5 Issues That Could Stall The Sharepoint Engine

Sharepoint has been Microsoft's savior for the past several dismal quarters, and the revenue engine it represents keeps chugging healthily along. However, even solution providers with thriving Sharepoint businesses see potential problems down the road, which, if left unfixed, could slow Sharepoint's momentum.

We look at five potential obstacles that partners feel Microsoft should take into account as it fine tunes the Sharepoint engine.

1. Development Complexity

The barrier to entry for Sharepoint development has been high, and for Microsoft partners with the necessary skills, this has led to lucrative revenue streams. But long term, this could restrict Sharepoint's ability to continue growing, according to solution providers.

Sponsored post

"If this isn't addressed in the long term, once Sharepoint gets to critical mass, it'll become a real problem because of the costs involved in implementing it," said one Microsoft partner, who requested anonymity. "There are hidden costs of Sharepoint implementation, and those will grow if the cost of using skilled developers remains too high."

Kevin Baylor, managing partner at Suncoast Business Technologies, says there is room for improvement in Sharepoint, particularly in terms of workflow tools and third party application integration. "Right now, Sharepoint isn't the easiest thing to work with. It's a very powerful tool and there are clients using it on different levels, but it's not intuitive and it's not easy," he said.

The good news for partners is that Microsoft, with the addition of SharePoint-specific development tools in Visual Studio 2010, is attacking this issue head-on.

"We now have serious tooling and project support for doing robust development in Visual Studio for Sharepoint," said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology for twentysix New York, a Microsoft partner in New York. "This is exactly the right response on Microsoft's part."

2. Microsoft Licensing Complexity

Microsoft has been adding functionality to Sharepoint with each release, and the same is true of Sharepoint 2010. But to take advantage of all the new features of the forthcoming release, customers may find that the standard client access license (CAL) that used to cover most of their Sharepoint development needs will no longer suffice.

To take advantage of all of Sharepoint 2010's new features, customers will need to buy enterprise client access licenses (CAL), which are more expensive than standard CALs. This could create liability for VARs that engage in Sharepoint development, said one solution provider, who asked not to be named.

"Companies have to accurately determine all of the employees who really need the enterprise CAL features, and those who don't, because the enterprise CAL is a cost burden," said the source. "If one person in the latter group touches something that even peripherally requires the enterprise CAL functionality, then technically, they're out of compliance."

Microsoft conducts regular 'true-ups' with volume licensing customers in which they audit software usage to determine the cost of Enterprise Agreements. When customers are found to be using more licenses than the EA covers, Microsoft will seek to re-negotiate the Enterprise Agreement and licensing for Sharepoint, and that's a time consuming task, said the source.

"I think having to go through that process could inhibit adoption at some point," the source said. "This one issue has very serious potential to drive people away from Sharepoint."

Next: Competitive Threats To Sharepoint

3. Competitive Threats

Despite its roaring success, Sharepoint faces competitive threats from open source Web publishing and content management systems such as Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla. These are Linux-based products, and most use PHP, and their open source foundation makes them a cost effective alternative for companies that can't afford Sharepoint.

"Sharepoint works well in enterprise-wide settings, but for business settings it may be prohibitively expensive," said one solution provider who works extensively with Sharepoint.

Microsoft doesn't have anything to counter the open source CMS threat, although Orchard, an open-source CMS platform that includes tools for developing ASP.Net applications and extensions, could be a step in this direction. Unveiled at Microsoft's Tech Ed Europe conference earlier this month, Orchard isn't an official Microsoft project, but Microsoft's involvement nonetheless shows some measure of concern.

For Microsoft, the danger of the open source CMS and publishing stacks is that they're OS agnostic, which means they can run on cheapest of shared hosting accounts, says Ken Winell, CEO of ExpertCollab, a SharePoint-focused solution provider in Florham Park, N.J. "You don't have to worry about the operating system platform to implement solutions with these offerings, and that's something for which Microsoft doesn't have an answer."

Google Wave is another concern for Microsoft, albeit one that doesn't pose as much near term risk. Still, because Google Wave is a development platform with a "pretty robust" SDK, Winell says Microsoft shouldn't discount its potential to disrupt the Sharepoint engine.

"Microsoft has to recognize that when competitive threats like Google Wave are in their nascent stages, that's the time to react -- not when you're already losing market share," Winell said.

4. Sharepoint App Store

Microsoft plans to launch a marketplace for ISVs to sell third party applications that run on Sharepoint 2010. While a necessary move that underscores Sharepoint's emergence as a development platform, it's also fraught with risk if Microsoft doesn't execute on all cylinders.

Sharepoint has a way of proliferating throughout organizations because it's an effective tool, but third party development will be vital to continuing that trend, according to ExpertCollab's Winell. "Allowing third party apps to run natively within Sharepoint, and allowing application development to happen inside Sharepoint, will be critical to Sharepoint's continued success," he said.

5. Making It Easy For The Masses Some VARs feel Microsoft should make the Sharepoint interface more intuitive for the end user, as opposed to relying on back end IT people to handle tasks related to inventory and report generation. This is something that solution providers expect to arise from the continued integration of line of business applications in Sharepoint.

"If you're looking at business processes, and you're not using Infopath, Sharepoint isn't a great tool," said one partner. "There are plenty of things that will interface with SQL Server, the potential is infinite, but an easy to use interface going to be crucial."

Microsoft would do well to continue moving Sharepoint and Office to a integrated platform with a uniform interface, says Baylor of Suncoast Business Technologies. "Increased tools for the back-end IT pro and the front-end CEO will be needed if Microsoft is to continue to have a leading market share in collaborative tools," he said.