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Smacking SharePoint into shape

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

"I like to say that SharePoint is a jack of all trades and the master of very few," says Toby Ward, Prescient president. "It has so much there. It's a mile wide, but it's not that deep."

That said, the new SharePoint 2013 is much more complete out of the box than earlier versions such as SharePoint 2010 and especially 2007, Ward says, with vastly improved collaboration and social media capabilities, as well as enhanced search and publishing features.

But even the 2013 version is "a starting point; you have to make it your own and you have to make it do what you want it do," Ward says. That's not a big surprise in enterprise IT, where many large applications have to be customized to meet the needs of demanding corporate customers.

In SharePoint's case, some of these added tasks include enhanced collaboration, enterprise search, analytics and business intelligence, social networking and document, asset, workflow and content management. (See sidebar, above.)

A study of 153 enterprise SharePoint users by Forrester Research in August 2012 found that 65% augmented their original deployments using third-party add-ons, according to analyst Rob Koplowitz. Of the 100 who were using third-party extensions, 43% said they had expected to bring in such help all along, while 40% said they brought them in because SharePoint didn't meet their initial expectations. Another 13% said expanding SharePoint wasn't part of the original plan, but they did it as their SharePoint strategies changed.

In the survey, workflow and administration were the most popular third-party add-ons.

"Microsoft invests in the areas in SharePoint that are used by the highest number of users," Koplowitz explains. "They've always left a lot of white space for third-party companies to fill a niche. It's very much a part of their strategy."

And that's where third-party add-ons or extensions come in. "This product is not just an application or a platform—it's both," Koplowitz says.

That flexibility is what makes SharePoint a good platform on which to build, he says. "If you want a specific document management process for specialized employee evaluations, SharePoint isn't going to do that niche thing on its own," says Koplowitz. "On the other hand, it might be the perfect place to build it on— and you already have SharePoint deployed."

Bring on the extensions
At Eastman Chemical Co., a Kingsport, Tenn.-based specialty chemical firm, SharePoint has been a key application since the company first implemented it in 2005, says Jim McGuire, supervisor of the global collaboration and portal architecture team.

At Eastman Chemical Co., "most of our extensions are in-house and come in as advanced development requests," says Jim McGuire, supervisor of the global collaboration and portal architecture team.

 

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