The first New Zealand SharePoint community conference, held earlier this month in Wellington, pointed to the popularity of the Microsoft platform with a large and participative audience in attendance.
SharePoint combines collaboration and document management, along with web content and process management in a wide range of capabilities, with considerable power for users to create their own applications. It is a popular platform, though some software developers point to SharePoint's limitations and its uneven integration with other Microsoft products.
A major Microsoft release of SharePoint and SharePoint-related enhancements to other applications, previously known as Wave 14, will be available starting next year with SharePoint 2010. With this long lead-in time, the conference was somewhat disappointing on the information disclosure front. More than one presenter admitted to knowing more about the new offerings than they could reveal.
Part of SharePoint's popularity lies in its power and ease of use the speakers made clear. Yet, this constitutes a danger of possible overreach and scope creep, which should be carefully controlled.
Keynote speaker Joel Oleson is a senior architect at Quest Software, but was involved in the beginnings of SharePoint at Microsoft and is a respected SharePoint blogger (www.sharepointjoel.com).
He compared a novice SharePoint user to a small child with a box of paints; without supervision, an excess of enthusiasm will result in a mess. Users accustomed to installing a productivity suite such as Microsoft Office with a few clicks, might think they can do the same out-of-the-box exercise on SharePoint and gain access to all its capabilities, he says. Some ICT departments might be misguided enough to let them.
The lesson from this analogy is to do what a parent would do with the child, Oleson says; give users a restricted "palate" of capabilities and retain close contact with them while they do their first few projects.
More experienced users have to be gently discouraged from producing inappropriate monsters of application suites, which combine SharePoint features unlikely to work together and unlikely to scale well, he says. Applications that serve radically different purposes and audiences, are better provided separately than attempting to combine them incongruously into one offering.
The key, he says, is to offer end-users a series of well-defined services, not merely a suite of software. "The way to define a service is with policies, it's about standards and consistency, so people using it understand what's going on and what can be provided," Oleson says. There should be clear communication about what's being provided under what service-level agreements.
The balance between ICT-department control and user empowerment, and between standardisation and flexibility, is a difficult one to strike, he says.
New Zealand SharePoint developers and administrators face particular challenges because of the small size of companies Oleson says. "That means you're the one SharePoint person", expected to be an expert on every aspect. Reliance on community input and building of virtual teams becomes very important, he says.