Friday, June 15, 2012

Why I gave up on sharepoint

My experience of sharepoint started three years ago when I was a systems development manager. It was clear that people in the company needed to collaborate online. We had an FTP site, public facing website and an intranet but none of these allowed users to easily collaborate in the way they required.

The need for a platform to address this requirement was confirmed when I discovered that members of the production team had set up a free Google site to share files with their suppliers. This was a concern because without the involvement of IT how could we ensure good practice was being followed? It was time to look at a managed alternative.

We were a Microsoft house, running Exchange, IIS and Office. The introduction of sharepoint seemed like a no-brainer and I set about persuading whoever I could that this was the case. Winning that argument was simple, as everybody understood there was a need to collaborate. Implementation was where the challenges started.

The first challenge was funding the implementation of sharepoint. I was told we'd need to invest in terabytes of onsite storage, increase the number of server hosts and purchase licenses. As a 5,000 seat organization the license cost alone was a shock to me, but in a culture where it was believed that "you get what you pay for", the funding challenge was easily overcome.

The second challenge was security. We were told the risk of allowing external collaboration was too high, as sharepoint could provide backdoor access to our network. It was agreed to limit the introduction to internal users on the corporate network only, which was a disappointment given the initial requirement was to help us collaborate externally. 

The third challenge was sharepoint itself and the sheer complexity involved in building a basic shared site. Even as an IT manager with experience of windows access control, the use of active directory access control and inheritance proved to be a nightmare. Were end users really going to understand this?  It was decided that with enough investment (more money of course) this could be addressed with user training and putting processes in place. A sharepoint administrator would have to be hired, and 'power users' appointed to make it work.

The biggest challenge was management. The idea of end-users being able to control data and access was proving too great. 'Data Governance' would have to be thought through, 'Information Architecture' papers would have to be written and limitations on use would have to be imposed. These all resulted in even more restrictions on the ability of users to share data.

In the meantime, the production department were continuing to use Google Sites (and probably still do) despite the official rollout of sharepoint in the business.

My conclusion was that sharepoint was not the web based collaborative platform I'd hoped it would be. Not only was it difficult and costly to implement, it was a nightmare to use. Sharepoint and senior management are a good mix, because it is all about top down control.The problem with that is you frustrate your users who then decide to find their own ways of collaborating.

The experience was good for me on a personal level. The use of Google Sites by the production department got me to take the use of cloud based alternatives more seriously. So much so, that I now provide integration services for companies looking to use Google Apps rather than Microsoft for their core systems.