A couple of years ago, I attended a discussion on using SharePoint/MOSS 2007 for Web Content Management and wrote a well visited post, SP for WCM, The Movie. Well, as you may have noticed, Microsoft released a new version this year and they are starting to market it heavily with SharePoint Solutions for Internet Sites.
Well, this week I participated in the SharePoint Symposium 2010 as part of KM World. Specifically I was part of the panel discussing the question of whether or not you can use SharePoint for WCM.
I’ll give a simple answer at the bottom, but I’m going to share the thoughts and opinions that were shared by others and myself.
Setting the Baseline…
My fellow panelists were Richard Harbridge and Shannon Ryan. We were the second pro/con discussion of the day, so we had a few helpful points made prior to our session (notes below). We each had about 8 minutes to make our point before a general discussion
Richard went first. He is a full-fledge Microsoft junkie. That said, he isn’t blind to the flaws of SharePoint. Richard was well prepared and summed his argument up by saying that if it is a large and complex website, and you are part of the Microsoft ecosystem, then go for it.
During his talk, Richard did say that using SharePoint 2007 for WCM was a no-go. That is an important point to remember. [Note: Since posting, Richard has posted his slides. They are good, but are much better when Richard presents them.]
Shannon spoke, focusing on the features you would be looking for in your website. With his slides destroyed by a bowl of food, he talked us through his points. Shannon’s focus was definitely on the website purpose before technology, though he did not neglect the technology angle. He dismissed the internationalization features of SharePoint, saying that they required too much work for something that was out-of-the-box with other products.
Shannon concluded that if you had a large website with a lot of “static” content, it might be a good fit. He also said that if you were a true-blood Microsoft shop, it might also be an option.
I was invited to present the Con argument, which wasn’t hard to make. I started with the definition of SharePoint taken from Microsoft’s own SharePoint home page. Take a gander:
Microsoft SharePoint 2010 makes it easier for people to work together. Using SharePoint 2010, your people can set up Web sites to share information with others, manage documents from start to finish, and publish reports to help everyone make better decisions.
– November 16, 2010
You’ll notice that the focus seems to be collaboration. My first point really was taking a look at what SharePoint was designed to accomplish. It does a fair job at collaboration and tends to be good enough for a large number of people.
The problem is that SharePoint wasn’t designed to be a WCM system. You can use it as such, but that doesn’t make it a WCM. I can hammer a nail into a board with a wrench, but it doesn’t make that wrench a hammer and doesn’t mean that it will work well for that purpose.
I then discussed the changes from 2007 to 2010. Starting from the basis that 2007 didn’t do WCM well, I focused on the improvements that had been made. Most of the core infrastructure issues that I discussed in my previous post still apply. What is easier is creating content. Great! I can create and modify content easier which will increase the headache of keeping the website up-to-date in a managed fashion.
Let’s not forget video. SharePoint can stream it, but if you want to do anything with that video aside from storing and streaming, start looking for another product.
My favorite argument is the Browser question. SharePoint now supports Firefox. Great, but be sure you use it on a Windows platform because it isn’t fully supported for SharePoint on other operating systems. If you want to access SharePoint from other platforms, now you can use Safari, but it doesn’t come with full functionality.
So I am going to have a public website that doesn’t support all of the browsers that my users might have? Where is the Chrome support? Where is support for the next cool browser that will likely be released before SP2013 is released? That doesn’t sound appealing.
I then went into the whole is it a WCM or a Website Management System (complete with WordPress reference)? When you get down to it, SP is more of a portal product. I can have a website running on a portal, but that doesn’t make it a Web CMS. There is nothing wrong with not being a Web CMS, but that was the key question in the debate.
I then warned against making a lot of customizations because they might have to be all re-done with the next SharePoint release. While on that topic, I mentioned that we were probably three years away from the next major release. How outdated will SharePoint look-and-feel at the end of that time?
The long release cycle is a common problem with large platform vendors. The web is releasing new things every few months. The multi-year release cycle just isn’t going to cut it in the world of Web Platforms.
My closing thought….Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should.
During and before the session, many great thoughts were shared. Most of these thoughts are from the SharePoint Pros and Cons session with Tony Byrne and Rob Koplowitz. The rest are here because I didn’t remember who said them and don’t want to get anyone in trouble.
- Most of those really large corporate websites running on SharePoint had Microsoft help build them. If you aren’t really large with lots of money and visibility, Microsoft isn’t going to be helping you.
- WCM should be driven by marketing. SharePoint is typically run by IT and is too technical to not have IT playing an essential role. (My random thought)
- SharePoint competes with different players in different markets, but there is no one solution that is a direct competitor to SharePoint.
- SharePoint’s best fit is file-oriented collaboration. Integration with Office on Windows makes it very useful. (Tony Byrne thought)
- Using SP just for workspaces is overkill, take advantage of other aspects in order gain full value of investment in time and money.
- SharePoint is marketed to Business as product, IT and channel partners as a platform.
- For every $1 for licenses, you will likely spend $6-9 in services (IT and business services), similar to portal ratios. (My experience shows that ECM tends to be a $2-3 ratio and specialized collaboration tends to be $1-2).
- SharePoint has a complex interface versus pure collaboration tools. Training is needed.
- When asked SharePoint was weak in: WCM, DAM, and Social Computing
- The 3 year update cycle limits innovation. On the flip side, do you want to have significant upgrades to core business systems every 6 months?
- Open Text has done the best co-existing with SP, all larger traditional vendors are doing okay, Oracle, IBM, EMC.
- “Cost, usability, and functionality” are reasons people aren’t using SP for external sites. (not credited on purpose, but it wasn’t me)
It was a fun session and a great event.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the conclusion wasn’t very positive. In a later session, Shawn Shell said very forceful and succinct manner, No (but in better terms).
So until 2013, use SharePoint for what it does best, collaboration and as a platform for .NET apps. Remember, it is a very useful tool and is “Good enough” for most people and problems. Just know its limits and let yourself be driven by the business problem, not by the presence of a Swiss Army Knife in your pocket.