SharePoint 2010: a sheep in wolf's clothing?

Microsoft's updated SharePoint suite still fails to come up to scratch for web content management, says Darren Guarnaccia

Despite the many new features in the latest release of Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration product, the simple truth is that in web content management it is still some way off the pace, says Darren Guarnaccia.

Now that the dust has settled after May's introduction of the latest instalment of SharePoint, I think it's worth looking more closely at the web content management (WCM) parts of the suite.

Even though it appears Microsoft has invested little in the WCM aspects of SharePoint, there are some notable improvements — namely, authoring usability, simple content targeting based on user behaviour, multi-language, taxonomy and metadata management, workflow and basic web analytics.

It's good to see Microsoft addressing these issues to address some of SharePoint's more serious shortcomings.

Inline editing environment
Authoring usability improvements stem from SharePoint's shiny new inline editing environment. Credit where due, Microsoft has made some real progress here. This release brings Microsoft up to where the WCM marketplace was in about 2005.

Don't get me wrong: it's a nice improvement and overcomes some of the criticisms from business users who complain that SharePoint is hard to use.

Next, there's the simple content targeting based on user behaviour. The days of the static, one-size-fits-all, customer-facing websites are gone. SharePoint 2010 allows site managers to set up simple keyword-based content targeting rules that show visitors content based on their browsing patterns.

Again, it makes a good start here considering Microsoft is playing some catch-up. SharePoint still lags behind the best WCM products, which offer a more sophisticated set of user profiling and targeting tools.

Multi-language websites
The new multi-language improvements in SharePoint offer the ability to route translation requests in line with content changes in multi-language websites. SharePoint still stores each language version in its own individual site variation, but the 2010 release at least allows you to start coordinating the content update process across all the various language versions. In SharePoint 2007, you had to develop this process on your own. Again, this is more catch-up work relative to the WCM market specialists.

To give Microsoft its due, taxonomy and metadata management is actually...

...where SharePoint is on a par or even superior to other products in this space.

At a recent Forrester IT Forum conference I attended in Las Vegas, Stephen Powers — the analyst who covers WCM for Forrester — said he believes Microsoft has achieved best-in-class status with its taxonomy and metadata management in SharePoint 2010. In this area Microsoft seems to have leapfrogged the marketplace. In contrast, workflow improvements simply amount to the ability to reuse workflows throughout a site, and across other sites. This ability seems to be the very minimum requirement, but SharePoint 2007 did not support it. More catch-up work to be done.

Basic statistics measurement
Lastly, Microsoft has incorporated some basic statistics measurement into its update. Indeed, the WCM marketplace is positively ablaze with the next generation of web-engagement management, experience management and other new bits of terminology and buzzwords.

SharePoint 2010 offers some basic web statistics on webpage hits and traffic, and will even tell you what search terms your visitors are using on the site. While this is all very useful, in comparison to the best-of-breed WCM vendors, it is still well behind the market leaders.

So what does all this mean to organisations that are either using SharePoint or considering it? If you are using SharePoint 2007 and are struggling with some of these issues, rejoice: this new release could overcome some of your pain.

But do bear in mind though that to use SharePoint 2010, you'll need to upgrade your entire hardware and software stack to 64-bit, including Windows Server and SQL Server.

Careful evaluation
If you are considering SharePoint as the web content management system for your customer-facing websites, think carefully about where SharePoint stands in comparison with other WCM vendors, and how it maps to your requirements.

Microsoft has gained some ground with this release, but it is still some way off the pace being set by the best-of-breed vendors in this market. If you believe the benefit of having a single integrated suite outweighs its various shortcomings, or if your requirements are relatively simple, then SharePoint may be a good fit.

Something else to consider is the typical SharePoint development cycle of three years. While three-year product release cycles are normal for large enterprise content management projects, three years is a long time on the web. Entire new markets and trends can arise in the span of six months to a year.

Darren Guarnaccia is vice president of product marketing at content management system firm Sitecore, a Microsoft partner. A regular speaker, panellist and moderator at industry events, including Microsoft's 2008 SharePoint conference, Guarnaccia started his career as director of technology for a large financial company and subsequently ran e-commerce operations for a big regional consulting organisation.