SharePoint: Pros and Cons


IT Business Edge blogger Kachina Dunn wrote about some of the many differing opinions of SharePoint, Microsoft's collaboration software, back in April. Microsoft expects to pass the $1 billion mark this year, making SharePoint the company's fastest-growing product ever.


So it's packed with great features, right? Among its advantages, according to Tony Byrne, founder of CMS Watch, are its ease of installation and capability to perform simple tasks such as file sharing right out of the box. Beyond that, however, it can quickly get complicated, meaning companies may need to engage outside expertise to help or beef up their internal resources, says Byrne in a SearchCIO.com article.


For instance, notes Byrne, while SharePoint offers an expense form and simple way to route it to supervisors, "you need a .NET developer to get into the guts of the system" if you want to add more sophisticated capabilities such as being able to send forms exceeding $1,000 to one place and forms under $1,000 to another. For companies with these kinds of needs, says Byrne:

You cannot overestimate the need for SharePoint training among your own staff.

A Forrester Research report finds that SharePoint is likely to be most popular among companies with developers who build applications mostly in .NET rather than Java, according to this PCWorld.com article. Lotus, IBM's collaboration software, is a better fit for Java developers, according to the report.


Not surprisingly, companies already using IBM software such as WebSphere Portal and IBM Content Manager are more likely to opt for Lotus, while companies using Outlook/Exchange and other Microsoft Office products may go with SharePoint because of the tight integration it offers with those products. Writes Rob Koplowitz, the Forrester analyst who authored the report:

SharePoint benefits because it runs on Windows Server, uses Active Directory for authentication, is built on the .NET framework and SQL Server, and can be controlled with the Microsoft Operations Manager. This highly integrated approach takes advantage of companies' Microsoft skills and infrastructure and lowers integration costs.

Lotus gets the nod from Koplowitz for its use of the open-source Eclipse development platform and its ability to support third-party products. The lack of this kind of support is still a weakness in SharePoint, though Microsoft is working on it. Echoing Byrne, Koplowitz says that, for now, many companies must rely on ISVs to build software to extend SharePoint's capabilities.


SharePoint also has some security shortcomings, says Byrne, among them a need for fine tuning of access controls and difficulty establishing security policies across multiple instances of SharePoint. This may be why 87 percent of IT managers tapped SharePoint as their top concern for leaking sensitive data in a recent survey by access management and compliance software provider Courion. According to a CNET News item about the survey, more than 33 percent of respondents said they did not have a policy for managing the rights needed to create SharePoint sites.


The best way to avoid these kinds of problems, suggests Bryne, is by taking a proactive governance stance. This opinion is seconded by Gartner analyst Mark Gilbert, author of a report titled "Can the CIO Survive Microsoft SharePoint?" He recommends creating a "SharePoint site request form" to address compliance and governance questions. Says Gilbert:

Our discussions with clients and systems integrators who are using this approach demonstrate that it is very effective at reducing rogue site creation and sprawl, and as a result can aid significantly in terms of planning and compliance.

This goes back to the issue of worrying about what users may do with Web 2.0 tools under IT's radar. As I wrote in September, security concerns are the biggest barrier to adoption of such tools, mentioned by 76 percent of respondents to a survey by integration specialist Avanade. (Granted, that survey focused more on tools used for external collaboration than for those used primarily to facilitate internal collaboration, but I think results might be similar for products like SharePoint.)