Microsoft's SharePoint platform has grown "really large, really fast" and there are significant "challenges" that the company needs to focus on, says Joel Oleson, a former Microsoft employee who specialised in the product.
Oleson worked for Microsoft developing SharePoint for 10 years, but three years ago he moved to consultancy Quest. He was in New Zealand recently to address the third annual SharePoint conference held in Wellington.
"SharePoint is not an easy product to deploy. Microsoft portrays it as such," Oleson claims.
In its early days he says it was a comparatively straightforward tool for document sharing, collaboration and portal creation.
"Now we see full-on applications being built on it; incredible websites have been designed with its publishing features; it supports business intelligence front ends to sales and finance. It has become business critical, even mission-critical. It has come a long way."
With Microsoft pushing SharePoint into the cloud he says, "it has become many things to many people".
"As a set of cloud services it takes the customer out of needing to manage it; that is one of Microsoft's great propositions. They provide the services; you can concentrate on your business."
"Microsoft is putting major investment into the marketing side of this already; they are spending billions of dollars on datacentres and infrastructure to make it so."
However, there is still "work to be done on making the customer ready" for the cloud, he says.
"Those using SharePoint as an application will have an easier time getting there; those using it as a development platform won't find it addresses all their needs. On-premise [use] will continue to be important," he claims
Does the product-set simply have too much power for the typical user?
"Not if you compare it, say, to IBM systems; where when you buy the product you have to buy services," he suggests; "it is not that extreme.
"With SharePoint it is more that you have to [exercise] caution - you need to have a vision for what you are trying to accomplish. Customers trying to run everything though a wizard are going to have problems.
"The way Quest approaches this is with a set of management tools to ease the job; firstly in security; that's one of the first things that can get out of control," he says.
This demonstrates the gap in Microsoft's handling of the product, he suggests. While SharePoint is very capable, in many areas "Microsoft has failed to complete the last mile" and has grown to rely on an "ecosystem" of companies like Quest to fill that deficiency he claims.
When he was with Microsoft, the emphasis was on selling SharePoint into "top-tier markets," Oleson claims.
With his consultancy Quest, the emphasis is much more "community-based". The international community holds regular semi-formal information exchange sessions around the world, known as SharePoint Saturdays.
The community emphasis is usually associated with open-source rather than proprietary products, but SharePoint lends itself to such a mode of support, Oleson says.
People have come away from their first SharePoint Saturday "saying 'if I'd known that [technical hint just discussed], I could have saved months of work'."
The growth of social media has strengthened awareness of user communities, he says. SharePoint itself now has a Twitter-like "status" feature, where team members can keep one another up to date with what tasks are under way and who is meeting with whom.
"The feedback loop is a lot quicker now. We can filter out the noise and [decide] these are the problems; these are common solutions; these are best practices."
Agreement on best practice was difficult to arrive at "before we became so connected"; users could only rely on the possibly conflicting views of their local experts, he says.
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