Microsoft SharePoint has in recent years become such a popular a topic of conversation (and concern to some)  that  you cannot escape it:

  • Almost every software author with any significant solution provides a “response to SharePoint” to explain the way they interact with it, with varying degrees of integration
  • The SharePoint Summit 2009, which I’ll be attending next week in Montreal from Monday to Wednesday, is one of many such events where Microsoft, armed with an “eco-system” of such vendors who have build solutions on SharePoint, continues to pound the message that SharePoint is the wave of the future
  • Countless SharePoint blogs and SharePoint groups have popped up (there are 276 SharePoint groups on LinkedIn at the time of this writing!), showing the strength of a growing community

So far SharePoint remains mostly hype, with a low but growing implementation rate (there is still a lot of tire kicking going around and even more FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).  This is not surprising considering it is only a few years old and relatively immature.  However it speaks huge volumes about Microsoft’s brilliance at its product positioning and marketing.  In fairness to Microsoft (who tends to be overly criticised just as everyone willingly shells out the cash to buy their products), they do eventually get their products right, even if it takes a few versions and a lot of marketing dollars to prop them up.

I think the stigma comes in part because they have a strategy, in their own words, to provide the “plumbing” – meaning the low-level architecture. The Windows OS, the .NET platform and its plethora of development languages, SQL Server, Reporting Services, Analysis Services, IIS and SharePoint are all part of this plumbing. It is a lofty goal that requires plenty of time. By definition the products are far reaching and complex, requiring generations to stabilize, and then requiring massive technical resources to implement and maintain.

SharePoint is not quite as low-level as an operating system but the next level up, since it is a web-based portal with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink flexibility. However, by Microsoft design, SharePoint may be good at everything but it is not great at anything “out of the box” – it’s a blank slate with a lot of low-level (read: programmer) functions. The Microsoft plan is to create an opportunity for software integrators and solution providers like Intellera to add value – either by creating add-ons or by providing certified resources to assist in its deployment and integration to other point solutions that complement and extend SharePoint’s shortcomings (remember it provides the plumbing, not the industry expertise that VAR’s can bring to the table).

But for existing software authors in many spaces like BPM and ECM who have proven solutions that do not require SharePoint (99% of software solutions on the market in fact), there is a predictable tension that has been brewing over time.  SharePoint is the 600-pound gorilla in the room – everyone knows it’s there but nobody wants to bash Microsoft and compete directly (since these vendors are all tied to the giant in many ways and SharePoint is gaining huge market attention). They cannot truly establish if SharePoint is a boon or a bane; it’s a typical state of “competitive alliance” found in much of the IT industry today.

Because SharePoint is complex to implement and immature, with few exceptions the vendors’ own integrations are generally limited – they are busy building their best of breed software, after all. They have studied it, created marketing materials that talk to it, and then have gone to market saying they can play nice with SharePoint, enhance it, integrate to it, and then the authors usually leave it up to integrators like us to fit all the pieces together in a way that is relevant to specific industries.  

For fun check out this Linked In conversation

With all this in mind I am looking forward to this Summit and will provide a full report next week when I get back!

REFERENCE: Check out this discussion relating to SharePoint and ECM/BPM that started on LinkedIn a couple of days ago. The responses are typical in terms of what’s happening in this space today.