (i.e., Outlook and Exchange Server), and Office desktop productivity application perspectives, SharePoint has been in an enviable position to seed the market for basic collaboration and content management services via WSS/SharePoint Foundation.

As hinted earlier, the Foundation services have enough appeal and are easy enough to set up, so that any IT savvy business person can get them running without IT involvement. This is an important phenomenon that has driven grassroots adoption. In addition to basic document management, WSS supported collaboration via task management, individual and team Web sites creation and maintenance, document library services, wikis/blogs, and the Microsoft Search Server (MSS) Express edition. WSS have often replaced file-sharing servers and can reduce the flurry of emails by adding the library services of a managed document store along with basic Web content and collaboration services.

With the WSS 3.0 release, the CAL-based full-fledged server product, formerly called SharePoint Portal Server, became Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) in 2007. MOSS 2007 enhanced capabilities included enterprise search, portal functions, forms services, BI, in addition to its already proven Web content management system (WCMS)records management, and workflow management (as shown below).


In other words, MOSS 2007 built on the features in WSS and added capabilities around areas such as portals, WCM, cross-platform (enterprise) search, records management (with strong retention policies and governance), e-forms and workflow templates for business users’ empowerment (via task management across the enterprise). Also, the MOSS 2007 platform introduced SharePoint Server for Internet Sites (a set of management tools for WSS sites) and SharePoint Designer (a development environment to compose no-code solutions from collaborative sites and web publishing to line of business [LOB] data integration, BI solutions, and human-centric workflows).

The latest SharePoint 2010 release features much tighter integration with Microsoft Visio (for improved workflow design experience, which is critical in BPM applications) and improved social computing and BI capabilities. In addition, the product has added expert search capabilities (from the former Fast Search & Transfer [FAST] acquisition) as well as foldering (document sets), data integration, case analytics, and audit trails and transparency features. The latest version of SharePoint Foundation 2010 is planned to replace WSS 3.0.

The next part of this series will analyze what SharePoint’s treasure trove of tools (a la “grandma’s attic”) can (and can't) do for companies.

In other words, is SharePoint a "jack of all trades, master of none" product? Your views, comments, and opinions about Microsoft’s platform strategy, or particular experiences with SharePoint, either on its own or within ERP, BPM and ECM solutions, are welcome in the meantime.
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