Microsoft Partners Stake Claims In Sharepoint Goldmine

Released last November, Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007, also known as MOSS, is a workflow and collaboration engine that integrates with the Office platform and features Web content management, enterprise content services, enterprise search, and business process and business intelligence tools.

Although it initially attracted interest primarily from medium and large enterprises, Sharepoint is now penetrating the SMB space, says Stephen Moss, COO of NSPI, a security solution provider in Roswell, Ga. that hosts Sharepoint sites for other companies.

"Companies of all sizes are beginning to get the idea that content management and portals aren't just exclusive to enterprises," said Moss.

Microsoft normally doesn't publish sales figures for individual product lines. But last month at its annual financial analyst meeting, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said that Sharepoint revenue grew 35 percent to more than $800 million in fiscal year 2007, and is on track to become a billion dollar business.

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"Sharepoint is growing rapidly because it's the first product from Microsoft that really is a universal framework," said Ken Winell, senior vice president at PCubed, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Gold partner. "Sharepoint is as substantial a product as the Web browser, because of the way you can integrate other platforms tightly into it."

Sharepoint's versatility benefits partners by allowing them to easily add other Microsoft products to Sharepoint deals, such as Dynamics, Enterprise Project Management, or Project Portfolio Server, said Winell.

"The smart partners understand the powerful pull-through that Sharepoint has, and the fact that many customers aren't just looking for a portal, but an overall compliance solution. Sharepoint has all the elements that break the bonds of a singular product," said Winell.

Many organizations deployed earlier versions of Sharepoint in order to establish a Web presence, but a growing number are gravitating to newer features like enterprise content management and complex workflow, says Seth Patton, director of SharePoint products and technologies at Microsoft.

Sharepoint offers a long-term revenue stream for partners, with deals averaging around $125,000 in services revenue, ranging from around $20,000 for small and midmarket projects, to more than $2 million for large enterprise deployments, according to Patton.

"Not only are the [Sharepoint] deal economics good, but there's a relatively small upfront investment in training, sales and marketing needed, which means fast profitability," said Patton.

However, not all partners have been able to take advantage of the Sharepoint bonanza because the software's complexity makes it difficult to sell to smaller customers, said one Microsoft Gold partner.

"Sharepoint appears to bridge the gap between the virtual private network to the file system and document collaboration. But the implementation is a bit too complex, which makes it challenging to deliver the value of Sharepoint to our smaller SMB customers," said the source, who requested anonymity.

David Temple, president of Saratoga Technologies, a Johnson City, Tenn.-based solution provider, says evaluating where Sharepoint fits into a partner's business is no insignificant undertaking.

"Part of the problem we're having with Sharepoint is trying to understand the vast and different opportunities that exist with it -- that's the biggest issue. You hear a lot of people talk about it, but I don't see them actually using it. It hasn't benefited them in a big way."

Sharepoint Server 2007 adoption has been "a little bit latent" because customers in general have just begun to understand how new features such as workflow can benefit their business, says Michael Cocanower, president of ITSynergy, a Phoenix-based solution provider.

Many small businesses are content to use Windows Sharepoint Services, a free add-on to Windows Server 2003 that includes a subset of Sharepoint features, Cocanower said.

Still, as companies move beyond the evaluation phase for Sharepoint, Cocanower expects that more small and midsize businesses will begin pulling the trigger on full Sharepoint Server deployments.

To account for the different ways in which partners are using Sharepoint, Microsoft last month unveiled three new SharePoint based specializations: portals and collaboration, enterprise content management and forms, and search.

While Microsoft doesn't yet have a formal breakdown of partners within each specialization, the majority of partners are focusing on portals and collaboration, says Patton.