Beware of 'chaos' SharePoint can create, warns Forrester

A report from Forrester is warning customers to consider carefully how they plan to use Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server product, which they say can wreak havoc in an IT organisation when used as a custom application development platform.


A report from Forrester is warning customers to consider carefully how they plan to use Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server product, which they say can wreak havoc in an IT organisation when used as a custom application development platform.

The recently published report, "Now Is The Time To Determine SharePoint’s Place In Your Application Development Strategy," outlines how, while SharePoint can be extremely useful for creating company intranets, companies should be careful when using it to create custom applications because the product lacks features - such as in application lifecycle management (ALM) and enterprise application integration (EAI) - that other, more proven development platforms have.

Also, SharePoint is misunderstood in general, and while it allows users to create their own applications and customise SharePoint intranet sites quite easily, this can turn into a quagmire of complexity for the organisation when it comes to managing and supporting those applications, the report said.

This complexity causes IT teams to become busy trying to "fill the product's gaps in application life-cycle management and enterprise integration as they create policies to prevent a new chaos of user-generated applications," according to the report, written by Forrester analysts John Rymer and Rob Koplowitz.

The problem becomes further complicated by the lack of people who have advanced development skills for SharePoint, they said.

In the report they outline several customer scenarios in which custom development on SharePoint got out of hand and became more than a company's IT staff could handle.

In one, a so-called SharePoint "power user" inspired "a reshuffling of IT," analysts wrote. The user built several popular custom applications using SharePoint, assuming that the development and operational organisations could support them. However, they couldn't because it required "specialised skills that neither organisation possessed," according to the report.

The firm had to hire a new IT specialist to fill in the gap and expand SharePoint's role in the company's application-development strategy, according to a report.

Microsoft originally conceived SharePoint as a portal product on which companies could build Web sites. But with its release as part of the 2007 Office System, Microsoft has expanded the product to become a hub for collaboration, document-management and business intelligence, not to mention a development platform for building custom intranet sites and other applications.

SharePoint adoption has grown faster than even Microsoft could anticipate, which could have something to do with the lack of people with the skillset to deal with the product. The quick uptake also could have pushed SharePoint into uses that Microsoft hadn't yet prepared the product to deal with.

"I don’t think that even Microsoft could predict the adoption rates that SharePoint is seeing," said Andrew Brust, chief, new technology of IT consulting firm twentysix New York.

Indeed, in their report, Rymer and Koplowitz note that Forrester's clients said SharePoint's growth "has caught many application development managers by surprise." They compare the headaches SharePoint sites create for IT managers to how Lotus Notes databases were in the 1990s.

Both products allow for the explosion of custom sites and applications that IT departments can have a hard time managing.

In Microsoft's defence, Brust said the company recognizes that SharePoint has some technology gaps and is working hard to fill them, noting that solving the problem of SharePoint's limited ALM capability in particular is the sort of thing "Microsoft lives for."

He also noted that other Microsoft products - such as BizTalk for EAI and Visual Studio Team System for ALM - can help IT departments work with SharePoint in the meantime.

In their report, Rymer and Koplowitz noted that while Microsoft is working to fill the gaps in the product, organisations should carefully consider before deployment how they will use SharePoint, if at all, in their organisations.

They suggested companies choose one of three scenarios for SharePoint to make the product work as effectively as possible.

One is to use the product as merely an application for collaboration and sharing information and not as a development platform at all, they said. The second scenario is as both an application and an intranet platform for which the company fills in product gaps - which in addition to ALM and EAI include issues surrounding the reliability, availability and scalability of the product.

The third and most complicated scenario for an organisation would be to use SharePoint as both an application and an enterprise portal at the core of a company's application-development strategy, analysts said. However, organisations must choose this option knowing it will require heavy lifting on the part of the IT team, and also eventually require a transition away from other portal or intranet software that may currently exist in the organisation, according to the report.

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