Microsoft SharePoint popularity comes with issues

Analysts say software has holes, issues that need evaluation before rollouts

Microsoft's SharePoint Server 2007 may be taking off in the enterprise, but the software doesn't come without holes, warts and a variety of other issues that need to be addressed in any corporate deployment.

Users will find weaknesses in all six areas that SharePoint focuses on -- collaboration, portal, search, enterprise content management, business process management and business intelligence -- along with custom coding needs, dependencies on other Microsoft products, a weak selection of social networking tools, a lack of offline support, challenges integrating identity management/provisioning, lack of centralize management tools for global operations and trouble finding qualified SharePoint developers and support staff.

"Recognize that a really good SharePoint installation is as much organization as it is technology," said Burton Group vice president and research director Guy Creese, who participated in a four hour mini-conference last week. "Be clear what you are expecting from SharePoint -- it might be exactly what you need. But in some cases, SharePoint as shipped can leave huge holes."

The SharePoint evaluation was presented during the annual Burton Group Catalyst conference.

Craig Roth, Burton's vice president and services director for its collaboration and content division, added, "treating SharePoint as an enterprise solution is fundamentally different than treating it as a product, productivity tool or tactical solution."

Creese said it's all constructive criticism and users shouldn't feel compelled to abandon SharePoint, but they should be aware that custom work and additional software may be needed to bend SharePoint for specific needs.

"We have been finding that a highly tuned SharePoint installation needs custom coding and third-party add-ons," he said.

Burton Group analysts said corporate management needs around content and records, and easy-to-use user tools, helped create a perfect storm for the sudden rise of the 7-year-old SharePoint product line.

SharePoint is Microsoft's fastest growing enterprise software in its history and the company already counts 100 million licenses and more than a US$1 billion in revenue.

But the numbers clearly don't tell the entire enterprise story.

SharePoint's six core areas of functionality all clearly have cons to go with their pros. The issues range from search features that have not been proven to scale to poor Web 2.0 tools to content management shortcomings.

But the software also has some deployment, application development and resource issues that will need to be addressed during a corporate rollout.

With the software often included in enterprise licensing agreements, SharePoint has grown into corporate networks like a weed. It has created the same IT management and administrative challenges that always come when users lead deployment projects.

Microsoft also includes some 40 templates for task such as bug tracking or competitive analysis, but users who want to stray from those paths find themselves with custom coding projects, according to Creese.

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