As the JBoye 2008 conference in Aarhus, Denmark wraps up the final day, I can't help but be amazed at the popularity of SharePoint in both in the U.S. and abroad. With a great deal of Consejo's work located in the U.S., it's easy to get caught up locally and forget the more global community.
During the conference, there was one consistent theme from the largely European-based audience: most European customers are struggling with the same or similar challenges as their U.S.-based counterparts. Here are a few of the challenges I heard during my presentations:
- With very large installations (e.g. tens of thousands of employees), there are some significant challenges in SharePoint deployment. The example I heard from an Austrailian (living in the Netherlands) was they had so many employees, they had to deploy multiple SharePoint farms just to enable My Sites for everyone. As a result, surfacing alerts to users tended to be problematic, since alerts don't travel between SharePoint farms if you're not careful about your Shared Services configuration.
- Variations work generally well for presenting multiple language versions of a primary language site. For example, presenting a Spanish version of an English site. However, if you have two Spanish sites -- one for Mexico and one for Spain as an example -- SharePoint does not allow you to leverage the Spanish site to help "seed" the Mexican site. Both the Spanish and Mexican sites can only be sourced from the English site. This situation leads to one of two options -- spend more in translation OR copy and paste content from the ES-ES site to the ES-MX site manually.
- On the topic of languages, SharePoint will allow you to store content in any language in any site. This is fantastic for sharing language specific content. Unfortunately, the interface (administrative menus and functions) can only be displayed in one language. This means that if your affiliate in France sets up a SharePoint site with the French language pack, everyone visiting that site will see the French administrative options and functions. There's no capability for displaying English menus to the British or Spanish menus to the Spaniards. While most companies I spoke with generally use English as their official company language (creating an English standard for all interfaces), that approach is limiting where English isn't pervasive -- like in Russia or France -- and where the native language isn't commonly spoken beyond the locale.
- SharePoint search facilities continues to be the target of both deserved and undeserved criticism. Many attendees lamented about the lack of wild-card search support, the inability to submit boolean queries and the inability to "tune" results. While results tuning is a weakness compared with other enterprise engines, wild-card and boolean support is the result of interface limitations and not limitations of the engine. In fact, most add-on search vendors simply take advantage of build-in engine capabilities that the Microsoft-supplied search interface fails to surface.
Despite the various complaints, SharePoint is generally very popular. Companies like Alfa Laval, ExxonMobil and British Telecom had representatives all sharing their experiences with SharePoint. The attendee from Alfa Laval presented her experiences in developing a public web site using SharePoint -- across 60 countries an 25 languages. Despite the challenges she faced during the implementation, she was very positive about both the product and their implementer.
In the end, there was one common thread throughout the conference: users need better information and guidance on the best practices for SharePoint implementation. This includes not only technology help, but general governance assistance. In fact, one presenter suggested that the viral growth challenges of SharePoint were largely due to a lack of discipline in many large organizations. As I and my co-authors point our in the SharePoint Report 2008, published by CMS Watch, there are number of factors to both successful and failed implementations. However, good governance practices represent a key success factor for any organization.
If you would like to learn more about SharePoint or are looking for guidance on best practices, there are two upcoming conferences that I would recommend:
- IIR's Enterprise-3 Conference in Las Vegas, 10 to 12 November
- Gilbane Boston 2008 in Boston, 2 to 4 December
I'll be presenting SharePoint 1/2 day workshops at both conferences in addition to a regular session at the Gilbane conference. I look forward to seeing you there!