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Can Microsoft Keep SharePoint Rolling?

Its all-in-one approach to collaboration is winning over companies. But that can cause its own problems.

Microsoft has a juggernaut on its hands and its name is SharePoint. Microsoft has sold more than 100 million seat licenses since 2001 and is on track to generate $1 billion in SharePoint-related revenue this year.

Ask CIOs about their collaboration strategy, and a good number will start rattling off SharePoint projects. The software's Swiss Army knife approach helps companies create more useful intranets, set up document sharing, offer blogs and wikis, and build a richer online company directory. This boundary-blurring nature is part of its appeal, and can even help in budgeting: IT teams that might not get the nod for document management software have been known to slip SharePoint into the Microsoft Office budget.

But SharePoint's feature sprawl can be part of the problem. By taking what comes bundled in SharePoint, companies can end up compromising on critical functions compared with best-of-breed tools. And SharePoint deployments easily can go wrong if IT teams just turn on additional modules without considering the business case, requirements, and training needed to make them part of a business process. SharePoint's all-in-one appeal may lessen as content management standards become more prevalent, making best-of-breed approaches more viable. Still, it's undeniable that SharePoint's on a roll because of intense demand to better manage and share an expanding glut of diverse content.

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General Mills, a longtime SharePoint user, is replacing all its file sharing systems with SharePoint and has begun using it for blogs and wikis, and to automate some workflows. The maker of Cheerios, Häagen-Dazs, and 100 other food brands counts 20,000 active SharePoint users, with more than 1,500 people contributing content on a regular basis. "There are people now--and these are businesspeople--whose job is to work in SharePoint," says Elliot Gerard, General Mills manager of .Net and SharePoint Centers of Excellence.

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The company uses SharePoint to manage content for its internal marketing portal, the Brand Champion portal. The entire sales organization hosts all its documents in SharePoint, with new documents posted there automatically distributed to financial directors. While IT manages master page layouts, business units can build one-off sites without IT's help. "This is why SharePoint has taken off like wildfire here," Gerard says.

Financial services company Piper Jaffray started using SharePoint recently as global growth meant it needed a more flexible intranet. Its new intranet, based on SharePoint 2007, lets it distribute targeted content to employees as they log in. Since, for example, benefits notifications in different regions might occur at different times, pushing that information out to every employee on a portal could be confusing, says Kathy Swanson, the company's VP of Internet marketing. Next up: blogs and collaboration workspaces in SharePoint. For example, Piper Jaffray would like a PowerPoint library, where employees know they're grabbing slides with the most up-to-date company information.

Media and advertising company Universal McCann uses SharePoint 2007 for client-facing collaborative Web sites, plus an intranet that delivers industry news, feeds of activity on other SharePoint sites around the company, and new entries on internal blogs. It has added some social networking features to the company directory (more on that later).

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