Last week Thomas Vander Wal trashed SharePoint as an enterprise social computing platform in a blog post entitled SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools. He ultimately concluded that SharePoint failed for enterprise 2.0.
Apart from my own interest in his analysis, I have received two specific requests for a reaction.
I’m not going to re-hash Thomas’s points (you'll need to read his analysis), but I make the following observations:
0. If an organization has purchased and installed SharePoint without a proper technical due diligence about what it can do and can’t do in the “enterprise 2.0” or social computing area, it’s not Microsoft’s fault. Actually, I argued a similar line in my January 2006 article entitled Whose Fault Is It When Collaboration Software Sucks (mainly about Lotus Notes). Why “0” and not “1”? This is my starting position :-)
1. Enterprise 2.0 is NOT about specific products from specific vendors. I think the people at the front of this thing called “enterprise 2.0” have shifted from a tooling focus to a strategic focus -- which has always been a bugbear of mine. As a showcase, I like the differentiation between Enterprise 1.0 and 2.0 on the 2009 Enterprise 2.0 Conference site: it's mainly about strategy and ethos.
2. Enterprise 2.0 is a way of describing a particular view of business process, culture, organization, and structure. That is, it is a philosophical approach to work practice and information creation and dissemination, which can be supported to varying degrees through various tools. Eg, Thomas writes "The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization." And if he really believes that, then Enterprise 2.0 can be implemented at a tooling level with Lotus Notes or Microsoft SharePoint, or one of the new fancy products. I don’t disagree that the degree of support of so-called “perfect enterprise 2.0 technology” -- out-of-the-box -- will differ between offerings.
3. If A is A, then B is not A. Or, if Enterprise 2.0 (A) is non-siloed spaces (A), then siloed-implemented (B) of SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0 (A). I don’t buy Thomas’s critique that the way that IT has deployed SharePoint -- explicitly or implicitly -- with a plethora of access-controlled spaces makes SharePoint a non-Enterprise 2.0 “technology” per se. In other words, if the way you implement Enterprise 2.0 is with open spaces, and if SharePoint as a tool is implemented with open spaces, then it is a logical fallacy to say that the implementation of SharePoint with access-controlled spaces excludes it from the Enterprise 2.0 technology camp.
4. Let’s talk about the team collaboration capabilities of SharePoint for a moment -- which is my area. In my view, “collaboration technology” has to deliver certain things to teams to aid their collaboration processes. See my 7 Pillars framework for more, and then read the front page of SharePoint 7 Pillars, which concludes that SharePoint fails 6 and passes 1 of the pillars. But then I have a book -- Seamless Teamwork -- published by Microsoft Press, that talks about how to do team collaboration with SharePoint. What gives? How do you square this? Quite simply, Seamless Teamwork articulates how to make the most of the one pillar that SharePoint passes -- pillar 1, for shared access to team data.
5. With SharePoint not giving everything that’s needed in the 7 Pillars framework above, you have to buy in and integrate in, other Microsoft and third-party products to get closer to a pass in other areas. Eg,
- Pillar 2 (location independence) ... see Colligo Contributor
- Pillar 3 (real-time joint editing and authoring) ... Microsoft OCS
- Pillar 4 (team-aware calendaring) ... partly addressed by CorasWorks Workplace Suite
- Pillar 5 (social engagement) ... Microsoft OCS
- Pillar 6 (action management) ... partly addressed by CorasWorks Workplace Suite
- Pillar 7 (collaboration auto-discovery) ... partly addressed by NewsGator Social Suites
So ... the point is ... if an organization knows this in advance ... then they can take appropriate steps to ensure what’s delivered actually meets with end user requirements. If they don’t know this in advance, then their due diligence process on technology evaluation was lacking. SharePoint is what it is -- and can become more through third-party add-ons.
6. Microsoft’s marketing has outstripped the technical functionality of SharePoint for collaboration and social computing. No doubt about it. But that doesn’t remove culpability from organizations.
7. One of the decision factors for enterprise IT is vendor stability and its forecast longevity. Microsoft wins this, hands-down. It isn’t going anywhere. So for any organization going through a proper decision process for social computing and collaboration tools, there is a trade-off between (a) vendor stability and forecast longevity, and (b) technical capability. Many of the vendors selling enterprise 2.0 technologies perform much better than Microsoft on (b), but much worse on (a). Sure ... there’s a chicken-and-egg problem here ... or a catch-22 ... in that if organizations supported the smaller vendors their “a” score would rise substantially.
8. If “authorization” is required for setting up a new space in SharePoint, that’s a governance decision made by the organization, not one made by Microsoft.
9. If an organization has deployed SharePoint with the sole purpose of implementing an “enterprise 2.0” vision, then it’s made the wrong decision. But if the driving reasons are much wider, and take into consideration team collaboration, content management and more, then SharePoint may be a good base platform. This is the same essential argument that I’ve always held about Lotus Notes: if you purchased Lotus Notes just for email and calendaring, you made the wrong choice. Notes always offered so much more ... and it was there that the real value was delivered, or could have been delivered to those who could see the possibilities.
10. A couple of other points:
- MOSS stands for “Microsoft Office SharePoint Server”, not “Microsoft Office Online” - which I think is “MOS” for Microsoft Online Services. “SharePoint” within the enterprise is either WSS (Windows SharePoint Services) on its own for collaboration, or WSS plus MOSS for added capability like search, content management, portals, and more. MOS is a hosted edition of WSS.
- SharePoint 2010 is coming. On the collaboration side, I really hope that Microsoft fixes some of my bugbears with SharePoint. And likewise, I hope that the functionality of SharePoint for social computing is increased substantially.
Thomas’s conclusion is:
"What is clear out of all of this is SharePoint has value, but it is not a viable platform to be considered for when thinking of enterprise 2.0. SharePoint only is viable as a cog of a much larger implementation with higher costs."
My conclusion: It depends how you define “enterprise 2.0”. If you define it as a technology with a set of specialized capabilities -- tag clouds, folksonomy -- then SharePoint out of the box is not viable. If you define it as a strategic view of how people work together and relate to each other and the organization, then SharePoint can be implemented to support the same. And on that note, calling out the vital importance of culture, in his response to Thomas, Mike Gotta concludes:
"The inconvenient truth is that the product does not eliminate the overwhelming influence that cultural dynamics has on how well an organization can leverage E2.0 concepts. I have clients piloting SharePoint alternatives. Some of the project champions I've talked to however hold little hope that they will achieve E2.0 goals given some of the overriding management control issues, compliance constraints, and unspoken social etiquette issues they face - even when they are not using SharePoint. Shocking... not."