One of the best things about SharePoint is its name. The moniker suggest a friendly place where people can gather, work, and say to themselves, “a good time was had by all.” If the greatest thing going for a software is its name, then it probably has some shortcomings elsewhere. SharePoint has shortcomings, and in the rough-and-tumble world of collaborative web applications, SharePoint has received more than its fair share of criticisms. Let's find out what these shortcomings are, and maybe what we, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, can do about it.
What are SharePoint's shortcomings? To answer that question, we'll ask a less biased question — what is SharePoint anyway? There are three main promises that SharePoint has made about itself. We'll consider each of these, and uncover how it may not have completely fulfilled its promises on all three fronts.
SharePoint is allegedly everything that you could have ever wanted — at least that's how it was described in its infancy by Jeff Teper. Teper, “the father of SharePoint” sold the product on the promise that it would integrate everything — doc management, CMS, intranet, sharing, blogs, etc. — into a ginormous silver bullet. It's been called the “all-in-one collaboration and communication server” by one organization. Teper preferred to describe it as the “ultimate Swiss Army Knife.” Swiss Army Knives are great, precisely because they can do everything. That's precisely the point (no pun intended): SharePoint can do everything!
SharePoint's Wikipedia entry tries to make sense of it all with its descriptions, an unending stream of functionality: “SharePoint can be used to provide intranet portals, document & file management, collaboration, social networks, extranets, websites, enterprise search, and business intelligence. It also has system integration, process integration, and workflow automation capabilities…central management, governance, and security controls,” and more.
Let's see…did they miss anything?
Unfortunately, a system that promises to be and do everything will probably not be and do all of those tasks with the highest degree of competency. When users discover that SharePoint doesn't execute what they were hoping it would, they may choose to use something else. A further concern is that the multifaceted features of the tool become buried in an overwhelming array of knives, tools, bottle openers, and awls, making it difficult to determine what to use — or how, or when to use them.
Sometimes, a product that promises to be everything ends up being nothing. When a product aspires to be so many things, it loses the power of a single selling point.
When SharePoint developers became concerned that people wouldn't understand how simple SharePoint was, they decided to describe it as “simple, simple, simple.” So, its simple.
Or is it?
Teper himself admitted in a retrospective mourn, “We may have oversold how simple SharePoint was to deploy.” And that's another shortcoming of an end-all system. When you describe a product as “simple,” and it ends up looking like a do-it-yourself home helicopter kit without the instruction manual, you're going to disappoint a lot of people. In order for a system to gain a loyal tribe, it must have a slick UI, intuitive purpose, and deliver quick solutions to obvious needs. Instead of fulfilling its prophecy for simplicity, SharePoint became “quite ambitious and complex.”
Information workers are a fairly intelligent group of people, but we want things to be simple enough to use without having to take night classes. Climbing a learning curve is something we don't mind doing, but we'd rather not do it at all. When SharePoint releases multiple versions and expansions, trying to make sense of itself, it loses touch with its user group who is left in the lurch of its latest not-so-simple iteration. Keep in mind that not everyone using SharePoint is tech-savvy. When non-tech user meets teched-up SharePoint, the relationship can get a bit awkward.
Just about everyone thought that SharePoint was a collaboration platform. Hence the name. Yet it is also a content-driven system. That's the problem. Collaboration and content don't dance together very well. Forrester provided their perspective on the system's collaboration capability: It is “SharePoint's least successful workload.”
Collaboration is crucial, and if a system lags in this department, it's a huge downer. SharePoint's oft-touted collaboration power is not much more than a newsfeed. As we reported recently, the majority of SharePoint users are stymied by the system's inability to deliver satisfactorily on this front.
Lest this article degenerate into a SharePoint bash fest, let's back up and admire its strong points. There are a few. And, true, many organizations have profited from it. Many businesses continue to use and value SharePoint for its advanced technologies and tools.
It's come to the point, however, that we need to realize that a unified source for everything may no longer be the most realistic and practical way to go about performing operations. It sounds nice, sure, but is it for real? Is SharePoint going to last? More and more collaborative platforms, CMSs, and powerful platforms have filled the marketplace. Is there still enough room for SharePoint to live on as the dominate force?
Like it or loathe it, SharePoint's market share is big enough to mean that it's not going to fade into oblivion in the next few years. Yes, it might be on the decline, but we still get to use it for a while.
So, in the meantime, lets try to utilize SharePoint correctly and capitalize on the strengths that it does possess.