Competitors Vie for Mindshare as Microsoft’s SharePoint Hits Snags

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    According to a recent study, Microsoft SharePoint projects are stalling, with user resistance on the rise, and senior management buy-in flailing. My own observation is that another problem for Microsoft is that a lot more alternatives are available than there used to be.

    The study, conducted by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), found that other problems include inadequate user training and a general lack of planning, investment, and expertise. I came across the study just as an opportunity arose to speak with Tim Eisenhauer, co-founder and president of Axero Solutions, a communication and social collaboration platform provider in San Diego. Axero positions Communifire, its flagship social networking and collaboration platform, as an alternative to SharePoint, so I asked Eisenhauer, aside from the presumed cost savings, what his customers say are the advantages of Communifire over SharePoint.

    “Out-of-the-box design tends to be a pretty big selling point. Plus ease of use and of making it their own—no SharePoint expert required,” Eisenhauer said. “Just knowing a little HTML and CSS goes a long, long way. Plus we’re a heck of a lot easier to work with than Microsoft.”

    Meanwhile, Bitrix24, a social collaboration and communication suite provider in Alexandria, Va., is positioning itself as a free Communifire alternative. On its website, Bitrix24 goes out of its way to highlight what it sees as what’s lacking in Communifire:

    • No free plan is available.
    • The project management module is very light—you can add tasks, but not projects, and there are no Gantt charts or employee workload management tools.
    • There are no sales or client management tools of any kind.
    • You can’t edit documents simultaneously.
    • There are no videoconferencing options.
    • There is no email server integration.
    • Communifire has neither Android nor iOS apps.

    I ran that list by Eisenhauer, and he pointed out that Android and iOS apps are now available in the latest version of Communifire. But he acknowledged that the rest of the list is accurate, and that Communifire lacks those functions.

    “This is because the customers we’ve worked with so far haven’t needed them,” he said. “Sometimes our customers would rather integrate with systems designed for these specific use cases, or their needs simply don’t go that far. With a flexible platform, for us as much as for our customers, we build what our customers need and will use, instead of piling on a bunch of functionality that isn’t being driven by actual customer demand.”

    Eisenhauer said that when those functions become driving factors for  the success of their customers. Axero will likely add them.

    “I guess we just have different development approaches,” he said. “Bitrix seems to follow a bolt-on functionality approach, looking to check off as many feature checkboxes as they can. We focus on what people are going to use and need right now, driven by our customers.” He added, “A lot of times we’ll hear, ‘Communifire is great, better than anything else out there, but it won’t work for us unless we have X feature.’ So, we build X feature and the customer is happy. The real world driver means we can focus more on building out functionality correctly, when it’s needed.”

    I asked Eisenhauer why a company should choose Communifire over Bitrix24.

    “The people we’ve talked to pick up on the quality of the implementation of Communifire’s features, and choose quality over quantity slapped together,” he said. “But even bigger than that, the single item we hear [about] vs. Bitrix is our customer support. We’re nuts for helping our customers, which is difficult to compete against. But, from what we’ve heard, Bitrix apparently has exceptionally bad support. At least that’s what we’ve heard from our customers. Obviously, we don’t have any direct experience with them.”

    Dmitry Davydov, chief marketing officer at Bitrix24, didn’t buy that. But he did acknowledge that with so many customers using the product free of charge, not everyone is going to be happy with customer support.

    “Had our tech support been as terrible as stated, we wouldn’t get over 400,000 company signups in less than three years,” Davydov said. “But I’ll be honest with you, we are a small company. There are only 150 employees at Bitrix, so keeping over 3 million users happy can be a challenge, especially since over 90 percent of our customer base use Bitrix24 for free and don’t fall under the 16-hour guaranteed support. I can imagine a situation when someone did not get a reply as soon as expected and went to another vendor.”

    Ultimately, Davydov said, the customer is king.

    “If someone does remote team management better than Bitrix24, then our user base will move away from us,” he said. “But we’ve been consistently named as one of the top solutions for the job, competing with Asana, Google, Basecamp, or Evernote. I am willing to take some flak from these folks, but I can’t recall that they’ve ever criticized Bitrix24 for bad customer service or otherwise.”

    For his part, Axero’s Eisenhauer said flexibility and accommodation are what really count.

    “We position ourselves through the right functionality, intelligent design, support for and by real people, and not least of all, accessible flexibility for those who can’t find just what they want elsewhere,” he said. “The results are remarkable—our customers don’t fail. Part of it is that we don’t let them, but mostly it is because the system they have is theirs. They haven’t had to change the way they work in order to use Communifire. We accommodate their business model in our user experience.”

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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