Is SharePoint a platform for social business?

There is still a lot of buzz and discussion about SharePoint 2013, although of course many companies are still dealing with rolling out and ensuring the adoption of SharePoint 2010. Right now, Share 2012, a SharePoint conference for business users is taking place in Melbourne – this demonstrates the level of interest in it beyond the IT department. It also highlights the challenge of getting SharePoint right, with one keynote presentation titled, ‘SharePoint in the Real World – Why is it So Hard?’.

The fact that the words “SharePoint” and “governance” often go hand in hand shouldn’t be a surprise – SharePoint is a complex product.

This makes it more concerning that I’m often asked if SharePoint is a good platform for enterprise social. However, this really is the wrong question to ask about SharePoint.

Firstly, its important to recognise that Microsoft’s long term strategy is shifting in response to drivers such cloud computing (see Windows Azure), the consumerisation of IT and new technologies that are changing both our relationship to computing and the workplace. That’s a whole lot of change, which Microsoft is aware of.

The first question is how well does Microsoft’s strategy for its stack of products align with the strategy of your organisation? Or perhaps how much do you want to buy into that roadmap? This is important, because it is not just about SharePoint anymore, but understanding where Office, Exchange, DynamicsYammer, Lync and even Skype fit. And will you migrate fully to the cloud, build a hybrid infrastructure (some on premises and some in the cloud) or a more traditional in-house model.

And of course, don’t forget the competition from companies that include companies like Google, Salesforce and IBM.

The IT world is in fact a lot more complicated, as options increase and a Web 2.0 orientation drives better integration between systems and products.

Many of these decisions should be left to the IT architectures, CIOs, CFOs and legal counsel – they need to make sure these technologies work, meet legal requirements and are cost effective. However, equally important are the line of business stakeholders. What do they want?

  • Software that just works.
  • Software that offers a great user experience.
  • Software that is available when and where they need it.

To bridge the gap between the complexity of IT requirements and hard to articulate business wants, a design led approach to SharePoint is needed. Don’t ask if SharePoint is social enough, ask what do people want and inform that design process with knowledge of what IT architecture can support a social business.

If based on that design process you ultimately decided to invest in Microsoft’s stack of products, then be prepared to make the right choices about architecture, customisation and organisational change to make that work. Picking SharePoint is just the start, not a solution for becoming a social business that runs on Microsoft.