Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Summary: Depending on which numbers you look at these days, about a third of all companies right now are using Enterprise 2.0-style tools to enable collaboration and management of their knowledge. This is in stark contrast to just three years ago when the only tools most workers could count on for communicating with others and sharing knowledge was e-mail, the phone, and if they were lucky, an instant messaging or content management application. The question is these days if which tools are the best and Microsoft SharePoint continues to make the short list.

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Depending on which numbers you look at these days, about a third of all companies right now are using Enterprise 2.0-style tools to enable collaboration and management of their knowledge. This is in stark contrast to just three years ago when the only tools most workers could count on for communicating with others and sharing knowledge was e-mail, the phone, and if they were lucky, an instant messaging or content management application.

It increasingly appears there is no such thing as Enterprise 2.0-in-a-boxToday's worker landscape is a surprisingly different place with the rising use of Web 2.0 applications such as blogs and wikis and other applications. Use of public social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook are practically commonplace these days, even if not quite ubiquitous (a good percentage of companies still block access to these in fact).

And the Enterprise 2.0 landscape continues to change: The increasingly popular Twitter service has become almost trendy to use in some business circles, though it currently predominates in PR and marketing for the moment. This has given rise to a new generation of enterprise-class social messaging applications such as Yammer and Signals are used behind the firewall these days, though these are not reaching even double-digit percentages of adoption yet. Mobile devices especially have become rich multi-channel collaboration consoles for communicating in just about any way you prefer including voice, e-mail, SMS, chat, Web, social messaging, and pretty much anything else for which you can find an installable application. There seem to be countless choices when it comes to communication and collaborating in today's workplace.

But when it comes to Enterprise 2.0 in particular -- and you can read my most detailed explanation of exactly what the concepts of Enterprise 2.0 are here -- the software solution that most organizations seem to reach for today in an almost knee-jerk reaction is Microsoft Sharepoint. In fact, last summer Forrester predicted that Sharepoint would "steamroll" the Enterprise 2.0 market despite "taking heat from some observers about SharePoint's wiki, blog and social networking functionality."

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server

These concerns about SharePoint's ability to be an effective Enterprise 2.0 platform is one I hear echoed a lot with practitioners I talk to. In spite of this, I correspondingly hear that SharePoint is in fact what most organizations are planning on using when it comes to 2.0-style collaboration and knowledge management. Why the apparent disconnect between the perceived suitability (which we'll dissect in a moment) and actual use? Part of it is SharePoint's stunning penetration in the software business. The recent adoption statistics for SharePoint should be sobering for anyone planning to provide competing tools:

  • 55% of organizations have implemented or are considering implementing SharePoint (Global Intranet Trends 2009 report - 227 participant organizations)

  • 46% of those companies using social media on the intranet are using SharePoint(Intranet 2.0 Global Survey – 430+ participant organizations)

  • Only 47% of organizations have a defined governance model (Intranet 2.0 Global Survey)

  • 70% use at the department level; only 38% use it at the enterprise level (AIIM)

In other words, SharePoint is already in most organizations today: Leading Enterprise Web 2.0 firm Jive Software's CEO Dave Hirsch has gone on record in the past saying that "around 80 percent of our customers have SharePoint". In the most recent authoritative number I could find, an estimated 85 million end-user licenses of SharePoint were in customers' hands over a year ago and that number is likely a good bit higher today. This paints a fairly clear picture of a workflow and document management market leader that is highly entrenched, already paid for in many cases, and most likely to make the top of the short list of any Enterprise 2.0 initiative.

Microsoft SharePoint -- often referred to these days as MOSS, for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server -- is certainly one of the most respected and widely used platforms of its kind. It has a truly extensive set of capabilities which Microsoft typically categorizes into five major groups: Portal, search, content management, workflow, and business intelligence. Like most popular CMS and community platforms these days, SharePoint also has open architecture that ensures that almost anything that is perceived as missing can be supplemented by acquiring one of the many 3rd party addons or by custom development of what is needed. However, all products, especially very complex ones, have their own strengths and weaknesses and this is where the good and not-so-good begin to become an issue.

When Harvard's Andrew McAfee first identified what was seemingly unique about Enterprise 2.0 compared to traditional collaboration and knowledge management tools he coined a mnemonic known as SLATES. This mnemonic forms a checklist of properties that seemed integral to successful Enterprise 2.0 implementations (based on successful early case studies). I originally covered the properties of SLATES back in 2006 when Enterprise 2.0 first arrived on the scene when I said it had the potential to "free your intranet" and it remains an excellent description of the key elements for successful social software. This was back in the time when I could ask technical audiences as collaborative conferences if they had access to blogs and wikis at work and virtually no one would raise their hand. Now they all do.

Specifically, for this discussion it's blogs and wikis that remain the focus of Enterprise 2.0, despite there being more advanced types of applications that also qualify. Mostly this is because they are by far the most popular social tools in the enterprise, though social networking is also becoming increasingly important. It's from this perspective that we'll look at how SharePoint measures up to the ideal and practice of Enterprise 2.0, which can drive a variety of benefits such as higher worker productivity, improved knowledge retention, cross-functional innovation, and even as a corporate catalyst. That is, if the software you are using actually enables such scenarios in a widespread manner.

I should also be clear that SharePoint can be used to do a lot more than what we usually ascribe to Enterprise 2.0, the latter for which the elevator pitch is freeform, emergent, social collaboration and less the physical document share methodologies (such sharing Word, Excel, PDF, etc. files) it was originally designed for.

For the purposes of the discussion below, I'll examine where SharePoint is suitable for this particular (though very significant) use case. And if you're wondering how significant this topic this is, the Enterprise 2.0 story is primarily aimed at knowledge workers engaged in complex, collaborative projects which have had few effective software tools until recently, in other words strategic business activities. Industries like finance, government, civil engineering, transportation, and many others are trend to be top heavy with this kind of worker and are likely the last major bastions of productivity gains in modern economies, if the right solutions can be brought to bear. In other words, Enterprise 2.0 can help some of our most important and most valuable workers do better work while providing more value to the organization as a whole.

As a result of all this, and due the fact that the single most frequently asked question I get about Enterprise 2.0 is if SharePoint is a suitable platform for it (short answer: it definitely depends), I've spent the last few weeks taking a hard look at SharePoint the product itself, talked extensively with SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0 practitioners both, and created the resulting analysis. I'm hoping it helps you make useful decisions in your Enterprise 2.0 projects and initiatives.

The issues and challenges of using SharePoint for Enterprise 2.0

  1. SharePoint is not a Web 2.0 native. This can be a compliment or an indictment depending on who you talk to. However, it's very difficult these days to deny that innovation in social and collaborative systems is almost exclusively coming from the consumer Web. The Web has been far and away the most successful in creating powerful network effects and as the source of the world's largest and most vibrant social systems. SharePoint was designed before we had learned many of the modern social computing lessons and though has powerful capabilities, the platform overall is excessively complex and has relatively weak support for the most common Enterprise 2.0 application types, particularly blogs and wikis, but also social networking features. SharePoint, at least out of the box, fails the SLATES test. It's particularly weak around critical capabilities such as encouraging emergence, being freeform enough, and support tagging well (the latter which has proven to be surprisingly important for certain outcomes). For example, one of the more common offerings I saw at CeBIT in Hannover earlier this month was companies selling you the add-ons needed to shore up SharePoint's collaboration features to have parity with newer, more modern tools. To be fair, the SharePoint community has also been proactive on this topic, and the relatively new SharePoint Community Kit goes a good bit of the way towards resolving many of these issues. A quick tour of its features also highlights just how much is missing from today's standard SharePoint configuration.
  2. The technology landscape of the enterprise environment fits SharePoint well; the business requirements to a lesser extent. While Web 2.0 tools are often unique viral and tend to have much better than average ease-of-use due to the competitive nature of the public network, they don't transition well automatically into the Enterprise environment where multi-level security, governance, and policy controls are virtually mandatory and which few of the open source (or even commercial) Enterprise 2.0 tools from consumer world support adequately. SharePoint is strong many of these points with excellent Active Directory integration and better support for enterprise technologies. Sharepoint also integrates well with file servers, documents of many types, and traditional corporate databases, though this also reflects an older version of the technology landscape. While today's enterprise does often not look very much like the Web, at this stage in the game, that's not necessarily a good thing. Governance and policy capabilities in SharePoint are acceptable, but not best of breed and SharePoint has credible unified search capabilities (which is the "S" in SLATES) and works especially well if SharePoint is the only document management, portal, and knowledge management infrastructure in the organization.
  3. The wilds of the open network can be a challenge for Sharepoint. Practitioners I spoke with consistently reported that SharePoint works best with homogeneous environments and not nearly as well when the environment isn't controlled, especially on the browser-side (see this chart for details) and on mobile devices. This makes opening up SharePoint environments to work with partners, customers, and even the general public, one of the more requested Enterprise 2.0 scenarios in my experience, to be more difficult than with other platforms which were designed to function in highly diverse environments.
  4. Self-service capabilities are lacking or not emphasized. One of the important aspects of Enterprise 2.0 is its freeformedness which helps lead to emergent structure and processes. In other words, a blog or wiki can be used for just about any activity by virtue of the ability of the users to aggregate thousands of tiny decisions that affect behavior and content around the work contained within the tools. Traditional enterprise systems, including SharePoint, tend to be more rigid in their ability to be shaped by users and too often force users into pre-determined uses rather than letting the users shape the use of the tools to best fit the work. Many large SharePoint installations consist of hundreds or even thousands of smaller sites, each of which must be made consistent in terms of layout and navigation if centralized administration and governance is to be effective. David Hobbs recently pointed out how rare this is but the 2.0 world has discovered that the more this is handed over to users, the better this works and critically, the better it scales up. The lesson: The more cookie-cutter SharePoint installations are, the easier they are to manage but the more they unnaturally constrain their use and prevent desirable outcomes. Users should be able to create sites within SharePoint, customize them over time to meet the local requirements, and let them evolve and improve through shared contributions. It is, however, by no means impossible to enable this kind of self-service with SharePoint but it does not encourage it nor is it a core design principle for the product.
  5. Cost and complexity. One of the consistent messages I heard when speaking to SharePoint practitioners is the product's complexity and high cost. The diagram at the beginning of this post begins to give a sense of the extent and the depth to the features of the MOSS platform. Invariably, this means highly trained implementors, administrators, and technical support staff are required to deploy and run it, which all add to the total cost of ownership. And SharePoint's inherent sophistication can also mean slow adoption and low engagement by users. In fact, this is a central lesson in Web 2.0 design, that complexity is the enemy of ease-of-use and adoption; most 2.0 products are almost brutally simple in their user experience. SharePoint is also priced as an enterprise product and can be very expensive (at least compared to most Enterprise 2.0 products) for a large installation. However, many licenses are bundled with corporate purchases and as a result many organizations already have client licenses they are underutilizing.

I should be clear that I am not overtly negative on using SharePoint for Enterprise 2.0 and certainly there are those that are doing it. However, emphasizing the tool first, no matter how ready-at-hand, to create an enterprise-class information management solution is rarely the proper way to go -- other than for solely financially expedient reasons -- and rarely is that the only criteria. It also increasingly appears there is no such thing as Enterprise 2.0-in-a-box and that organizations need to find tools that best fit their culture and needs to get the best results.

In general, I'm also finding that IT departments, which are usually rather comfortable running a great deal of network infrastructure with Microsoft tools and platforms tend to favor SharePoint while business users tend to like it less and prefer newer more modern tools. This combined with either already active SharePoint installations or unused licenses means that SharePoint is usually a heavy favorite on the IT side, regardless of whether it will be able to provide the desired Enterprise 2.0 outcomes to the business. And we shouldn't forget that SharePoint isn't standing still as a product either and Microsoft is certainly working on newer versions that will address some of the issues covered here.

These state of affairs, particularly prevalent in medium to large organizations, is increasingly a significant topic of debate as Enterprise 2.0 adoption has achieved a mainstream tipping point within many organizations this year. I've perceived lately that more and more businesses are facing this topic with today's uncertain economic times as the backdrop, making the financial component of the decision much stronger than it would be otherwise. Buyer beware, however, since these choices will set the stage for how effective your workers will be in the coming years. Years that will likely see many organizations needing to marshaling the very best capabilities of their workers to successfully transform to new market conditions and thrive.

Other points of view on SharePoint

Nor am I not the only one grappling with this topic, here are some other good viewpoints on SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0:

  1. Thomas Vander Wal's SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools
  2. Read/Write Web's SharePoint to run Enterprise 2.0?
  3. Bill Ives' Enterprise 2.0 Success Stories on the new Sharepoint
  4. Update: James Dellow's SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0

Where do you stand with using SharePoint for Enterprise 2.0? Please leave your own concerns, observations, and questions in TalkBack below and I'll do my best to respond to them.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Collaboration, Software

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Talkback

47 comments
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  • Sharepoints conceptual limit

    Sharepoint is a file server wrapped in a portal. All the other features are appendages to this desktop bound metaphor.

    ilabra
    • Yes... for 2003

      While that was certainly the case for SharePoint 2003, that is not the case for SharePoint 2007.

      Everything is a list, including document libraries. A list is like a database table of items, that can also have connected attachments.
      dominigan
  • Won't be true with SharePoint 14 and Office 14

    This assumption goes right out the door with the soon to be released Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.

    From what little I know Microsoft is going to blow the social enterprise concept out of the water and leave other wannabe's in their wake.
    Martin_Australia
    • I can do nothing but laugh...

      ...they will blow something up on paper that as usual no one will use.
      storm14k
    • From what I hear...

      ...it runs best on PowerPoint.
      914four
      • RE: Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0: The good, the bad, and the ugly

        PowerPoint is better for it. I do agree here.

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  • RE: Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0: The good, the bad, and the ugly

    The one thing that comes to mind is that business users don't want blogs, wiki, or other Enterprise 2.0 tools; they want solutions to their problems. This does include the for mentioned tools but it's usually in conjunction with a community solution. For example, one customer wanted to create a community environment for professional development which included a blog and shared wiki space. However, they also wanted profiles, shared documents, community event calendar, and several other functions. Maybe they could have pulled together 10 different Enterprise 2.0 products that didn?t communicate and had 10 different look and feels. Or, they could just use Sharepoint. I provided an additional comment on my post: Sharepoint Bites Back: http://www.rtodd.com/collaborage/2009/03/sharepoint_bites_back.html
    rtodd7777
    • I agree that users want solutions to problems, not technology

      But then this is why blogs and wiki can be so compelling in particular; as highly freeform tools they can mold themselves around the work and een virtually disappear into it, whereas overly structured applications do the opposite. This is one reason why these two application models are so interesting in the Enterprise 2.0 space compared to some others.

      And yes, we do want our business software integrated to greater or lesser extent depending on our business requirements. But I would point out that we've been getting along (mostly) very well in the consumer space by picking the individual products that we want to use when we feel they will do the job best. This is happening increasingly in the enterprise as well and one of the biggest challenges to the modern IT shop is dealing with this in a constructive way that enables positive outcomes.

      Great post by the way and I encourage everyone interested in this topic to read it.

      Best,

      Dion
      dionhinchcliffe
  • RE: Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0: The good, the bad, and the ugly

    The problem is the big lag time in development and deployment of Sharepoint. Since it is tied into the office products and supports lots of legacy systems, it takes a long time to develop at Microsoft.

    You are talking about the 2007 version of Sharepoint, which probably had most of its features locked back in 2004, well before McAfee's SLATES paradigm. Sharepoint actually looks pretty good for 2004.

    But its not 2004 any more. The marketplace has moved ahead.

    The next version of SharePoint will have the same problem. It will look pretty good for 2008. But when it comes out in 2010, it will already be dated and behind the curve.
    dougcornelius@...
  • Really no longer true with Sharepoint 14? Who believes these promises???

    Of course ... with Sharepoint 14 and Office 14 everything gets perfect on Enterprise 2.0 with Microsoft ... why do people always believe these promises ... approx 8-10 years ago I was at a German re-insurance company ... statement: yes, we can do document management with Exchange ... it took literally years until Microsoft had some document management with Sharepoint
    Stefan63
    • And of course...

      ...we'll have a whole new set of file extensions that won't work unless the client has Office and IE.
      914four
  • RE: Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0: The good, the bad, and the ugly

    Don, if you're going to use my work and words exactly (adoption bullets, from IntranetBlog.com) you could at least cite me as the author - Toby Ward, www.IntranetBlog.com
    toby@...
    • Happy to update to original citation...

      Hi Toby,

      I always do my best to provide citations for all work I refer to in my posts. I included my source for the information in the adoption bullets section in not only a block quote call-out but also with a link, though I could have made it even clearer I suppose.

      Since I did not get the information from your site, if you will provide the link, I would be happy to verify you are the originator and give you credit as requested.

      Thanks for pointing this out.

      Best,

      Dion
      dionhinchcliffe
  • RE: Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0: The good, the bad, and the ugly

    The old adage that "you can do anything with Microsoft
    products - as long as you are prepared to sit down and
    write code" is still oh, so true with Sharepoint. The out of
    the box capability is limited and fragmented/disjointed.

    The capabilities of features like wikis and blogs, while
    there in the product are not much short of a joke in terms
    of functionality.

    Building solutions in Sharepoint without resorting to
    development in Sharepoint designer is a frustrating
    experience that leaves you wanting. For example, the
    calculated fields in a list can't use fields looked up in
    another list. You can't do a lookup in a list and return an
    associated value. I am sure plenty of people will jump to
    SharePoint's defense saying that these things can be done.
    My point is that they don't appear to be possible without
    resorting to writing custom code.

    SharePoint is really a development platform that is often
    used as a glorified shared drive to store documents.
    ekivemark
  • Message has been deleted.

    torres1986
  • It is a matter of responsibility...

    First off all : great post! Not because it puts
    SharePoint 2007 on its place but mostly because it is
    a clear and fair article that addresses all flaws and
    strengths of SharePoint in relation to Enterprise
    2.0..

    Anyhow, what I wanted to share was a conversation I
    had with a webmaster of a rather big industrial
    enterprise who said they were using enterprise 2.0
    technologies because they were using Sharepoint... A
    deep sigh and 30 minutes later I had to abort the
    conversation because it was leading nowhere. His clear
    lack of understanding of what collaboration really
    means and the shear unwillingness to implement
    anything that was not Microsoft-branded led me to the
    conclusion that as long you don't have people within
    the organisation who dare to take up the
    responsibility to look further than their known
    environment, then there is no real reason that you
    should even hope that true E2.0 can even work there.

    Just as Dion I'm not against SharePoint but it is just
    very tiring to have to do the same battle over and
    over again and to explain over and over again that
    Sharepoint is not "per s?" the perfect fit for your
    organisation. This article will help me dearly to
    shatter a few myths in the many, many Microsoft minded
    fortresses.

    bartvdk
  • Good article...

    From the places I've been it seems that Sharepoint never finds its way into the mix due to any technical merits of advantages. Its always based on namesake...either because its MS and we "need" to use MS or because we need a portal and it has "portal" somewhere in the name or sales pitch.

    Then comes the scramble to make it usable from both directions. The users scramble to build processes around it and the developers scramble to make it fit the intended goal. They both end up spending more time and effort than they would have by going with some other tools or starting from scratch. But because its the MS solution is MUST be right.

    I don't care for Sharepoint but I'm sure it has some usefulness. However I don't think any sort of technical assessment is made before its adopted as the platform of choice in many organizations. The success stories you read about what it can do hide the horror stories of what it took to get there.
    storm14k
  • SharePoint just works

    I help provide SharePoint to our entire department where Access databases and Excel spreadsheets were king and now Document Libraries and Lists provide the easier to use tools while giving that "feel" most users are used to.

    SharePoint in a Windows/Office environment just makes sense.
    TylerM89
  • Right on the money!

    This statement is EXACTLY what the FOSS crowd refuses to acknowledge:

    >Maybe they could have pulled together 10
    >different Enterprise 2.0 products that didn?t
    >communicate and had 10 different look and feels.

    If MOSS does 90% of what's desired -- that is probably 100% of what is really needed. Users do not care about "best of breed" -- they want something that WORKS and that WORKS WITH WHAT THEY ALREADY USE.

    FOSS advocates also totally ignore the support nightmare created by trying to glue all these applications together, keep them running and -- heaven forbid -- have a common authentication system and single sign-on.

    That's why MOSS is one of the most successful products Microsoft has ever made. It is not cheap but does everything most organizations need.
    Marty R. Milette
  • Kiss -> use Google Docs

    Kiss -> use Google Docs, https://www.google.com/accounts/ServiceLogin?service=writely&passive=true&nui=1&continue=http%3A%2F%2Fdocs.google.com%2F%3Fhl%3Den%26tab%3Dwo&followup=http%3A%2F%2Fdocs.google.com%2F%3Fhl%3Den%26tab%3Dwo&ltmpl=homepage&rm=false
    way_z