Last week, Socialtext's Eugene Lee forwarded a link on Twitter with SharePoint as the focus of the article. The SharePoint article is titled, SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools and the author discusses the frustration enterprises and site developers have with the Microsoft product. There is some truth in the article as I've heard from many people discussing their concerns about SharePoint lacking quality Enterprise 2.0 features or causing vendor lock for their organization. However, the article borders slightly on the side of a rant on SharePoint and I've allowed it remain in a tab on my browser for quite awhile while I pondered what I wanted to take from the article.
I think the frustrations the author describes about SharePoint isn't a SharePoint problem. And the author describes the issue very well without recognizing it's just not SharePoint that drives organizations crazy.
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. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focussed on strict processes and defined sign-offs. Most organization have a need for a tool that does what SharePoint does well.
This older, prescribed category of enterprise tool needs is where we have been in the past, but this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. 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. These new approaches are filling gaps that have long existed and need resolution.
The problems identified with SharePoint can easily be said about many enterprise applications out there. Many of the enterprise suites provided to the market traditionally offered turn-key solutions in an effort to deliver a single integrated solution for the customer. These integrated suites can and do create "vendor lock" but that isn't the sole goal of enterprise products being delivered by such companies as Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. The customers asked for efficient and effective enterprise solutions and the big software companies responded by providing the expected tightly controlled software platforms (historically a good thing) along with terms of licensing, predictable pricing, training, and infrastructure support.