Microsoft SharePoint taking business by storm

Microsoft SharePoint taking business by storm

The versatile Microsoft server may not be perfect, but it is attracting interest as tool to address anything from collaboration to process management

But Young says those limitations and others are speed bumps not show-stoppers.

"I'm not sure I've seen anything that has taken off this big, this quickly. SharePoint 2007 has just blown up," he says.

Late last year, an IDC survey of 300 users found 61 per cent were deploying SharePoint enterprise-wide, and that 28 per cent of those using SharePoint in departments now are expected to expand usage to the enterprise within the next 12 months.

Current users can attest to that transition saying they have persevered from SharePoint's early days to what is now a tactical platform.

In 2006, Brad Marshall, corporate IT director for Bowen Family Homes in the US, backed into SharePoint as part of a hosting deal centered on Microsoft Exchange. Marshall did not like what he had originally seen in Windows SharePoint Services, which offered team workspaces and file sharing for free as part of Windows Server 2003.

But having SharePoint Portal 2003 hosted eliminated some technological limitations and development chores and eventually resulted in a business process workflow application for selling homes that cut up to two days the time it took to do the same process using the old paper-based system.

"We have it down today where in a push we could get it done in less than an hour," Marshall says. The company has built eight to 10 applications on SharePoint, including vacation and performance-review programs.

But Marshall says customizing SharePoint is mandatory and he has used tools from CorasWorks to make that easier.

"If it was just regular, out-of-the-box SharePoint we might not be using it today to be honest," he says.

What's also becoming important are add-ons from partners.

"One of the things we find is people bought SharePoint and they have not figured out the power that is there," says Brian Kellner, vice president of product development for NewsGator. "We help make that more obvious and simple."

Others are building on features that users will need when they begin to harvest that power, such as Symantec with its archiving system, Enterprise Vault.

"In the last year IT has become more aware and more concerned in having a managed approach to SharePoint," says Dave Scott, group product manager for Symantec.

Microsoft for its part compares the popularity of SharePoint with an application that has helped define its success.

"We see tremendous momentum just like Office in the early days when people said this is a new way to work," says Tom Rizzo, director of SharePoint. Consulting firm Accenture has built a Facebook-like SharePoint application to find experts, Ford Motor uses SharePoint for its dealer portal, and the US Marines have deployed collaborative applications to aid their efforts in Iraq.

Rizzo says SharePoint has so many entry points for users that Microsoft calls it a business productivity server. He says the next version will show investments in social computing and new features he would not disclose.

"The beauty of SharePoint is that it hits a number of sweet spots," Rizzo says.

It also hits competitors between the eyes.

"I think the most interesting trend to watch for this year and next is how IBM/Lotus reacts to this SharePoint phenomenon," says Harry Wong, CEO and founder of Casahl Technology, which has been helping users migrate either to or from Microsoft and Lotus messaging platforms for years.

Wong says SharePoint is proving to be a powerful leading punch for Microsoft to sell IBM/Lotus users on migration to Exchange and Microsoft's entire slate of collaboration tools.

IBM/Lotus is countering with a similar product called Quickr, and just like Microsoft with Windows SharePoint Services, is giving users a free version to get started.

To be successful, Wong says Lotus has to sell customers on Quickr vs. SharePoint; on Lotus Notes 8 and its Outlook-like interface and integration with Lotus Sametime and Connections; and convince bigger Domino shops the J2EE version of Quickr will provide the scale that SharePoint lacks

"IBM/Lotus has the weapons to defend against Microsoft SharePoint if IBM/Lotus acts quickly and aggressively," he says.

As the battle emerges, it might begin to look like the messaging wars the two fought in the 1990s, but given the breadth of the technology the prize could be much bigger.

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