SharePoint Server Comes of Age

When considering changes and enhancements to his company's workflow infrastructure, Jonathan Wynn likes to order an extra-large pizza.

"But instead of just one slice, I like to eat the whole pie in one bite," explains Wynn, who is manager of advanced technology and collaborative services for San Francisco-based Del Monte Foods.

Of course, if Wynn were to actually eat a whole pizza pie in one bite, he would probably be touring the world as a superhuman sideshow and not spending his days in charge of all the new initiatives related to Del Monte's Microsoft technology stack. Thus, in this case, the "pizza" he refers to is actually the amalgamation of content and data that Wynn said he's been able to harness by implementing and deploying Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Del Monte first put SharePoint into play when it needed an Intranet portal enabling end users throughout the enterprise to efficiently collaborate on documents. And after leveraging SharePoint Server for that project, Wynn said IT was able to then extend the company Intranet out to the Internet, allowing brokers, customers and business partners to seamlessly interact.

"We're a 24/7 company and we needed a proven technology to help us achieve high visibility with our end users, inside and outside of the company," Wynn added.

Indeed, for many IT managers, the "one-bite" architecture -- with Office linking practical applications (Word, Excel and so on) to CRM channels as well as HR and financial software -- is what helps SharePoint Server edge out competitor products. The fact that many people use Office programs offline gives Microsoft a head start in the race against Google (Google Mini), Oracle (Collaboration Suite), Novell (GroupWise) and IBM (Workplace).

In fact, the easy marriage of SharePoint to the Office suite makes it a no-brainer in many cases for IT administrators and the process owners they serve. This is also a reason SharePoint is the fastest-growing and one of the quickest-selling products in Microsoft history. This is evidenced by the near-viral ascendancy of SharePoint Blogs, Wikis and independent product support websites that take the onus off the Microsoft support team. Microsoft executives say that the virtual community discourse centered on SharePoint fosters a truly collaborative atmosphere as it relates to tailoring the application to the individual enterprise and the end users therein.

SharePoint's growing popularity has helped Microsoft immensely in its foray into the enterprise applications and systems arena. And demand is growing rapidly, according to a survey released last week by IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based technology research company.

The report, "Microsoft SharePoint Server Ecosystem and Customer Usage Trends,"predicted a surge in upgrades and new launches of complementary products and services used to support, manage, or splice with SharePoint.

The report went on to state that the demand for purchasing such products and services will skyrocket within the next 12 months.

"Microsoft SharePoint Server is expanding its footprint in the enterprise, with organizations planning to add more users and integrate more enterprise data sources into their SharePoint environment," said Kathleen Quirk, program manager for IDC Enterprise Workplace Applications and Portal Strategies.

"With the increased functionality in MOSS 2007, the set of direct competitors has widened, causing anxiety for some and opportunity for others."

How this "ecosystem" evolves or devolves remains to be seen, but executives at Microsoft know that with phenomenal success comes continued responsibility, as there are challenges in coming up with patches as well as new peripheral product launches to keep customers satisfied.

Ease of use is also an important issue going forward in an enterprise environment where IT duties will be increasingly localized in non-IT work areas -- a roles-based, enterprise-wide functionality. Making this metamorphosis all the more complex will be the transition to role-based versions of the Office 14 suite slated for release in about two years.

For his part, Tom Rizzo, director of SharePoint at Microsoft, isn't resting on his or the product's laurels. He is all too aware that as the complexity of end user roles fragments and mutates, the need for comprehensive tutorials will become greater.

"We could definitely do better on end-user training," Rizzo said. "I think we can always improve on the ease-of-use quotient. It may be the responsibility of the tech people within an enterprise, but Microsoft can still make it so that you don't have to be a programmer or a database administrator to truly understand how the application can make your job easier."

Meanwhile, there are also still questions surrounding SharePoint's document management lifecycle, where the prospect of running out of server space is always a concern, and where version control can be thwarted if content metadata is distorted when different end users access and alter files. These concerns, Rizzo said, are still within the realm of training rather than technology.

"I think it's important to know how you want to use information and what your goals are when you're an enterprise dealing with WSS [Windows SharePoint Services]," said Rizzo. "From our side, continuing to communicate with customers and partners about goals and needs and then having that filter down to the end-user level will be the tipping point for us."

Del Monte's Wynn believes SharePoint is merely the beginning, a stepping stone rather than the end-all-be-all when it comes to getting the best total value out of his company's information resource strategy and planning. Wynn says it's not necessarily an "either-or" proposition, as there are many instances where enterprises are melding competing applications together with SharePoint.

And as Microsoft continues to try to stay nimble and new markets open up with more agile rivals, compatibility will be paramount.

"The great thing about deploying SharePoint is that you can build a layered framework that can link to an Oracle or another specialized product that complements this application and you can have the best of both worlds."
Kind of like having one's pizza and eating it, too.

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others.


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