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Smacking SharePoint into shape

Todd R. Weiss | May 30, 2013
Shops often need to add functionality to the core software.

For many enterprises, Microsoft's SharePoint is a great basic platform for collaboration and file sharing. But the software can't always do everything customers would like without getting an assist. In fact, according to a Forrester Research survey, some 65% of all SharePoint shops add functionality to the core software.

SharePoint extensions include code that's generated in-house, or with help from contractors and consultants or with specialized, purpose-built add-ons from a wide range of third-party vendors. (These are not the same as the SharePoint add-ons available in Microsoft's store.) It's the same kind of ecosystem that surrounds a myriad of large applications, from IBM's Lotus Notes to Oracle's databases and SAP's business suites.

SharePoint debuted in 2001 primarily as a portal platform for enterprises, and it powers many a corporate intranet. According to a January 2013 study of 651 enterprises by consultancy Prescient Digital Media, Microsoft "continues to dominate" the enterprise collaboration or intranet 2.0 market, with around half of the organizations reporting SharePoint use "in some shape or form," the study said.

Common add-ons
Scott Jamison, CEO and chief architect at Jornata, a consulting company that has developed SharePoint extensions and customizations, says these are the most popular areas where customers ask for help:

  • Social media add-ons to enable employees and partners to find better and broader ways to interact with other people. The recent addition of Yammer is intended to fill most of that need.
  • Scanning capabilities, to more effectively use SharePoint for document management or records management. Users "just want to put [the document] into a scanner and have it automatically fed into right place," Jamison says. "SharePoint will do a good job with the storage but it won't allow you to easily get them scanned in."
  • Interaction with the desktop. Since SharePoint is mostly a browser-based Web application, it needs some help when people want to use it along with desktop applications, says Jamison. "There are tools out there that help enable that rich desktop experience, for offline work, to take content out of SharePoint and use it on local machines or the desktop."
  • Mobile apps. SharePoint, particularly prior to the 2010 version, needs add-on tools to do this, he says. "SharePoint 2013 gets much closer to not needing those specific applications because it includes support for HTML5," Jamison says.
  • Management tools, especially when large organizations are managing multiple SharePoint deployments for various business units or departments. "That is not uncommon," says Jamison. "You might have one installation for document collaboration, another one for business applications that people are building on top of SharePoint and then a third for the company's intranet. You might have them separated due to different SLAs or due to a plain vanilla installation for Web content management and a more customized deployment for something else."


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