Key Technology Selection Challenges With SharePoint

by Richard Harbridge on July 23, 2012


How does SharePoint compare to XYZ, is it better? Should we choose SharePoint to meet our ECM needs? When should we use SharePoint versus ABC? These are all questions that we hear on a regular basis when we work with clients, share with colleagues, and help departments internally evaluate SharePoint. This article will dive into some of these challenging questions and offer some advice and suggestions for how to begin answering them.

Note that this is an opinion piece, and while it does contain data should not be the basis for a significant ECM investment decision for your organization. My intention is to provide some insight and perspective that you may not have heard before.

It’s Not Simple

The first response I typically hear to questions like this is people citing the 2011 Gartner analysis where Microsoft was in the ‘leaders’ magic quadrant. SharePoint is a robust and powerful platform and is a good ECM investment.

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While this is true there are many difficulties with simply citing popular analyst findings found in Gartner or Forrester’s public reports. Especially since Microsoft SharePoint does many things and the evaluation of ECM was only partly evaluating SharePoint’s full capability.

When making a decision whether SharePoint is the right fit or platform for your enterprise technology strategy it’s important to understand that SharePoint is a significant investment. Even the free version of SharePoint can lead to costs associated with migration of content, scale, and integration. While on the surface SharePoint can seem very inexpensive (in some quote comparisons I have seen it for half the cost of say 350k for a 1000 person organization versus a 700k competitive ECM suite quote) when compared with the ECM suites of key competitors it’s important to note that it does require third party support and services to really provide the full range of capability most organizations require.

As an example here is a (very rough) generalization of how you might compare some product stacks to SharePoint (and its stack).

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(Rough and overly simple generalization! – July 23)

This is made even more important based on an organizations size. Making an investment that focuses on a single-vendor ECM suite strategy is very common in businesses larger than 500 employees. In fact if you take a look at the AIIM SharePoint Survey from 2011 you can see that over 2/3 (two thirds) of 5,000+ employee companies focus on a single-vendor ECM suite.

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The 2/3 statistic assumes the removal of “We don’t have a strategy” as well as “None of these” as valid options.

Perhaps the most frightening thing with these survey results is that 10-15% of organizations surveyed do not have a strategy at all for planning their ECM investments. (Email me or check out my recent Future-Proofing Your SharePoint Strategy Deck if you aren’t sure of where to start.)

Do you have a portal or a portal based strategy?

Note in addition to ‘consolidation’ of ECM the second key strategy used is to provide a single point of access to information. In these portal (single point of access) scenarios it’s critical to decide what that main centralized repository will be, or how you will represent those repositories with your planned taxonomy and search.

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This is further evidenced by the research/survey data from AIIM. You can see that often SharePoint is used as a portal to multiple repositories. So if you are using SharePoint perhaps it’s only as a portal that augments and works well with your existing ECM investments/technologies.

Regardless of the technology in place what I am really trying to highlight here is that if you don’t have a single-vendor ECM strategy, or if you are not able to implement with a focus on a single-vendor your portal strategy and portal technology will be even more important and a critical part of your evaluation criteria (beyond integration/interoperability assessments).

What we know so far:

  • It’s not simple.
  • Many organizations have a single-vendor ECM strategy (or try their best to achieve this).
  • If you have no strategy how can you evaluate the ECM vendors or their technologies for your organization?
  • Portals, integration, and interoperability are all key factors for multi-vendor ECM strategies.

So how do we evaluate something like SharePoint and other ECM technologies?

When evaluating all of these technologies here are some common questions that I see being asked.

  • What is the version of the product?
    • Is this in development or currently in production?
  • How mature is the product?
    • Is there a supporting ecosystem of partners and vendors to support the product?
  • How extensible and customizable is the product?
  • How user friendly is the product?
    • How does the product handle exceptions?
    • For whom is the user interface designed?
  • How difficult is it to manage and administer the product?
    • How do you update the product?
    • How complex is the installation and how complex are the dependencies?
    • Does the product support automation of administrative tasks?
  • Who are the other customers for the tool?
    • What has been their experience with development, deployment and maintenance of the tool?
    • Do they have similar or varying needs?
  • What is the applicability of the product to requirements?
    • How is this demonstrated or shared?
  • What is the total cost of ownership?
    • What is the price of the product?
    • What is the cost of configuration and customization?
    • What is the on-going product maintenance cost?
    • What is the cost of integration and deployment?

Critical Point: Community and Resource Availability/Growth Does Matter

One of the things that is important to understand (and often is underestimated) is the availability of support, community, and learning resources for the technology you are evaluating.

If we look at the recent job trends around SharePoint versus some other competitive well known products we can see that SharePoint has had a job growth rate of 900% in the past 5 years, while there has not been considerable growth in jobs for these other technologies.

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This is also true for the ‘count’ of current jobs that contain the word SharePoint in them. There are a considerable more “SharePoint” jobs than jobs with these other technologies. For an organization making a significant investment in a technology platform this is a very important factor to consider. How hard is it to find someone with some SharePoint experience in the next 5 years? What about your users or employees? With the saturation of SharePoint in the enterprise marketplace it’s becoming very common for users to have used or have a level of SharePoint experience already.

Now let’s take a look at other online resources for SharePoint. If we perform a simple Google or Bing search its incredible how many results we get. This is also true for Amazon Books or authored material that supports a technology.

System Google Results Amazon Books
SharePoint 84,200,000 1,905
LiveLink 1,730,000 21
Documentum 492,000 62
Filenet 5,320,000 39

Source: Internet search as of June 7, 2012

This isn’t just true for SharePoint, but also for related technologies. As an example InfoPath has seen considerable growth as a direct result of SharePoint’s success.

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What about SharePoint Designer? The tool used by many people when working with SharePoint? This is actually a tool that is used more broadly by end users than InfoPath. Since 2007 (when it came out) you can see that the growth has been considerable. What’s important here isn’t the numbers but instead the way the line continues upwards with a fair amount of consistency.

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I know I talk regularly about how much I love the SharePoint community, and community resources, events, and thought leaders – but hopefully you can understand why it directly relates to the success and long term viability of our organizational technology investments.

So what am I saying matters for evaluating ECM vendors and investments?

  • It’s not simple. So don’t make quick judgments or trust a simple recommendation.
  • Many organizations have a single-vendor ECM strategy (or try their best to achieve this). So understand the entire offering.
  • If you have no strategy how can you evaluate the ECM vendors or their technologies for your organization?
    • So have a strategy and align your evaluation with your existing strategies. (Obvious I know, but honestly missed sometimes).
  • Portals, integration, and interoperability are all key factors for multi-vendor ECM strategies.
  • The community, support resources, and availability of skilled staff as well as growth is actually really important criteria for your evaluation of a technology.

Of course if you don’t believe the community is important at least you are now a little bit more aware of other key factors for evaluating and selecting your enterprise technology.

Hope this helps,
Richard Harbridge

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