Leaving SharePoint

imageNo, we’re not leaving SharePoint. We are reducing our SharePoint footprint though and I thought that I’d start a periodic mini-series on this subject. The mini-series appeals to me because I don’t think I can cram enough material into a single post and still squeeze under that self-imposed 800-word limit. Raise your hand if you want me to abandon that limit…yeah, I thought so.

So, what is it exactly that we are reducing about the way we use SharePoint? We are beginning a project that will gradually eliminate our Internet-facing SharePoint site. Why are we doing this? There are lots of reasons, but I’ll limit this post to three:

It’s Complicated – Not the answer, the answer is pretty simple, but having an Internet-facing SharePoint server is complicated. That SharePoint server runs under a separate domain, so we had to build a Trust between our in-house server and the outside server. Even though this allowed us to let our employees have access with their in-house domain credentials, they still have to log in. We could eliminate that step if we designated our in-house domain as the primary domain, but then our business partners, the people we built this server for, would have to include the domain in their user name. We tried that and the results were terrible.

While we can tell our employees to “suck it up and include the domain name and the forward slash, you know, the one over the Enter key, with your user name” we can’t really tell our customers to do that.

It’s not just complicated for people, it’s complicated for software. MetaVis, Harmon.ie, Muhimbi and HarePoint all had to make tweaks to their product to let us work across the two farms. I think it’s pretty cool that they all made those tweaks, but we quickly learned that it is one of the things we have to ask vendors about their products. I look forward to not caring about that capability in the future.

It’s Expensive – When we started out, the outside SharePoint server was a separate physical box. In addition, we had a separate server acting as the domain controller for that domain. These are both virtual servers now, but they still represent two Windows Server licenses, as well as a SharePoint license as well as, well I think none of us actually we all understand Microsoft licensing. Of course there’s more to buy than licenses, those servers have to be maintained, upgraded, backed-up and tended to during power outages.

It’s not just expensive from Microsoft; it’s expensive for some of that other software as well. Add-on software vendors seem to follow weird currents in the industry. Some drift toward the “pay enough money and you can use this anywhere” model and some like the À la carte approach. Unfortunately, when stuff is priced at the “enterprise” level, the companies who benefit are the companies with hundreds of servers. Having 2 servers and paying enterprise prices is a budget story that never ends well.

It’s not what people want – This is the most significant reason of all, our business partners do not want to use SharePoint as a way to get the information they want from us. It might be a sad commentary on the state of ECM. It might be a reflection on what we did or didn’t do with SharePoint. It might just be that SharePoint was overkill, but it’s not wanted. Most of our historic (we’ve been doing this since 2006) use of SharePoint can be filed under the category of “file sharing.” People go to our site to get documents that we have, or they use SharePoint as a conduit to move documents between themselves and our employees. SharePoint worked, but there are other products and / or services that work just as well, perhaps better. These alternatives are less complicated and they are less expensive and they work the way our customers want to work.

Next up in this series, I’ll talk a little bit more about what our customers want and about some of the solutions we considered and some of the reasons we did or didn’t like them. I started off by saying that this would be a periodic series, meaning that you shouldn’t expect to see that story next week. Every time I try to plan the story I want to share next week, something interesting happens and I end up pre-empting the scheduled subject.

Platform Jacking

I first heard the term Newsjacking used by David Meerman Scott. In fact he may have invented the term. That doesn’t surprise me. I have heard David speak several times, and he has been so far ahead of the curve that the future appeared to be a straight line.

I hope that’s enough homage to @dmscott for him to look the other way as I borrow his term and mangle it. I simply couldn’t think of a better way to describe what happens when a company moves in to exploit a hole in what should be another product’s / company’s domain. Think about the way Google stepped into fill the void Apple left when they decided to stop using Google Maps (in favor of their not nearly as accurate maps). Now, instead of Google being passed by, this may have evolved into a normal competition, but that’s a subject for someone else’s blog.

Microsoft, in my opinion has been jacked on at least two (maybe 3) occasions. OK, here’s the difference between me and David Meerman Scott and my blog and a blog written by an analyst – ‘my opinion’ is based on my experience and that’s all. Here are my three candidates:

MaaS360 – Back in the days when we were eagerly awaiting the first beta of SharePoint 2010, I was listening to a presentation by a Microsoft employee who suggested that one of the features of SP2010 would be a way to tunnel into SharePoint without VPN – Something Microsoft does with both Exchange and Lync via an edge Server. Those two features were a tremendous boon to our operation, and left most of our employees not even needing VPN connections on their laptops. If we had that ability for SharePoint, I could forget how to spell VPN, but we don’t. Once again, if we actually do, please explain it to me in a comment and I’ll buy you a beer if we ever meet in person.

Anyway, what I don’t think Microsoft does for my laptop, they clearly don’t do for my iPhone or my iPad – but MaaS360 does. If you’re not familiar with MaaS360, it’s a mobile device management app which allows companies to control mobile access at a very granular level. In addition, there is the MaaS360 Browser that talks to its counterpart server and provides seamless access to SharePoint from my iPhone. We are now planning to build out a collection of nice mobile pages so our employees will have access to SharePoint from their iPhone/iPads without VPN.

Harmon.ie – By far the best example of filling a void is Harmon.ie, the product that fills the chasm between Exchange and SharePoint so brilliantly that I no longer want Microsoft to build the feature into either server. Harmon.ie’s product is so cool, and so robust that I needed a term like Platform Jacking to describe it – some of our employees literally work out of Outlook and the Harmon.ie sidebar as if SharePoint doesn’t even exist. SharePoint, in these cases has simply become the invisible conduit to the even more invisible SQL Server.

I’ve written about Harmon.ie before, but a reader recently asked me to review Harmon.ie’s iPad app. OK, so we have to go back to that whole “not an analyst” thing. Giving a review sort of implies that I know something about Harmon.ie’s competitors – I don’t. Someone on my staff used to, but then we purchased Harmon.ie and we stopped caring about alternatives. Here are a couple of reasons why we still don’t care:

Harmon.ie works – You might be surprised to hear “it works” used as a differentiating statement for products, but it can be. Some products don’t work, or they don’t work as advertised. Harmon.ie works, and if you every find and area where it doesn’t, they will fix it fast.

Harmon.ie fills many holes – Harmon.ie started by filling the hole between Exchange and SharePoint and Lotus Notes and SharePoint. Then, they released Harmon.ie for the iPad and I had a way to connect my Exchange email with SharePoint on my iPad that looked and felt very similar to the way I connect these two essential products on my desktop. Now, I see that Harmon.ie has been released for the OWA client for Office 365. These guys are always one step ahead of demand.

WebEx – I recently received a new laptop at work. Somewhere during the lifespan of my old laptop, we switched to WebEx for hosting public meetings. Check out the picture at the top – That’s from my desktop, and WebEx has attached itself to my Lync client as if to remind me that Lync doesn’t work so well for public meetings. WebEx is jacking Lync right on Microsoft’s front lawn.

Make SharePoint Simple

imageToward the end of 2012, I read several messages on Twitter, a few blog entries and even a couple of supportive eNews articles that were talking about how the year had been a turning point for Microsoft. Some were factual, some analytical and at least one proclaimed Microsoft to now be “cool” again. My contribution was to ask the question: “will 2013 be the beginning of the end for SharePoint?” Why so glum? Well, you would have to read that article, but I have a suggestion that would help prevent my question from being answered in the affirmative – make SharePoint simple!

During the course of 2012, I had to work with six different groups outside of the company that I work for. Four of these groups were comprised of business people collaborating, two for short-duration projects and two for the long haul. The others were the two groups of students I mentored at a state university during their senior MIS class. Despite my offering to create a SharePoint for some of those groups, all six chose Box or DropBox for collaboration and for long-term document storage. Not everyone offered a reason, but those who did said that “SharePoint is too complicated.”

Last week, I had an experience with SharePoint that caused me to feel the same way. I was updating our Annual Report, a process that I have managed (and blogged about) on SharePoint for years. This year, it went off the rails. I would select the menu option to “Edit in Microsoft Word,” make my changes and then be slowly driven to frustration when I was unable to check the document back in. If I opted to use my local drafts folder, I was told that “the document is checked out on a different computer.” If I chose not to use the local drafts folder, I was told that the document was checked out to Dan – as if I were someone else. The site where I wasn’t able to work is on our Internet-facing SharePoint server, where it has been for 6 years, and with which our internal domain is trusted. I was able to upload new documents, new versions of existing documents and I was able to check-out, open, edit, save and check-back-in a PDF file, using Acrobat Professional. I could email these documents to myself, and use Harmon.ie to save and check the documents into the server from Outlook. I could even open a document on my iPad with Harmon.ie’s app, edit it in Office HD2, replace it and check it back in – the only way I could not edit and replace the Word document was from within Microsoft Word!

The cause(s) of the problem remain elusive; the work-around was to check the document back in from Word’s File menu, without clicking Save first. I searched the Web on a variety of terms, including “Word cannot save document to SharePoint” (which returned over 2,000,000 results), but I failed to find a definitive solution. Suggestions included the usual suspects, like permissions, which I knew was not the problem and services that either were or weren’t running on either my laptop or the server. I tried all of the suggestions that looked viable, but none solved the problem. The leading contenders for reasonable explanation were a series of responses that point out the difference between “check-out” and “lock”, and attempt to explain the way that Office interacts with SharePoint. The most bizarre was one which alleges that check-in can be affected by where your cursor is within a Word document – I’m serious, you can read that here. It’s ironic that SharePoint would probably be off the hook if it wasn’t for the guilt-by-association with Office.

This experience didn’t make me feel like one of the cool kids. I felt like the geek who can comprehend the nuances of a strange work-around, even though it makes no sense. I’ll take a minute to remind you that this is a process that worked before. I am not sure whether it was the introduction of Windows 7, IE-9 or the various Microsoft upgrades that have been applied client-side and on the server since I last worked off this site. Perhaps, as one blog suggested, the culprit is one or more corrupt cookies on my laptop. I don’t care; like the other people trying to use SharePoint, I just know that it used to work, but it doesn’t work today. When basic things stop working and when making them work again takes numerous steps, configuration changes or different versions of software, we lose the battle for simplicity, and by the way, simplicity is what people really want.