Over the past few months I’ve struggled to get my arms around Microsoft Office SharePoint, Microsoft’s “über” platform for asynchronous collaboration.
Is SharePoint a Web 2.0 platform? Is SharePoint a content management system? Is SharePoint a workflow manager? Is SharePoint a social computing platform? Or is SharePoint a portal to other applications?
Well…the answer to all of these questions is a conditional “yes.” SharePoint does have the capabilities to function in all these roles. SharePoint supports Web 2.0 capabilities such as blogs and wikis, as well as user customizable data to enable searches based on meta tags. SharePoint’s content management capabilities enable users to manage documents and other files, assigning permissions, controlling modification, and establishing a trail of changes. SharePoint’s workflow capabilities allow users to assign tasks to document or workspaces, enabling SharePoint to become a project management tool. SharePoint supports extensive capabilities for users to customize their information and share it with others, essentially allowing users to create their own private LinkedIn-style information systems. And finally, SharePoint provides either its own portal system, or the ability to integrate with other portals such as SAP.
When one reads through the list of SharePoint capabilities they might be taken aback by the sheer number of things that SharePoint can do well. Common sense dictates that by trying to be all things to all people, it’s very difficult to be best of breed in all areas. Microsoft recognizes this and has established a number of partnerships to integrate best of breed functions with SharePoint.
For example, Microsoft recently announced strategic partnerships with companies such as Atlassian to support integration of Atlassian’s “Confluence” wiki with SharePoint for those users who need a more robust wiki solution than SharePoint provides. Socialtext’s SocialPoint provides similar capabilities. For advanced RSS capabilities Microsoft partners with Newsgator to bring Newsgator SocialSites to SharePoint users, enabling easy integration of RSS feeds into SharePoint services.
As enterprises create their SharePoint strategy it makes sense to look beyond the core capabilities of SharePoint when those capabilities don’t meet your needs. Microsoft’s ecosystem for bringing best-of-breed services into the SharePoint ecosystem continues to grow, meaning that rather than viewing SharePoint as the be-all-end-all of enterprise collaboration, it is instead wiser to view SharePoint as the platform that can support both internal capabilities as well as leverage external best-of-breed products to fully meet enterprise requirements.
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