There was an interesting discussion going on over at SharePoint Overflow about the use of SharePoint as an intranet/extranet portal that I thought I'd talk about just a little bit more. The question that came up was more on the capabilities of SharePoint and how they relate to the functional requirements that the original poster mentioned, but there's a lot to be said in the fine lines of the post. In this particular scenario, the poster was looking for an answer as to if SharePoint was the solution they needed as a platform for their business (an unnamed fortune 500 company), but ultimately it spawns a whole new set of questions. How do we fully embrace SharePoint in the workplace, how do we communicate the effectiveness of the SharePoint platform, and how do we reap the benefits of the increased synergy and platform consolidation that SharePoint is a catalyst of.
At the end of the day, your business (large or small) needs a strategy on collaboration. Whether you're collaborating internally or externally, whether you're interacting with documents or reporting metrics, you need a platform that meets a few criteria no matter how big or small your business is.
- Scalability: Your business is going to grow (hopefully), and you need a platform that can scale not only from a user base and storage capacity perspective, but also from an application and usability perspective. What you do today won't be your process in 2, 3, or 4 years, and your collaborative platform should support growth and the reinvention of process without much of a headache.
- Supportability: Microsoft isn't going anywhere anytime soon, they've put a lot of resources into making SharePoint the platform of choice, and they really have done their homework in positioning SharePoint correctly. Add to that the endless user community and you've got a platform that not only has the technical capability, but also the user base and support network to accomplish anything. If you can't figure it out, chances are someone has blogged on it and 10 minutes on Google get's you the answer.
- Process Integration: Sure you can install SharePoint and just use it like a virtual LAN share, dragging files in folders for storage, but the true benefit of the platform comes when you integrate your business process into the platform. SharePoint becomes central to the daily operation of your business, and that centralization of information and focus within the business generates huge savings in wasted time and broken process, when done correctly. Smart integration with your process is a huge key to a successful deployment of a platform like SharePoint. It's something you need to plan for, and it's something that has to be executed well. Poor execution is going to do nothing other than frustrate your user base and leave a sour taste in their mouth for your shiny new platform.
- Efficiencies: Cost is everything in business today, and every day we're looking at ways to cut cost (or getting told to find ways to cut cost). You need a strategy for collaboration, and if you don't have one you need to start on one or continue to miss out on the efficiencies a true collaboration platform offers. Can we streamline communication, promote virtual teams, cut travel costs, and increase the availability and access to data? Can you do your CRM activity on the same platform as your customer metrics, while replacing that legacy news portal everyone is so addicted to? If so, you've just possibly saved yourself servers, software licenses, platforms, and the maintenance, personnel and other baggage that comes along with them. SharePoint is one of those platforms that can replace a vast array of legacy systems with a fluid and agile platform, and reinvent your IT strategy.
- Be Current: For lack of a better term, be current when you deploy. In the SharePoint Overflow post that inspired me to type out these thoughts, one of the big questions was if the poster should deploy SharePoint 2007 or wait a couple months for SharePoint 2010. In big business, with the structure surrounding changes and platform upgrades it can't be stressed enough to start as current as possible. If that means thinking out your architecture for an extra month so you can deploy SharePoint 2010, that's a far better plan. Amazingly, you may save the business a hefty chunk of change by consolidating platforms, but odds are they'll find other ways to spend that money later, and you won't have money to upgrade without justifying more benefits. Be current to start, and you'll stay current for longer.