Would I Still Choose SharePoint

imageLast Tuesday, I felt a little like I was in enemy territory. Despite having attended Big East (for now) rivals WVU and Pitt, I spent the afternoon on the University of Connecticut campus. Fortunately, this wasn’t a sporting event, this was Content Management. A friend had invited me to share some of our experience with a group of people who are working to implement ECM and WCM solutions, and SharePoint is one of the options they have to choose from. It was a diverse group, and some of the people had also expressed interest in Open Source solutions, so I invited Jane Zupan (right) from Nuxeo to join me. In my presentation I touched on a collection of things I wish someone had explained to me before I started our SharePoint-ECM journey in 2005. Jane talked about Open Source in general with an emphasis on ECM and WCM, and a bit about Nuxeo.

Despite the fact that neither presentation had been a sales pitch, when we finished, the woman who arranged the meeting asked me if I would consider Open Source if I were making my decisions today. That was a fair question, and my answer is “yes – when you’re spending someone else’s money, you should always consider what might be a viable lower cost option.” If that wasn’t my answer, I might be looking for a new job. Considering a lower cost solution doesn’t just mean looking at price though, we selected SharePoint because the combination of features and cost appeared to represent a good value for our company. If I were making the decision today though, I would consider the following:

There’s cost and then there’s cost – We eased our way into SharePoint via WSS (2003) and gradually moved up the food chain through SharePoint Portal Server 2007 and on to SP2010. During that journey, my budget was stretched to accommodate many things that I hadn’t considered at the outset, like the extra licenses to “properly” deploy SharePoint. On top of licenses, there are CALs and on top of those, we have Enterprise CALs. We discovered that some vendors selling add-on software, license their product by user, some by web front-end, some by farm and some with variations on top of those variations. We have a wide variety of products both for administration and to improve SharePoint’s user experience and those license fees add up. In fairness, there are analogous real costs to open source software as well. I am not saying that SharePoint is too expensive, but it is taking us longer to afford the SharePoint environment that we want, than I thought it would.

IT Support – When we started working with SharePoint, we imagined a world with greater participation by our end-users. Web-based, easy to configure, intuitive process based on a series of similar offerings (once you realize that everything is really a list) led me to believe anyone could master SharePoint. Well, that may be true, but it hasn’t been our experience. One of the most popular blog entries I ever wrote was “Remember, They Have a Day Job” and over a year later, it still describes my world. SharePoint needs and should have IT support. For example, our best SharePoint users are our attorneys, they went to law school, they understand res ipsa loquitur – they don’t want to learn JavaScript. Clearly, any open source solution would have this same requirement. Also, I don’t think that this is a negative consideration for either solution. I think it’s time IT organizations realized that unstructured data is a company asset worthy of their time and budget. IT has (or should have) the skill set to make ECM an awesome experience, and I think that making it awesome should be one of their goals.

Extensibility – While it’s fair to say that I wanted SharePoint to be less expensive and easier to support than it turned out to be, it’s also fair to say that I have been surprised by the scope of requirements SharePoint can satisfy. Our SharePoint implementation expanded, in the number of servers, products, person-hours and hard dollars beyond our plan, but there has been a commensurate expansion of value provided to our organization.

If I were selecting an ECM solution for our company today, I would absolutely take a hard look at Nuxeo. I learned during Jane’s presentation that it’s a well-designed, modern and capable ECM solution. I am sure that Nuxeo would appeal to the systems developer in me, but SharePoint would still probably be able to leverage greater value for us. We are a small, Microsoft-centric shop, and SharePoint works well for us. I do like the fact that there are solutions like Nuxeo to choose from though – competition in the ECM marketplace is ultimately good for everyone.

One thought on “Would I Still Choose SharePoint

  1. Hi Dan- Thanks for posting about your experience. Yes, the decision of whether or not to use SharePoint for your enterprise content management requirements can be tricky. But I wouldn't necessarily assume that Nuxeo or some other open source platform would have been better or less resource-intensive. As Matt Ranlett pointed out in his recent post for CMS Wire (see here), every type of enterprise software is going to demand some IT expertise to implement and maintain.It's easy enough to point to [Software X] and, based on the listed features and specifications, assume all you're needs are covered 'off-the-shelf'. But planning a new implementation- and getting internal users trained and accustomed to it- can be some of the most challenging work for IT professionals. And rarely does software come with this 'built-in'. It takes smart PEOPLE to plan and manage the migration and use of the software.Also- be aware there are SharePoint consultants and other experts to whom you can outsource your SP2010 problems. And because you chose SharePoint for your ECM, you have a plethora of 3rd parties to choose from. Selecting a less-popular or niche software platform might also mean a smaller pool of experts capable of assisting with or customizing your installation.

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