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Doug's Mailbag: SharePoint Leaving a Mark, More

Turns out that despite the recent dearth of e-mails about the product, SharePoint is, in fact, kind of a big deal. Here are just some of your comments, both glowing and otherwise:

SharePoint is becoming more critical for our business operations. There is a project to migrate from our current document/intranet setup to SharePoint.

Personally, I love it and can't wait until the project is complete. It's quick, easy, customizable for the user and makes document sharing simple. OCS integration is another huge plus.

OK, I'll answer already. In my previous job as IT director, we used the free SharePoint, customized with SharePoint Designer, for various functionality, from HR hire/fire workflows to document storage to employee blogging. The investment to get very significant functionality was trivial compared to the other products that had been tried or even purchased (but never really implemented). The real icing on the cake was the confidence and familiarity in integrating with this product compared to the proprietary methods necessary in other document management solutions that we tried.

The real question you may need to ask is if companies got their ROI buying the more advanced and licensed SharePoint product over just using the free capabilities. It was pretty clear Microsoft intended for the free product to be somewhat of a dangling carrot. In several instances, the free version didn't quite do everything we needed. Sure enough, that usually came with the investment in the full product.

We use SharePoint a lot at my company and it is an OK product but not thrilling. It may be our implementation, but I find it VERY slow when navigating between pages. Also, I think people still do not understand how it should be used. For example, some departments don't use the built-in versioning but instead require users to add a version number to the document name. Arrgh. Sometimes, poor design is a problem with departments making it too hard to find things because things are buried too deep in a tree. Also, it does not seem searchable with Google and while pages are linked, there is no "site map" that connects the various departmental SharePoint sites and there is no root "homepage" between depts.

Also, while I believe it is great for working on collaborative documents (because of the versioning and library functions), some departments are using it as a repository for static documentation/procedures/reference info. I do not feel this is a best use of SharePoint because it is hard to search and slow to navigate through the info.

We use SharePoint for our corporate intranet. It does everything we need it to do -- document management, work schedules, etc.

Our school has used SharePoint for several years to develop our curriculum. It is a VERY sophisticated tool that provides a VERY flexible architecture. As a result, I am sure Microsoft would have a hard time defining a specific use. We have had at least three evolutions of SharePoint. Setting it up so that everyone can collaborate takes some practice. Getting all the players that are supposed to use it up to speed is another hurdle.

In general, my experience has been that everyone who uses it at all levels has to be knowledgeable in computers. The more people who participate, the better the outcomes.

Well, at my company it's just the latest way to track time and store our documents -- not exactly the most exciting thing around. I fuss with it weekly because of multiple glitches. I wish we had stuck with SourceForge. Ah, but at least no one can get fired for buying Microsoft.

We are using SharePoint at my client's location. It is used in one area as a documentation control/management system using the workflow features. Our client is very happy with the features and ease of use of this system. It is also used as an area-specific Web presence for departments that would not normally have the technical resources to get themselves Web-enabled. SharePoint also supports an iframe-type Web part that allows legacy Web apps to be ported to SharePoint in an extremely easy method.

Where SharePoint is severly lacking is the support for developers of traditional Web/Windows application to get up to speed developing SharePoint-based Web parts, customer workflows and other advanced features. As an example, I have seen only one session at .NET Code Camps across three states in the past year discuss SharePoint development. We will still continue to support SharePoint deployments and development due to its widespread acceptance and its ease of client use.

I introduced SharePoint Portal Server (the freebie) into my department (Nashville Fire) several years ago to host electronic versions of our Departmental Orders and Memos and our Operational Procedures and Guidelines. Until SharePoint was deployed, every fire station (38 of them) had notebooks full of documents that had to be maintained each time new or updated documents were distributed. The cost reduction in paper and toner has been dramatic. Also, there is never a concern about finding the correct version of an official document. It is easy and efficient.

Over the years, we have added many other SharePoint sites. While most have been read-only sites for information distribution, we have had a couple of sites that gave users the ability to update shared documents. This worked really well for one project but not so well for others (our users are not as sophisticated as in some other industries). Fire departments are not known for embracing change -- our motto is "Two hundred years of tradition unhampered by progess" -- but SharePoint has given us a big push forward.

I had heard about this tool called "SharePoint" which was a glorified Web server that allowed users to edit their own content, kinda like Wikipedia. During a casual conversation with my boss one day, he suggested I download the free version and place it on one of our existing servers. After doing so, I had a few "personal space" pages for users and we created a page for each department, but that was pretty much the extent of our involvement in the development process; each department manager was responsible for managing their own page.

Here's what happened: Each department's style and creativity was unleashed. Each department modified/designed their page to their liking and populated it with all of the critical documents and files necessary to run their business. Today, this is a 2TB monster of an application that has weaved its way into every niche of our daily business operations. Everything is on SharePoint. Documents are checked out, updated and checked in. It has become mission-critical. If it went offline, we would have difficulty functioning in our daily operations. That's what SharePoint has done.


And finally, Thomas describes his brush with the not-so-nice side of IT:

As someone working an hourly position taming a multi-ton, multimillion-dollar machine, I was one of two recruited to be "trainers" for a new computer simulation program that helps teach employees how to do my job without the actual costs/losses incurred in a live production environment. While I was skeptical at first, after going through 20 hours of training on the new simulation software, I think it is great!

The only problem: every minute of our day is logged and non-chargeable time is not acceptable per our weekly report cards. Now, the sim software is licensed on an infinite number of computers, but MUST run from the corporate servers. Being an hourly employee, I have no Active Directory credentials for the corporate intranet, so I have no access to this software except on the one training computer at work. (Did I mention that training is non-chargeable?) I feel that if you don't use it, you lose it. The "corporate trainer" felt the same and requested that I/we be given VPN access and even granted us the opportunity to take his training laptops home to practice with.

When asked about getting me VPN access, our corporate IT guy, in front of my immediate supervisor, our operations manager and the corporate sim trainer, said point blank that if he made the money that John Doe, (my other shift, no-computer-skills peer) or I made, it would not be a problem! He would not even consider re-activating my AD account from when I was a manager even though these credentials are populated whenever I access our HR site. Now, how can I trust IT not to screw with my information or identity? If one IT guy is flaunting my privileged information in front of anybody and everybody, what's next? An eBay auction for my Social Security information? I do have an appointment with the HR department next week...

Check in next week for more reader letters, including even more thoughts on SharePoint and its impact. Meanwhile, leave a comment below or send an e-mail to [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 07/01/2009 at 1:16 PM


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