Lessons Learned from Enterprise SharePoint Adoption Trends

The key is to think of SharePoint as a platform not just a solution

Courtesy of Dan Holme

SharePoint Server 2010 is entering its third year of product life, after having been introduced to the public in beta form in October of 2009. The product’s adoption has been nothing short of astounding and many lessons have been learned by enterprises large and small, across geographies and industry verticals.

Among the most important trends in SharePoint adoption that I see as an analyst and consultant are the following:

SharePoint becomes the preferred platform for collaboration.
Microsoft positions SharePoint as the “business collaboration platform for the enterprise and the web.” What makes SharePoint a no-brainer for this scenario? The combination of features, usability in the browser, tight integration with Windows and Office client applications, and extensibility

SharePoint rapidly becomes a mission-critical content repository.
Partly because users move collaboration from ad hoc email-based collaboration to SharePoint, enterprises find that SharePoint becomes a store of business-critical information.

What may have started off as a simple SharePoint Foundation or WSS team site now must be supported with SLAs that reflect the fact that now the service hosts content that is tied directly to business objectives, or that is subject to compliance regulations.

• SharePoint also becomes the single point of access to content on dispersed and distributed systems.
As users centralize their collaboration on SharePoint, there is pressure to migrate content from other sources to SharePoint—further increasing SharePoint’s importance as a content repository.

There is also pressure to expose content from other content repositories—other content management systems, for example—within SharePoint, so that SharePoint serves as the single user experience.

More and more organizations are using SharePoint for collaboration even if they continue to legacy systems for long-term records management, for example.

There are even third-party tools that allow you to expose documents stored in shared folders on file servers as SharePoint document libraries, enabling an organization to enhance existing documents with SharePoint metadata, search, checkout, and versioning without having to migrate that content into SharePoint.

SharePoint becomes the platform for delivering enterprise-wide solutions.
SharePoint is a strong contender in the choice of technology to deliver enterprise-wide solutions such as content management, knowledge management, web content management, search, social networking, and project management, to name a few.

Even where SharePoint’s feature set is limited organizations can turn to rich third-party solutions that extend SharePoint.

But because such solutions build on an existing platform, rather than introduce a new platform, users, developers, and IT staff can ramp-up quickly. Adoption rates improve, and costs of training and support are reduced.

SharePoint becomes the platform for developing or exposing line-of-business applications.
SharePoint is, first and foremost, a platform. Its rich feature set is dwarfed by the capabilities of the APIs exposed to in-house and third-party developers.

Organizations regularly turn to SharePoint to provide the plumbing and infrastructure for custom line-of-business applications built with familiar Microsoft development tools and the .NET Framework.

Business Connectivity Services in SharePoint 2010 are so powerful—and such an improvement over earlier versions of SharePoint—that enterprises are looking to SharePoint as the middleware between users and structured data systems. The value of a unified infrastructure and common user experience is immeasurable.

The take-away from these trends? Whatever SharePoint is to you, today, it’s likely to be very different tomorrow.

I see very, very few organizations in which SharePoint usage has plateaued or has decreased.

Therefore, you must ensure that whatever infrastructure and governance you put in place for the solutions you are building on top of SharePoint today must scale to meet your needs tomorrow.

If you build your SharePoint farm to support only the small number of business scenarios that are current and relevant to your enterprise today, you are setting yourself up for long-term failure.  You must deploy a platform, not a solution.