10 April 2009

SharePoint Summit 2009 Recap

I have just returned from a fantastic trip to Montreal for the SharePoint Summit, where I taught one tutorial on making SharePoint work in the Enterprise and one regular session on Web 2.0 and SharePoint.    The sessions were very well attended (partially to my surprise) and I really enjoyed seeing a different side to SharePoint implementations – in the U.S., Consejo tends to see more commercial organizations and, while there were definitely a number of folks from commerical organizations, I saw quite a few Canadian governmental agencies represented as well.

Overwhelmingly, the questions about SharePoint remain largely consistent with the U.S.

  1. What does SharePoint do well and where does it falter? 
    The answer to this question really depends on your needs.  I saw quite a few organizations who needed records management, for example.  However, as readers of CMS Watch’s SharePoint Report 2009 know, SharePoint does not have any real depth in records management; if that’s what you need, you should probably look elsewhere or find an add-on to improve SharePoint’s RM capabilities.  Beyond that (and imagining), SharePoint is a pretty mediocre player.  However, Mike Fitzmaurice  from Nintex (and his Microsoft days), made an interesting point: SharePoint doesn’t have to be the best at any one thing as long as it’s pretty good at a lot of things; partners, organizations or even Microsoft can add point capabilities to supplement what SharePoint does natively and cover a good deal of what organizations need to accomplish.  Interestingly, Mike made his point with a little “presentation zen,” by showing images that represented examples of the “best” animals in specific categories (e.g. Cheetah’s are the fastest land animals, the Bull Elephant is the strongest , a specific species of Shark is the fastest sea creature) and then comparing those “best of breed” animals to a human with a tool.  Obviously an elephant could lift, literally, a ton.  However, a human with a crane can best the elephant.
  2. How do I control (govern) SharePoint in my environment? 
    This is something that I had the opportunity to give a keynote on during the conference.  I’ve also written a little about governance in the SharePoint Report 2009 and on SearchWinIt, in my article “Four steps to creating practical SharePoint governance standard.”  However, the short answer (if you don’t want to read the source material) is really about establishing “how” to use SharePoint within your organization.  Microsoft gave administrators some tools to limit growth or unused sites, but the tool won’t solve any real governance problems or create your policies.  Good governance has to be an explicit effort on your part.  You must actively engage in a process of policy creation and education to ensure your success.
  3. Do I have to buy add-ons to SharePoint and/or why doesn’t Microsoft handle “this” out of the box?
    The answers to these questions are: “probably” and “by design.”  More often than not, organizations will have to buy/build/download add-on components to supplement SharePoint.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Microsoft could not be expected to anticipate every need or “solve” any specific requirement in a way that all organizations may require.  In fact, as Mike pointed out, Microsoft explicitly excludes certain features and/or components by design.  Mike shared that even Microsoft does not have inifinite resoures and when deciding on what features end up in a version of the product and which don’t, the product team focuses on “platform functionality” over “improvements to the UI or scenario specific” features.  The expectation is that partners, consultants or customers will fill in the gaps.  This approach doesn’t work for every customer, so be clear about your own goals and how much you’re willing to accept with regard to “missing” functionality and/or capability.
  4. What’s in the vNext of SharePoint?
    Only the Microsoft product team knows for sure.  However, what I did hear from people in the know is that Office 14 (the version number of the next release) will be largely evolutionary with some slightly cooler, but not revolutionary components.  The one caution I will provide is that point 3 (above) still holds true; don’t expect Microsoft to cover every base and you should still budget for consulting and add-on products in your implementation.

Beyond all of the points I’ve made here, SharePoint is one of the fastest growing portal products on the market.  There were over 300 attendees at the conference and, universally, everyone was legitimately interested in better understanding SharePoint – primarily because they had all committed to using the platform for some web-based application within the enterprise.  I’m excited to see what’s coming in the next release and encouraged by the excitement I saw at the summit. 

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