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.

The Market Rocks

clip_image002Last week, I wrote about how we are going to shut down the now-dysfunctional shared folder structure we have had in operation since 1988. Of course, telling you via this blog was actually the easy part; telling the people using those shared folders, well that’s a different story. As soon as I declared the date (June 30) for the lockdown, my team started working on a strategy to ease the pain, and make the transition easier. My Systems Administrator seems to have hit a home run, finding another product from the folks at SharePointBoost. I wrote about these guys back in 2009, right after we installed their Batch Check-in product. Since then, we’ve added their List Transfer product and now we are taking a hard look at Classifier.

Here’s what I like about the product – In addition to forcing encouraging people to move existing content into SharePoint, we are also suggesting requiring that the libraries they establish contain a minimal set of required metadata. We’re not trying to replicate the K: Drive, we’re trying to improve upon it. That means that for the valuable content that we need to preserve, the upload into SharePoint process becomes a challenging exercise. That’s why Classifier is so cool.

Since a person who understands the content can quickly identify documents that share common characteristics, they can select those documents, batch them and very quickly establish the common metadata. SharePointBoost has a wonderful selection of tutorials on their website, but here’s a quick illustration of what I just described.

clip_image004

I’ve selected five documents from a folder containing documents related to the AIIM New England Chapter. To make life easier, I selected all the minutes that were in the folder.

At this point, I can just check these all in, using the Batch Check-in features. If all the metadata is the same, I can chose to “bulk edit” the properties. In my case, most of the metadata is the same but there’s a description field that is unique, so I’m going to edit the files one-by-one.

clip_image006
clip_image009

As I edit the properties of the first document, I can instruct Classifier to keep the choices I make on that file and carry them forward to the rest. This means that all I have to do is edit the unique property of each document.

clip_image011

After I move through all five documents, voila!

Here’s what I like about this company – SharePoint add-on products can be expensive, but SharePointBoost does a great job of containing that cost. I particularly like the way they work with SMBs. Since we don’t have a ton of users, we can save money by buying a limited license as opposed to a Farm license (since we will never hit the limit). In addition, they reward previous customers instead of punishing them. One of the features of Classifier is the ability to check in all the documents that you are working with. We already own their Batch Check-in product, so they offered to discount the license fee for Classifier to reflect that prior ownership. I’m not naming names, but I know other companies that seem to ferret out every possible way that can force you to buy another license. Microsoft wants to charge me based on what I am doing, where I am doing it and what device I am using. Some scientists say we will never be able to invent the Heisenberg Compensator used in Star Trek to enable the Transporter to work around the laws of physics. I say that that technology will be an offshoot of software licensing.

IT likes market-driven solutions – One of the things that often happens after I write about buying an add-on product is that someone will point out way(s) that we could duplicate some or all of these features using out-of-the-box features, sometimes augmented by some code. We think about those solutions, but I like buying add-ons. No, I don’t like spending money, particularly when I think Microsoft should have included the feature in the base product, but I do like saving money. Designing, building, testing and maintain SharePoint solutions takes time, and we pay our employees for the time they spend doing those tasks. It doesn’t take very many hours before a fairly-priced product is cheaper to buy than it would be to build.

The combination in this case is win-win2. I win, because I’ve saved money and I am easing the pain of moving forward. Our employees win because they can save time completing the arduous task I’ve dumped on them. I win again because this lets me move the classification task completely into the user space. Finally, our employees win again because they will have well organized content. I think we need to buy this product.