Let’s be honest with each other, Microsoft’s SharePoint 2007 isn’t the best kid in class with respect to being an Enterprise 2.0 or social media platform. Although the dedicated Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Social Computing website boasts the enterprise social computing features of SharePoint, it is a mere “what it should’ve been”, rather than what is being delivered. To be fair, we need to acknowledge that SharePoint 2007 hasn’t really been designed from the ground up to be the enterprise collaboration darling in the first place. I guess the development of SharePoint 2007 started somewhere in 2004, so Enterprise 2.0 wasn’t really on the agenda back then.
A new kid on the block
As Bob Dylan states “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and so does SharePoint. Microsoft is going to release this summer their next version of the much-anticipated new SharePoint platform, called 2010. That didn’t stop us from working with the beta already with clients and to be honest, I kind of like it, and here are my main reasons why:
- The Lego approach: SharePoint 2010 is an incredible fun box with Lego bricks, providing you with almost everything you need to get your Enterprise 2.0 platform going. It has native support for ratings, it has Facebook-wall-style webparts, it treats tags as first-class citizens (on same level as people) and many more of these goodies. And yes, they promised that in 2007 as well, but here it actually works well.
- It has grown up: one thing that Microsoft lacked so far was to have a big pluggable enterprise-grade integration platform that could compete with the IBM WebSphere, SAP Netweaver and Oracle Fusion Middleware from this world. Looking at the integration capabilities SharePoint 2010 (and the rest of the 2010 stack) offers, it seems that Microsoft is betting hard on SharePoint being whispered in the same sentence as WebSphere or Netweaver.
- Microsoft “got” it: continue reading the blog post till the end and I will come back to this point.
From Portal to Business Collaboration Platform
Nowadays, the big hip thing to revive your career or business is to slam the social tag on your business card and off you go. A couple of years ago, the juicy word on your business card was “portal”. Everyone wanted to have portals, everyone wanted to work on portals, heck I even suspect there were people that wanted to become a portal. Basically, if you were an IT manager and not thinking about having a portal in your company, then you were doing something wrong.
SharePoint 2007 was happily thriving in that era and many companies had the platform, just because they needed a portal. Why? I have no idea, and I bet many people can’t answer that question. Or show the ROI for that matter. How many multi-million portal projects have been in companies, just to discover afterwards that there was very little usage and adoption by the employees.
Since portals are not hip anymore, SharePoint 2010 is branded as the Business Collaboration Platform, which I’m quite happy for because it tells us a bit more what you can do with it: collaborating.
The Social Network becomes the intranet
So why do we need a portal, or a business collaboration platform, or an intranet, or whatever you want to call it? Three usage scenarios are often recurring: communication, knowledge management and self-service.
One of the things we believe in at Headshift (next to the excellent geek&poke cartoons of course) is that the traditional approach of portals or intranets is broken. Given the situation of large global companies, the traditional approach doesn’t scale very well, and people are lazy (or to call it politically correct: too busy).
People are too busy to spend time on carefully crafting knowledge artefacts, upload them in the right sub-sub-directory, tag them with the appropriate keywords and add descriptions to them.
Maintaining an intranet site with thousands of content pages for communication and self-service, all carefully divided in sub-sub categories doesn’t work out very well either. Content get outdated at a rapid speed and people don’t find the right information.
That is for instance why the indexing and search approach from Google triumphed over Yahoo!’s initial directory system, or why Google’s GMail approach is so successful with the tagging and searching instead of the folder-based approach of traditional email systems.
The thing we strongly believe in is that knowledge is produced as a (happy) side-effect of the daily work you are doing.
A collaboration platform! My kingdom for a collaboration platform!
And that is exactly why SharePoint 2010 is such a compelling platform. It integrates extremely well in the tools you use daily for your work: Outlook email client, Office Live Communication (unified communications), Exchange email server, Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc).
SharePoint 2010 acts as the interesting social glue that brings everything nicely together that you are used to work with, and steps it up a few notches. You can use the blog for communication, but the articles can be published from within Word. You can have discussions in the forum, but you can do that from inside your Outlook.
Microsoft really nailed it this time
I promised earlier that I was going to come back to my third reason why I like SharePoint 2010: “Microsoft got it”. I still stand with that statement, but the (unfortunate?) side-effect of Microsoft getting this Enterprise 2.0 platform right, is that it’s actually an unfinished product.
When you take SharePoint 2010 and just drop it in your enterprise, chances are likely that it will enjoy the same low adoption rates as your previous Enterprise 2.0 platforms. Why? Microsoft realized that there is no such thing as one platform that rules them all.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your company is thinking that you can put one platform in place that will automagically work for everyone. Different projects and business units have different needs. One has an emphasis on communication, the other one on document collaboration, the other one on expertise finding, etc.
That’s why SharePoint 2010 is an unfinished product. It allows you to carefully look at what you need in your company and customise the product accordingly. A process that often does take a lot of time and effort. People are funny animals. They’re not easily put in pre-defined boxes and their behaviour changes over time. And so does your Enterprise 2.0 system.
Where’s the juicy stuff?
We’re currently doing some pretty interesting client work around SharePoint 2010, but I have the feeling that there are still some cool use cases that we haven’t thought about yet at Headshift. Especially in the area of fusing the internal Enterprise 2.0 with the external customer-facing Social Media. We see a blurring boundary between what’s inside and outside the firewall where content and people are pulled into both directions.