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SharePoint Birthday, Community, and Career News - 06 Apr 2011

Yesterday, SharePoint celebrated its 10th birthday.  This makes SharePoint officially a “’Tweener” product, ready to fly from the enterprise nest to the clouds. As part of the birthday celebration, the SharePoint product group twitter feed (@SharePoint) asked followers to vote for SharePoint’s top features. Remote BLOB Store (RBS), Sandboxed Solutions, Managed Metadata, People search and phonetic name patching, My Sites, and more were proposed.

But in my opinion, the number one feature of SharePoint—and perhaps the most salient reason why an enterprise should “pick” SharePoint over other technologies that also support strategic objectives—is the SharePoint Community. It’s impossible to understate the value of this feature, and this week I’d like to look at why the SharePoint community can help you lower your TCO and increase your ROI.

In addition, I’d like to share some “big news” of my own!

If I were to pick one thing that Microsoft does better than any other technology company today, it is the delivery of a platform that supports an ecosystem.

Windows, Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint are each significant and powerful products, but more importantly they are platforms that can support custom solutions to address just about any business problem. Microsoft doesn’t solve every problem itself—it doesn’t even pretend to—but it gives us—its customers and partners—a chance to solve our own problems. The extensive development platform provides a relatively unified and rich toolset with which to build custom solutions.

Unlike some of its major competitors, Microsoft actively nurtures an ecosystem of ISVs, partners, and community to use that platform to “fill the gaps” between the products’ out-of-box functionality and the specific needs of enterprises. While this leads to what can be labeled as a more dynamic or chaotic (depending on your spin) environment, there’s little doubt in my mind that while Microsoft doesn’t necessarily lead the pack in functional innovation, it is leagues ahead in enabling innovation in the technology sector as a whole. Microsoft has opened up myriad opportunities, and many, many people—myself included—and companies are making livelihoods or fortunes (myself not included LOL) thanks to Microsoft.

Over SharePoint’s first decade of existence, a capable and passionate community formed around the product. This community includes ISVs, analysts, consultants, developers, IT Pros, end users and business leaders—all of whom recognize the value that SharePoint can deliver to an enterprise in a wide variety of scenarios. I’ve been part of several technology communities during my career—most notably the community around Windows server and client operating systems, Active Directory, and other related technologies—and I continue to be amazed at the level of energy and passion that characterizes the SharePoint community.

The community produces incredible things—many of which are available for free. Numerous blogs, newsletters, webinars, and events address the needs of each SharePoint audience, at each level of expertise. Just last weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at SharePoint Saturday in Los Angeles. If you’ve not experienced a SharePoint Saturday yet, find one near you! ( The events bring together the most diverse cross section of the community—from highly experienced implementers and developers to “newbies”—to learn from each other and to discover new solutions. I was really impressed by the variety of perspectives that attendees brought to the table at SPSLA. I was also impressed and thrilled to see so many quality ISVs supporting the event: Axceler, K2, AvePoint and Rackspace headlined a pack of 16 sponsors.

SharePoint Saturdays are just one of the many events you can turn to as a resource. Many cities have SharePoint User Groups. The Best Practices Conference is coming up in London next week. TechEd is around the corner, as is SPTechCon in Boston and SharePoint Fest in Denver. And Penton’s own SharePoint Connections Coast-to-Coast event  is hitting six cities around the US this spring and summer, and SharePoint Connections will be in Europe this summer in Karlsruhe, Germany, and London.  I’ll be at many of these events, presenting a variety of sessions for IT Pros.

Then there’s CodePlex—the community solution site backed by Microsoft. Here you can find custom solutions to address a number of common SharePoint “gaps”—for free! And there are numerous forums, most importantly Microsoft’s own forums at TechNet where you’ll find almost 4,000,000 posts across almost 1,000,000 threads—with more than 2,000 new threads each day!

Why do I mention all of these things? Because it impacts TCO and ROI. Let’s assume you have a set of business requirements, and that you’ve analyzed a variety of solutions that meet your needs, and that SharePoint is one of them. Let’s also assume that you thoroughly understand your needs to such detail that you’ve been able to calculate costs with incredible accuracy. Odds are that SharePoint will be in the running—if not at the top of your list—because its “hard” costs tend to be lower. But again, let’s assume several products are on your short list.

It’s pretty “obvious” that no organization will be able to define requirements to that level; and even if you could, we all know that the world changes, business changes, and needs change over time. So the product you select today may not meet your needs perfectly tomorrow. This is where the community—the ecosystem—really comes into play. It’s a safe bet that if you encounter a challenge with SharePoint, or you discover new or revised requirements, you’ll be able to find an answer or a solution in the SharePoint community—sometimes for free!

A product as complex as SharePoint, that must align with an infinite number of business scenarios, must be supported by a vast and diverse group of people and companies that can be experts in their own corners of the product.  SharePoint has that, in spades.  I don’t think there are many other products that can come close.  So as you consider your choice of ECM, WCM, Search, BI, or collaboration tools, don’t underestimate the value of SharePoint’s platform and community. It’s what will make SharePoint not only a good solution to your needs today, but a great solution for your needs for years to come.

I promised in the introduction that I’d share some “big news”—at least to me.  I’m thrilled to announce that I have accepted a position as Chief SharePoint Evangelist for AvePoint—you can read the details in the press release. After 17 years of running my own company (trainAbility) and working for myself (Intelliem), I decided that it was time for me to step up to the plate and align with an organization that has the same passion, dedication, and reputation for quality that I’ve built for myself, with the shared goal of scaling our outreach to the SharePoint community.  Where I’ve been successful in reaching across the United States and into a few corners of the world, I am now joined by the largest ISV in the SharePoint space—a company that touches every corner of the globe.

What does this mean for me, and for those of you who follow me and my guidance?  It means more. More content, more events, more answers to questions, in more parts of the world. AvePoint has defined my job as one that will elevate the level of the entire SharePoint community. They’ve made it clear that my guidance shall continue to be independent.  I’ll continue to write this column and articles in SharePoint Pro magazine. I’ll continue to appear at Connections and other live and online events. My SharePoint Training Kit—due out this summer from Microsoft Press—and other books will continue to be published. I’ll continue to help people make the most of SharePoint and what it can do out of the box, and to point people to community and third-party solutions to fill SharePoint gaps.

I’m particularly excited not only to focus on the global SharePoint community, but also to create a direct channel between the community and an extraordinary development capability. Now, when I hear about a “pain point” with SharePoint, I can provide that input directly to an ISV who can fill those needs.  I’ve been blessed with a stellar client base over my consulting career, and I am thrilled that I can continue to work for NBC Olympics as the Microsoft Technologies Consultant for the broadcast of the London games. But now I will be exposed to the challenges that are being faced by over 8,000 companies—most of the biggest companies on the planet—that rely on DocAve. That exposure will provide ample challenge for me—and what I learn from those engagements will power this column and my other content for years to come.

While I step up to the global community in my new role at AvePoint, the community sadly bids “farewell” to the prolific, über-travelled, all-around-great-guy, Joel Oleson, who announced that he will leave his position at Quest this month in order to take on an exciting SharePoint job opportunity that will enable him to spend more time with his fantastic family. Joel will certainly remain visible, but his massive contribution to the community has left a major mark, and will be missed.  What we lose is certainly his family’s gain, and we applaud you, Joel, for who you are and the choice you’ve made.  Best wishes for this exciting change!

One of the things I believe our community needs, at this point in its lifecycle, are some “centers of gravity”… Places we can go, and people or companies we can turn to, for valuable guidance or solutions. Microsoft certainly provides centers of gravity with TechNet and MSDN, but there are obvious limits to Microsoft’s ability to answer questions of interoperability, third party solutions, etc.

In its first ten years, the SharePoint community has been exceptionally dynamic, and many individuals “rose to the top” of the community by being visible, by providing valuable guidance or solutions, and by being trustworthy and ethical.

Most of those individuals are experts in particular aspects of SharePoint. Nobody—and I mean nobody—can be an expert in every aspect of SharePoint and how to align it with business requirements. That will continue to be the case in the community’s second decade, and there will continue to be rock stars that we all turn to for advice. But as a product and community matures, another dynamic begins to take place. The community begins to coalesce around various “centers of gravity” (as I call them)—resources that tend to provide guidance and solutions across multiple scenarios.

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