Software // Information Management
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10/28/2009
12:55 PM
Tony Byrne
Tony Byrne
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Business vs. Tech Perspectives on SharePoint 2010

It's tough to get your mind completely around SharePoint 2010 -- an even bigger and more all-encompassing platform than 2007... I can't overstate the enthusiasm for SP2010 at last week's SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas. But here's a question for you the enterprise customer: is all this enthusiasm always in your best interest?

It's tough to get your mind completely around SharePoint 2010 -- an even bigger and more all-encompassing platform than 2007. Over the coming months, CMS Watch will offer plenty of advice on how to develop effective strategies. In the meantime, I can't overstate the enthusiasm for the new platform at last week's SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas.

But here's a question for you the enterprise customer: is all this enthusiasm always in your best interest? Are we just seeing a repeat of all the early hype around MOSS 2007? Let's dig a bit deeper.First, the vast majority of show attendees were technical people, and by and large they were impressed by the depth of demonstrations offered by Microsoft. In many ways, SP2010 is an upgrade in the best sense of the word for them, inasmuch as a big part of the investments Redmond has made revolve around fixes to nagging (and sometimes very serious) problems in SP2007. Both in the session rooms and the twitter back-channel, you could witness sharegasms aplenty.

What's somewhat less clear at this point is SP2010's value to the business side of your enterprise. Perhaps this show wasn't the venue to suss that all out, since even the non-technical minority among the audience tended to comprise SharePoint administrators or site owners, rather than end users. Certain issues like SP2010's more complex interfaces will keep coming up, I think.

The other thing to know about the conference audience is that the majority of them are consultants. No other vendor can match Microsoft's "channel" of third-party consultants, integrators, and other service providers. And the channel adores Microsoft. In fact, it's almost a familial relationship. Channel partners get suitably upset when things go wrong, but they also forgive many sins. Perhaps more importantly, SharePoint gives them an endless bounty of client work -- even more so in 2010, I'm sure. And unlike nearly all other major vendors with big consulting arms of their own, Microsoft doesn't cannibalize channel revenues. At least two integrators exhibiting at the SharePoint conference were formerly active Documentum partners. "EMC stole a $500,000 services deal out from under us," complained one of them, "so we said 'f--- you,' turned to Microsoft, and have been very happy." Maybe that story's exaggerated, but other integrators can tell similar tales.

For you the customer, this otherwise heartwarming scene has important implications. Microsoft channel partners tend to be more beholden to one solution, SharePoint, than you'll see with other vendor's consulting partners. In other words, it's not uncommon to see an IBM or Oracle partner coming to the table with multiple different potential toolsets from competing vendors. And their (typically) more arms-length relationship with their vendor partners makes them -- in my experience -- a little more cynical and a little more flexible on the client's behalf. On the other hand, SharePoint partners tend to really push...SharePoint...including into places where it really doesn't belong. Of course it's a big industry, and these are stereotypes, and every firm is different, and some big integrators push products based on payola regardless. But as a customer you need to understand these dynamics if you're going to make a big purchase that involves lots of services work as well.

As for SharePoint software partners (so-called "ISVs"), that's a different story. They have a more complex relationship with Redmond that we plumb more deeply in our research.

As the show floor emptied, cooler heads were asking how much we risk repeating the experience of SharePoint 2007, where many developers and channel partners quickly got in over their heads, and projects saw ballooning budgets and timelines... until -- after about two years -- more best practices and an emphasis on simplicity emerged. I suspect SP2010 will be better tested, and more clearly explained, with smoother upgrade paths, than 2007. Microsoft is certainly putting more resources into it. Time may prove me wrong, and you may end up suffering, but I certainly hope not.

Just know that you're likely to receive a lot of pressure from your developers and consultants to upgrade quickly -- and that pressure will build as we get closer to the Q2 2010 release. I recommend that you take a step back and:

  • Make sure you have a solid business case and rationale, because upgrading enterprise software is never easy
  • Understand clearly any dependencies on the latest versions of Windows Server, SQL Server, and Office to get full promised value (let alone gaining expertise in things like Silverlight); we know already that some of these dependencies are not trivial
  • Test, test, test, before you commit

In any event, we'll keep watching... and advising.It's tough to get your mind completely around SharePoint 2010 -- an even bigger and more all-encompassing platform than 2007... I can't overstate the enthusiasm for SP2010 at last week's SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas. But here's a question for you the enterprise customer: is all this enthusiasm always in your best interest?

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