Firstly, I want to take my hat off to the team at the Microsoft booth at ARMA last week - I expected a less than welcoming response from them and I could not have been more wrong. I spent a considerable amount of time with members of their team at ARMA and was pleasantly surprised with the reaction, responses and rational that I got from them.
As you know, my concerns around Sharepoint are that its rapid adoption and pervasive nature create a compliance and general management liability for companies deploying it. Microsoft are quite rightly very pleased with the adoption rate for SharePoint 2007, my understanding is that Sharepoint is the most rapidly deployed Microsoft product ever.
As a direct result of the patience of one specific Microsoft employee, (who may want to remain anonymous), I think I get it the Sharepoint ethos now. (As a reward for his hard work I'll start capitalizing the P in SharePoint in postings from now onwards J.) I believe that the ethos is that SharePoint is orders of magnitude better than a network file share. I believe that this is the root cause of the gulf between my expectations and SharePoint's reality. Think about it - from a compliance perspective, if you compare SharePoint to your M: drive it is a huge leap forward; however, if you compare SharePoint to a mature enterprise content management system then it has significant catching up to do in some areas.
Microsoft have taken a very 'end-user' centric approach to the solution and the more I see of the UI the more impressed I am. It has little to do with compliance but I have to mention the "who might have the answer" approach to search that SharePoint exposes. If you do a search for a concept SharePoint not only gives you a results set back, it can also give you a list of people in your social network who are experts in that area. I know it is off topic but you have to admire the concept!
The guys that I spoke to did not have a defensive attitude when I put my concerns to them. Admittedly, they did not tell me that my concerns were unfounded but they made some great points.
- Uncontrolled growth: I put to them that SharePoint installations are growing uncontrolled inside of companies. They posed an interesting question - who's fault is that? They claim that Microsoft have a plethora of best-practice documents and always offer their services to aid companies with their deployment. Frankly, I think that Microsoft have an onus to also provide core functionality to aid in the management of deployments but I agree that their customers are big boys and that they should know better.
- Lack of unified back end: I discussed the lack of a unifying architecture with them too. In this area they had less of a story other than the fact that the level of unification can also be controlled by the customer based on their deployment method. WSS (Windows deployments will always lack any native back end unification but given that they directly replace a network file share, are you any worse off than you were with your M: drive? A MOSS installation will at least have the potential for cross site visibility and management although it seems to be sadly lacking at this point in time, (btw, if I am wrong and you know of a unifying technology from Microsoft or a partner then please do everyone a favor and post a response).
So what did we agree on? When deployed without good planning and controls SharePoint can create a potential liability for customers. I've identified the potential issues that this can cause but I thought it might help if I described some of the ramifications of one of these issues.
So I don't entirely agree with Microsoft's approach to 'enterprise' content management and I certainly don't like the fact that the records management capabilities look like an afterthought. However, they've made access to the core content management library services a very attractive proposition. People are a lot less likely to rebel against content management when it is so well integrated in to their desktop applications and so well exposed in a collaborative environment.
If we can find ways to unify the SharePoint usability with the scalability and compliance features of a true enterprise-strength content management system then I think we have real potential to win here. As the amount of content continues to grow our solutions need to be more pervasive and less invasive, I'd say that SharePoint goes a long way to aiding in that goal.