Enthusiastic European Adopters Should Beware of "SharePoint Sprawl"

European enterprises are rapidly falling under SharePoint's spell but should be careful about managing its deployment, say analysts.

"Our data suggests enterprises in Western Europe have aggressive adoption plans for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, with the majority of these enterprises planning on moving forward with MOSS 2007 within the next 12 months," says Forrester Research's Kyle McNabb.

"They’re doing so to primarily address document management and collaboration needs – such as moving people away from keeping documents on file shares and the issues related to trying to find them – plus moving them off sharing, and then keeping, documents in Exchange or other email applications.

Butler Group's information management practice director, Richard Edwards, agrees: "In a survey conducted by Butler Group in 2007, around 60% of respondents indicated that SharePoint featured in their IM&C strategies, although not necessarily exclusively. Talking to delegates at Butler Group events, this figure would appear to be a good indicative figure."

Edwards is keen to clarify what is meant by the term in question. "One has to remember that when SharePoint is talked about we are actually talking about two distinct offerings. Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0, Microsoft's free add-on to Windows Server, provides document collaboration facilities that are well integrated with Microsoft Office tools, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 is a costed component and builds upon WSS functionality.

He points out that MOSS 2007 is a platform for Microsoft's business intelligence, search, forms, and programme/project management offerings. "More of a sophisticated web content management platform than a simple document management system, MOSS is Microsoft's strategic platform for information management and collaboration," he says.

Nomenclature aside, 2008 will be the year that organisations will experience some of the problems associated with scaling-up SharePoint deployments, according to Kathy Quirk, enterprise mashups and portal strategies research manager at IDC.

"I constantly hear of organisations that learn of the proliferation of team sites without the knowledge or consent of IT," she says. "For organisations that are subject to regulation, this causes a great deal of concern."

As sites proliferate, governance models are important to set rules around their creation, she adds. "Left uncontrolled, the volume of content on these sites can lead to high operational costs and also for companies subject to regulatory guidelines, this presents a high level of risk if this information is not managed in accordance with compliance rules."

"I use the term 'SharePoint Sprawl' to describe the way in which some organisations use WSS," says Edwards. "Unless these sites are catalogued and made 'discoverable', information can reside in them hidden from general view, as is the case with private email folders. Earlier versions of WSS lacked granular document security options, and migration from one version of WSS to the next has not been easy. While suitable for a great many environments, the DM and RM capabilities of WSS and MOSS are not as fully-featured as those from established enterprise content management (ECM) vendors, such as Open Text, Documentum (a part of EMC), Stellent (now owned by Oracle), etcetera.

"Large enterprises taking a holistic approach to ECM are more likely to favour solutions from these vendors for their document-centric applications and business processes as they tend to offer much greater reach and range when compared to MOSS. That said, I number of ECM vendors have embraced WSS and MOSS and have complementary offerings of their own to offer Microsoft customers. However, one of the problems with SharePoint is trying to understand the range of different opportunities that exist with it and, as a result, organisations are unsure of how to proceed."

What are European firms using SharePoint for? "In general, to improve information worker productivity," says McNabb. "Many information workers inside any enterprise have been underserved by technology, often relying on email, file shares, and Microsoft Office (including Outlook) to get their work done. Most enterprises now recognise technology can help these information workers be more productive – make better, more informed decisions and connect with their peers and co-workers. MOSS appeals to these enterprises as it promises to help address the needs of information workers."

However, he says: "MOSS doesn’t do everything and the world of enterprise content management is rather large. MOSS works well in the intersection of document management and team collaboration and it also help organisations manage and publish content to their websites. But enterprises do find MOSS lacks important support for the long-term retention and disposition of documents, and doesn’t meet the management needs of specific types of intellectual property such as contracts, legal documents, schematics and drawings. Based on type of people (their role) and/or the type of intellectual property – contracts, schematics, etcetera – an enterprise may choose to not use MOSS."

Third-party plug-ins are becoming increasingly important to the SharePoint scene to address such issues. "As always, it's not what you've got that matters; it's how and when you use it," says Edwards. "The SharePoint partner ecosystem appears to be growing rapidly if Microsoft's figures are to be believed, with SharePoint itself on-track to become a US$1 billion business for the company.

"The recent introduction of Office Live Workspace (OLW) – dubbed 'SharePoint Lite' by some – provides individuals, groups, and teams with yet another way to experience SharePoint-like functionality; and Microsoft will be hoping that good experiences with this 'software-plus-services' offering will drive even more interest in SharePoint overall."

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