SharePoint: the Swiss Army Knife of portals

SharePoint is a fantastically powerful and complex solution that offers more features and bells & whistles than almost any technology platform on the planet. However, it cannot be all things to all people all the time... it works well for somethings like team and document collaboration, and less well for personalization and enterprise content management.

If there's one general theme that many outside observers and experts say of MOSS, is that it tries to be “everything for everybody.” It is an exceptionally powerful and complex platform, but it is not good for all web or intranet-based scenarios. It is good for a lot of things, but not all things.

"One common element from all of the discussions is the frustration nearly all of these organization have with their experience with Microsoft SharePoint 2007,” says Thomas Vander Wal, Principal of InfoCloud Solutions, Inc. “The comments are based on those spending one month to a year with the tool (the six month to one year club with tools offer best insight).”

"SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0,” adds Thomas. “SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focused on strict processes and defined sign-offs.”


THE SWISS ARMY KNIFE

SharePoint is by far and away the hottest enterprise technology in the World today. With a penetration rate of about 50% of all medium to large-scale organizations in the Western World, more than a few experts have analyzed MOSS and weighed-in with their expert opinions.


MOSS does a lot of things, but does very few things very well.” - Shawn Shell, Consejo Inc., author of the CMSWatch “The SharePoint Report”


MOSS is often described as a “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.” It has so many features, applications, and complexities that there are few solutions that really compete with the broad range of services that it provides (although IBM WebSphere could be argued as being more complex, with more native services, albeit for a Java environment). However, none of its core services – document management, content management, search, portal, collaboration, business intelligence – are market leaders by themselves, and in fact are low to mid-tier solutions by themselves. But these services aren't individual offerings, they are all included in SharePoint. There isn't a CMS that can compete; and only IBM WebSphere and the combined portal offerings of Oracle can compete at the portal level with the type of functionality and robustness of services that SharePoint can offer.


The software's Swiss Army knife approach helps companies create more useful intranets, set up document sharing, offer blogs and wikis, and build a richer online company directory. But SharePoint's feature sprawl can be part of the problem.” - Information Week columnist Nicolas Hoover


It is very easy to deploy SharePoint without customization; and its even easier for different teams, departments, divisions, and work groups (really, any employee) to nearly instantly create their own sites, sub-sites, document libraries, web parts, etc. So easy in fact that if there are not proper controls, SharePoint can quickly expand and “sprawl” across an organization creating information chaos and silos that MOSS was suppost to fix, not exacerbate.


FEATURES OF NOTE

While there are hundreds of features, tools & templates in MOSS, here is a summary review of three key features that get a lot of attention:


  • My Site

  • Navigation & Presentation

  • Personalization


My Site (Strength)

My Sites are essentially enhanced employee directory listings replete with pertinent personal and job-related information (e.g. title, direct reports, contact information, etc.). The My Site template comes with “private” and “public” views of personal information with links to documents, websites, and blogs. It can also integrate simple social networking functions and lists (reviews in the next section on Collaboration).

In addition the the standard one-for-all My Site template, MOSS 2007 also delivers role-based templates tailored to specific roles in an organization including Administrative Assistant template, HR Manager template, etc.


Navigation & Presentation (Strength & Weakness)

MOSS 2007 determines the navigation of your website or intranet based on the actual site hierarchy, rather than intuitive content groupings. In simple, less content heavy sites, the navigation options are simple to use, and easy to manipulate.

Navigation is in fact controlled by what Microsoft calls the “Master Page.” MOSS uses the concept of “master pages” as the main page construct including the navigation elements of the pages. Master pages control the “shell” or outer areas of the pages that includes: navigation elements, top navigation, edit console, and main body.

A notable “con” for undertaking custom development for the look-and-feel of a master page (outside of the pre-configured theme options) is that it is expensive to undertake, and the resulting customized pages may not be supported by Microsoft when software updates or hot fixes are undertaken.


Personalization (Weakness)

A primary consideration for most organizations looking to select a portal solution (one of three major distinguishing features of a portal solution underscored at the beginning of this module), personalization is not particular strength of the MOSS platform. In MOSS, personalization includes security (security-based access control) and personalized content (content targeting).

Personalized content is done through “audiences.” An audience is a list of users with a specific profile (e.g. human resource managers). Content publishers can then “target” content to a particular audience. Those within the audience would then consume or read the content within their My Site, or within a News web part (also known as a portlet in the Java world). Ad hoc audiences can also be created at the time of publishing, or using an Exchange distribution list.

However, the personalization is in fact determined by the publisher or content owner, and MOSS does not have a good option that allows the end user to choose or personalize the content they want to see. In other words, personalziation is a 'push' feature in MOSS, rather than a 'pull' feature that is the common model is most other portal products and CMS solutions.


LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SHAREPOINT FEATURES STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES:

SharePoint for Communicators is an online course / webinar that answers the question, “Is SharePoint (MOSS) a good choice?” The course is in five modules or lectures that can be taken anytime with advice on how to proceed, and how to maximize the use of MOSS 2007 (if you already use SharePoint).

This five-week online workshop examines MOSS as a technology platform, and as a communications platform for managing content including news and social media – ideal for professional communications, marketing and HR people that want to cut through the techie talk.

Learn more about SharePoint for Communicators.

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For more information on implementing or planning for SharePoint (MOSS 2007), please see The SharePoint (MOSS) Plan or contact us directly.