New studies highlight the potential downsides of SharePoint

It's not all roses on the SharePoint front -- especially when it comes to the growing trend by customers to use SharePoint not just as a set of loosely integrated applications, but as a development platform in its own right. A couple of new studies highlight the potential risks of which customers should be aware when betting big on SharePoint

SharePoint is one of Microsoft's crown jewels. Microsoft is touting the fact that SharePoint generated $1 billion in revenues for Microsoft last year. At Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partner Conference, company officials said they expect partners to generate $5 billion in SharePoint-related services revenues for themselves in the coming year.

But it's not all roses on the SharePoint front -- especially when it comes to the growing trend by customers to use SharePoint not just as a set of loosely integrated applications, but as a development platform in its own right. A couple of new studies highlight the potential risks of which customers should be aware when betting big on SharePoint.

First, a quick refresher as to what SharePoint is -- especially important given how difficult it is to figure this out from Microsoft's own Web site. SharePoint is a collection of six servers that provide document collaboration, portal creation, enterprise search, enterprise content management, electronic forms creation and management and business intelligence functions (analysis and publication of business information).

Microsoft released the most recent version of SharePoint, known as MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server) 2007 a year and a half ago. A point release of SharePoint sounds likely for some time this year, based on information in the Forrester study. The next full-fledged version of SharePoint, currently known by its codename of SharePoint 14, is expected in 2009. Microsoft is expected to add Master Data Management, as well as more social-networking funcitonality to the next version of SharePoint.

Forrester Research published a new 25-page report on July 16 entitled "Now Is The Time To Determine SharePoint's Place In Your Application Development Strategy." In preparing the study, Forrester interviewed 13 user and five vendorcompanies, including Advanced Micro Devices, easyJet, General Mills, Hitachi, Microsoft, TPGAxon Capital, and Unisys.

The Forrester report includes some pithy warnings about the potential risks of uncontrolled growth of customized SharePoint applications. From the report's executive summary:

"(A)s many shops are discovering, SharePoint is also a development platform that people both inside and outside of IT use to create intranets, outward-facing portals, electronic forms, workflows, and even dashboards. The promise of SharePoint: Your organization will be able to create and deploy collaboration applications faster and give businesspeople productive new tools. The pitfalls: SharePoint can add new unplanned demands as your teams fill the product’s gaps in application life-cycle management and enterprise integration and as they create policies to prevent a new chaos of usergenerated applications."

SharePoint's customizability and rich feature set is a blessing and a curse for many customers. Forrester noted that "SharePoint is a pure Microsoft server stack that closes off any opportunities to substitute third-party databases, Web servers, and other products for Microsoft components," Forrester cautioned. In addition, the Enterprise Edition of SharePoint, which includes many of the advanced app-development features, "can add $200 per user to your budget," the report's authors noted.

While these two facts are a positive for Microsoft -- and a big part of the reason the Redmondians are going to bang the SharePoint app-dev drum increasingly loudly in the coming fiscal year -- the lock-in and higher costs are not good news for Microsoft customers.

The Forrester study provided a fairly lengthy laundry list of app-dev-specific shortcomings in Office SharePoint Server 2007 -- everything from the lack of support for SharePoint database replication, to required custom development to include data stored in SharePoint lists for reporting purposes. Application lifecycle management of SharePoint is incomplete, the report authors said. And enterprise data integration for SharePoint is "primitive."

Forrester recommended customers keep their SharePoint customizations to a minimum and that they create a comprehensive SharePoint governance policy sooner rather than later.

The other new SharePoint study I had a chance to see is from J. Boye, a Danish consultancy specializing in Web projects and strategy. Entitled "Best Practices for Using SharePoint for Public Websites," the 25-page study was published June 19.

For the study, J. Boye interviewed "several SharePoint 2007 experts, consultants, and more than 30 organisations in Europe, Asia and North America," according to the report.

Like Forrester, J. Boye advised customers to take a more cautious route when evaluating how and when to use SharePoint in their organizations. From the J. Boye study:

"Unfortunately many organisations do not carefully consider whether the product is the best match for their web requirements and many do not even take the time to review alternatives. There are good reasons for the popularity of SharePoint, but it is certainly not as safe and risk-free as many like to think. We recommend that you consistently evaluate SharePoint against your current and future requirements and do not make SharePoint an automatic fit for all future web projects."

J. Boye noted that some involved in SharePoint deployments are experiencing a "distinct early-mover disadvantage."

"Both early adopters and system integrators have so far had a tendency to underestimate the complexity of the (SharePoint) platform and very few have delivered on time and on budget," the J. Boye report authors noted.

In spite of these cautions, more and more companies are implementing SharePoint. Is yours one of them? Are you a SharePoint fan or foe?

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