Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server: a next generation of deeper, wider content silos?

The 'shoot out' between Microsoft Sharepoint and Lotus Connections, two juggernauts in the enterprise space, played to a packed audience at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor on

The 'shoot out' between Microsoft Sharepoint and Lotus Connections, two juggernauts in the enterprise space, played to a packed audience at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. The two companies went head to head, squaring off with product demos.

I chose to instead attend John Pironti's 'Threat and Vulnerability Management in the Enterprise 2.0 World: How to Understand Where You Are Really at Risk and the Most Effective Ways to Protect Your Enterprise 2.0 Environments' session which occurred in the same time slot. I figured there would be a great deal of post coverage of the Microsoft/Lotus square off which I could parse at a later date, and this has proved to be true.

Back in April, during the San Francisco Web 2.0 show week, I attended an AIIM Enterprise Content Management system event in Burlingame California called 'Collaboration vs control - the Sharepoint effect'. I blogged about this back then, noting....

The reality seems to be that no one really knows what Sharepoint actually is, but no one ever got fired for buying Microsoft, or so it appeared talking to many people this morning. 100 million Sharepoint licenses have been sold so far and MS are on track to sell 7.5 million more this year according to Dave Martin, a product manager at EMC during his presentation about fusing Documentum to Sharepoint. (A huge industry has sprung up of vendors offering to add dod 5015 records management retention functionality, moss integration tools, archiving of content outside the Microsoft sql server 2005 format and many other ways of focusing functionality).

This enterprise behemoth is at the heart of countless silos: Gartner commented ‘uncontrolled growth of Sharepoint content may result in compliance, storage and user issues’. It’s not going away: the challenge is in how to embrace and extend the core functionality to allow flexibility and therefore utility in modern enterprises.

Projecting ahead, I'm attempting to parse Microsoft's strategy. For those in Lotus/IBM world it's not too hard to see where that supertanker is sailing: over time enterprises whose backbone is Lotus Notes will eventually upgrade to Lotus Connections to take advantage of adequate collaboration capabilities. This will probably not occur for many years based on the caution and budgets of most IT departments.

The road ahead for SharePoint users is less clear. The partners and front end providers for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS), which is built on top of Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) continue to build, with some excellent contextual products signing on, notably Atlassian's very solid Confluence, a full featured and sophisticated enterprise wiki.

The impression I get, however, is that rather than 'Partners Betting on Office SharePoint Server 2007 for Social-Networking Capabilities' as Microsoft would have it on their 'Enterprise 2.0 Platform of Choice' press info page, in fact partners are seeing an opportunity to create a view into otherwise impenetrable SharePoint silos. This demo of Connectbeam’s integration with SharePoint Server (which bizarrely appears to have been recorded outdoors) illustrates this idea.

Some of the next generation collaboration platforms are succeeding precisely because they are silo bunker busters. The problem of dozens of digital filing cabinets full of thousands of iterations of hard to find documents within enterprise environments is arguably being solved by the new generation of nimble project contextual tools. Taxonomies and tagging, threaded discussion, wikis and other 'Enterprise 2.0' tools are an alternative solution to the problem of generating mountains of hard to find silo'd information and associated email.

Microsoft have a fabulously lucrative franchise with their Office suite of Word, PowerPoint, Excel et al desktop products. A huge issue in the enterprise space is blizzards of email containing links to documents created with these products on shared drives, or iterations actually attached to the mail messages. Add mobile users on laptops with intermittent connection and you also have serious synch headaches.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server purports to bring us a next generation 'showcasing social-computing innovation'. I'm not seeing it. A cynic would suggest Microsoft will profit mightily by driving customers with generations of Microsoft files ever deeper into a tangled web of documents siloed in multiple Sharepoint repositories, a maze from which they can never escape. There's no question records management and retention are an important component of enterprise content management systems, as is discoverable communication for legal purposes. Clearly there is an ongoing huge market for integrating Documentum and other ECM systems with SharePoint.

However, archiving and managing mature content is one thing. Enterprise search is notoriously difficult...the burning question today is how to achieve competitive advantage thorough modern enterprise collaboration techniques and tools. I've been attempting to follow Microsoft strategy, and will be fascinated to see how Groove (which was created by current Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie after he left IBM having created Lotus Notes) is integrated into a broader collaboration offering.

Over time it is likely Groove and Sharepoint will offer a flexible synched document management system for Office file users, with a plethora of partner product views into the database content. Given the explosion of new content creation possibilities available to the modern enterprise though - video, audio for example - you have to wonder what life will be like for teams attempting to collaborate using Sharepoint. Uncontrolled growth of Sharepoint content reservoirs could be a major drag on units competing with more agile competitors. Before getting anywhere near planning collaboration strategy, figuring out where all your stuff is located is an essential part of getting organized...

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft ties all their disparate products, including new Flash competitor 'SilverLight', together into a coherent package. It remains to be seen whether this assembly will translate into an effective collaboration platform.

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