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.
The issue though is that many of the older enterprise solutions were founded with the 1990s mantra of efficiency and effectiveness. When the traditional enterprise software was first developed, it made no sense to vendors and even the users themselves to provide a "feature" that needed to access products outside a particular product line. In fact the whole goal of providing enterprise software was to deliver an enterprise platform so the customer didn't have to install or access additional third party software. Why would customers want to view Oracle Calendar outside of the Oracle platform? Why would enterprise users want to use an email client that wasn't better integrated with their Office suite desktop applications? Yet, as this decade has progressed many of us using enterprise software started realizing Enterprise 1.0 wasn't keeping up with the diverse flow of information out there in the real world.
The reality of today is that information flow is really no longer controlled by IT managers, but by the enterprise users themselves. Users have a genuine need to pull information from servers found inside and outside the company. They need sole control of a particular section of the Intranet while they need another section of the Intranet to be open and free for collaboration. The users appreciate the blogs and wikis their companies set up, but they also need a workflow that recognizes the benefits of applications with Facebook and Twitter like features. They ask, where is the face behind the information being provided?
In short users need Enterprise 2.0 and IT managers need to have a vendor that not only provides an efficient and effective platform, but also a platform that is agile and compatible with other enterprise solutions. Enterprise 1.0 software didn't have the social and open mindset originally built into the platform and continue to have problems in the redesign. Enteprise 2.0 vendors on the other hand recognized the need for social publishing from the ground-up and do not carry the legacy baggage of their older counterparts. The problem that is bigger than SharePoint is that not all legacy Enterprise platforms can nor will evolve into Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint's problem is that while it may deliver social publishing features on top of a document management platform, the platform still seems stuck in two worlds. Perhaps in reality, SharePoint is Enterprise 1.5.